universal remote control glossary

Tim’s BIG Universal Remote Control Glossary of Terms

In News & Reference by Tim Brennan

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In this post, I am pleased to provide the biggest and most comprehensive universal remote control glossary available on the web.

If you’re in the market for a universal remote control, then you may have come across some terms that are not familiar to you. As these remotes are becoming more popular, it’s important to know what they do and how they work!

I’ll break down some of the most common phrases used in relation to universal remote controls so that next time you go searching for one, things will make a little more sense.



Active Matrix

A type of liquid crystal display (LCD) that uses an array of thin-film transistors to produce red, green and blue (RGB) pixels. It is one of the most widely used types in today’s electronics market. Active-matrix technology can be either self-emitting or backlit with separate light sources for every color pixel, such as LED or CCFL lamps. Backlight technologies include cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL), hot cathode fluorescent lamp (HCFL), Light Emitting Diode (LED). The use of LEDs instead of CCFLs has become more popular due to their lower power consumption and longer lifespan.


A macro that enables you to run multiple commands in sequence or at the same time. For example, a Watch Netflix activity might turn on your TV, power on your soundbar, dim smart lights, tune the TV to the correct input for the media player that runs Netflix, and even launch Netflix. These are sometimes referred to “recipes.”


Amazon’s voice assistant which can be used as a “voice remote” to control home theater as well as smart devices depending on the implementation (e.g., Amazon Fire TV or Cube, Logitech Harmony).

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon’s popular streaming service, similar to Netflix.

Ambient Light

A natural phenomenon that occurs in any given room; ambient light is the light in the room based on the elements outside. For remote controls, the general lighting available at the time of use can be adjusted by using LCD screens and backlighting features for best viewing as opposed to ambient or other light sources (e.g., light bulbs).

Android OS

Hugely popular smartphone and tablet OS second only to Apple’s iOS.


There are many universal remote apps available for a wide variety of purposes. Generally, the commercial ones are better than the free ones, which often rely on ads and in-app purchases which can lead to a non-so-desirable user experience.

Apple TV

Apple’s popular streaming service and media player.

A/V Receiver

A device that accepts input from a variety of sources (cable, CD player, DVD player) and converts the signals into one output for your TV.



Lighting behinds buttons on a remote. The illumination of the remote control’s keypad makes seeing the buttons in the dark and navigating the remote in the dark easier.

Battery Pack

Pop-out pack that holds traditional batteries or sometimes referred to the housing for Lithium-ion batteries. Some universal remotes have replaceable Lithium ion batteries and some do not.


Used to define a raised surface on a remote, mostly common this would be on an LCD screen

Big Button remote

A remote with large buttons, ideal for the elderly or seeing impaired.

Blinking Remote Control Light

Most likely indicates an error has occurred while programming your universal remote (e.g., you tried to program in infrared codes but entered them incorrectly). Some remotes also blink every time a button is pressed.


Popular high-end audio speaker manufacturer; many Bose speakers come with their own remotes can may also be controlled via advanced universal remotes.


Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard which enables various devices to connect and communicate with the other. It was originally created in 1994 by Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Toshiba and Nokia for use as an alternative to cables.

Bluetooth LE

The Bluetooth low energy protocol is a subset of the Bluetooth wireless technology standard designed to provide an “always on” connection for devices such as sensors and smart watches with lower power consumption requirements than those for.

Bluetooth Sync

Allows syncing of up to two devices wirelessly by pressing and holding a button for three seconds. Some remotes include Bluetooth pairing buttons that make it easy to sync with your TV or sound system, too.


Manufacturer of a smart hub that allows you to control home theater and smart devices via an app on your smart phone or tablet. This is very similar to the Harmony Hub, although can typically be purchased for much less.


Caavo Control Center

A sophisticated HDMI switching remote that relied on a series of hard-wired HDMI connections to the control your devices. Control Center also includes its on elaborate interface that allows users to search across multiple streaming services.

Code Search

Remote control feature that lets you use the codes for each device to quickly find them on your remote. You can also do this manually by scrolling through to find the code of what you want, but it may take longer than using Code Search.

Compatibility Mode

Feature on some older TVs that lets you use your smartphone as an IR blaster to change channels and adjust volume remotely. You can enable this mode by selecting “Remote Control” in your TV’s settings menu

Control 4

Provider of automation and networking systems for homes and businesses. The company offers a personalized and unified smart home system to automate and control connected devices including lighting, audio, video, climate control, intercom, and security.


Manufacturer of high-end remote control and smart home systems for the luxury market. Creston has beautiful high-end remotes that are highly customized by a certified technician who visits your home and tailors a solution to your exact setup, for a price.


Google’s popular streaming media device and service.



Disney’s relatively new and popular streaming service that features a wide variety of Disney-owned programming for adults as well children. This includes programming from Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar Studios, along with many Disney classics.

📚 Related: Best Universal Remotes for Disney+

DVD Player

Once popular as methods of movie playback, many DVD players have been replaced by streaming media services and other media playback devices that store media on your local area network on the Cloud.



Most high end universal remotes allow you to program favorites for quick access to favorite cable channels, streaming services, music playlists, and even specific programs.

Fire TV Cube

A small cube and companion remote that you attach to your TV that enables voice control with Alexa through Amazon Fire OS.


A small big button remote that is easy to operate for a limited set of devices and ideal for the elderly or seeing impaired.

📚 Related: Flipper Remote Review

Find My Remote

A feature on some remotes that will cause the remote to beep when a button is pressed (e.g., on a main console or hub). This comes in handy if when you lose your remote in your sofa cushions.


Google Assistant

Google’s voice assistant which can be used as a “voice remote” to control home theater as well as smart devices depending on the implementation (e.g., Logitech Harmony, a smart TV with Google Assistant built-in, etc.). Sometimes also referred to as Google Home.


Hard buttons

Hard pressable physical buttons on a remote control. These are in contrast to the “virtual” buttons on an LCD panel. Hard buttons are some times used to navigate up, down, left, right, and center if a joystick is not provided on the remote.

Harmony 650

A mid-range and highly configurable Logitech IR remote that featured a simple color LCD that was navigated using hard buttons on the remote.

Harmony 950

Logitech’s high end IR remote that closely resembles the Elite (features a color LCD screen) but is primarily limited to control of home entertainment devices.

Harmony App

Logitech’s universal remote control and smart home app that runs on your smartphone or mobile device. It is used to both configure Harmony remotes and also control home theater and smart devices.

Harmony Companion

Critically acclaimed Logitech hard button remote that provided nearly all of the same features of the Harmony Elite, minus the color LCD screen.

Harmony Elite

Logitech’s premier remote for the consumer market that features a color LCD screen, and it enables control of 15 home theater and unlimited smart devices. In addition, it works with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Homekit/Siri for voice control.

📚 Related: Harmony Elite Review

Harmony Express

Logitech’s now defunct remote that was designed to work primarily with Amazon Alexa for voice control of your devices.

Harmony Hub

The brains behind Logitech’s smart remotes and what enables them to control smart devices as well home theater. The Hub was also sold as a standalone product that lets you control devices with a smartphone or tablet instead of a physical remote.

📚 Related: Harmony Hub Review

Harmony Smart Control

Discontinued Logitech physical hard button-only remote control and predecessor to the Harmony Companion.


In Plane Switching (IPS)

A type of LED (a form of LCD) display panel technology. IPS panels are characterized as having the best color and viewing angles among the other main types of display panels, TN (twisted nematic) and VA (vertical alignment) Source: Tom’s Hardware

Infrared (IR)

A type of radiation that has longer wavelengths than visible light. It ranges from 0.7 to 1 mm, and its wavelength can be as long as 1 micrometer (1 billionth of a meter). Infrared waves are emitted by the sun, stars, incandescent lamps, electric heaters and ovens, fireplaces and candles as well as remote controls. The color of infrared light tends to be red or blackish-red because it does not have enough energy to produce the same colors as visible light.


Popular smart TV manufacturer.

Inverse code

An inverse code is what the remote needs to be pointed at in order for it to work correctly on that device. These are often used to verse codes are often used to pair one remote with another. This is commonly referred to as “learning” (e.g., some remotes can learn the inverse codes from another when the codes are not available).


Apple’s iOS is the most popular smartphone and tablet operating system in the world.

IR blaster

A device that sends infrared signals to an external device. It’s used in newer TVs and home theater receivers to control older equipment like DVD players and satellite boxes. You can also use it to control other electronic devices such as air conditioners, projectors, or lighting fixtures.


IR emitter

A light-emitting diode that sends out infrared signals used to transmit infrared infrared signals from a remote control. IR emitters are one of the components in remotes controls that tell them how far they need to be pointed at a specific device.

IR mini blaster

A miniature version of an IR blaster. The emitter is usually smaller than a standard IR blaster, not the cable.

IR receiver

When picking out a remote control, it is important to select one with an infrared receiver that can receive commands from the remotes within range. Most remotes emit invisible infrared light waves that will only be able to communicate with devices in front of them or on dead ahead and behind as per their antenna placement.

IR remote control

An IR remote works like a standard TV remote by sending commands over the airwaves into the room where they’re picked up by sensors on your playback devices. They will generally q control home entertainment devices but not smart home devices.



Typically a combination of a dial and a ring on a VCR, LD or DVD player. The free rotating jog dial allows you to advance or reverse frame-by-frame through a movie, while the shuttle ring steps through various play and reverse play speeds. Some shuttle rings rotate 360 degrees and speed up or down once for each “click” in a direction, while other shuttle rings have more limited movement with specific speeds at certain positions.


A feature on certain remote controls, the joystick is a single pointer which replicates five functions for menu control: up, down, left, right and enter.



A keypad typically refers to a set of buttons with labeled numbers on the remote control, which are used to change channels or run other functions.


LCD screen

An LCD screen is a liquid crystal display built into many newer remote controls. Some remotes contain small LCD screens that display mode or programming information, while other remotes are entirely built around large touchscreen featuring customizable buttons. LCD types include dot-matrix, which can be configured to display any text or graphics, and etched, which can only display what the designers intended it to display. Example of remotes with LCD display’s include Logitech’s Harmony Elite, Sofabaton U1, and Control 4’s Neeo remote.


Popular smart TV manufacturer.

Light-emitting diodes (LED)

A semiconductor device that emits light when an electric current is passed through it. Source: LED’s magazine.

Light sensor

A sensor that automatically adjusts screen brightness according to ambient conditions.


Abbreviation for lithium ion.

Line of sight

Refers to the requirement of many universal remotes of having direct access to a device it its field of view. In other, performance of device control will degrade if the device is stored inside a cabinet.

Lithium-Ion Battery

A lithium-ion battery is a type of rechargeable battery that uses an intercalated lithium compound as one electrode material. This type of battery was invented in 1980 by John Goodenough, who also invented the first commercial lithium-ion battery and nickel metal hydride batteries. Lithium ions are not only more reactive than other metals, but they create less heat when inserted into materials with low melting points like graphite.

Lithium Polymer battery

These batteries have a similar structure like Li-ion batteries, but they are made of a gel-like (Silicon-Graphene) material which is quite light in weight. Due to its light and flexible characteristics, these batteries are used in laptops and many high-capacity power banks. The gel-like material gets harder over time resulting in shorter life span. These batteries also cannot pack high-power density in compact sizes, which is generally the reason they are typically large. This makes them undesirable for universal remotes.


Former manufacturer of Harmony remotes. The company announced it would stop making the remotes in May of 2021; however, they will sell off remaining inventory and support customers well into the future.

Logitech Harmony

Logitech’s popular line of remote controls. There have been dozens of models manufactured over the years.

📚 Related: Harmony Comparison Chart 


MMX 90

Advanced touchscreen remote with a futuristic interface. It supports both IR and RF frequencies and boasts a color LCD screen. The remote has an advanced propriety setup process that should be done by an experienced installer.

Motion sensor

Remote wakes up when motion is detected (e.g., you pick it up).


The account that saves your setup information for your Harmony remote in the cloud. You can access your MyHarmony account either through the Harmony App, or on your computer through the MyHarmony website.



Control 4’s smart home remote.


Arguably the most popular streaming service in the world with a wide variety of programming.

nVidia Shield

Streaming media device and service that is popular with gamers and the technical crowd.

📚 Related: Best Remotes for nVidia


Passive Matrix

Type of LCD display that uses grid of vertical and horizontal conductors comprised of Indium Tin Oxide to create an image. Each pixel is controlled by an intersection of two conductors. It represents the off state of LCD i.e., the pixel is OFF. Source: GeeksforGeeks

Picture Picture Interface (PPI)

The interface on your TV screen that displays all the images from a DVD, VHS tape or cable box. PPI is one of the functions in universal remotes.

Pixels Per Inch (PPI)

The number of pixels per linear inch. For example, a TV with PPI 800 has 800 pixels across and down in one square inch (or 2592×1944).


Popular gaming console that will also let you stream media.

📚 Related: Best remotes for PS4 and PS5


Radio control (RC)

See Activity. The use of control signals transmitted by radio to remotely control a device. Source: Wikipedia. Garage door openers, radio-controlled cars and other toys, military drones, and keyless entry systems all rely on radio control. Some universal remotes can tap into these signals and control these devices.

Radio frequency (RF)

Radio frequency is a term which refers to the wireless transmission of data over long distances. The most common type of universal remotes are RF remote controls, but Bluetooth and Wi-Fi operate on their own radio frequencies as well and remotes that support these protocols are becoming more mainstream.

Radio signals

See radio waves.

Radio waves

A type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencies as high as 300 gigahertz (GHz) to as low as 30 hertz (Hz). Source: Wikipedia.


See Activity.

Remote Control

Control of a machine or apparatus from a distance by means of signals transmitted from a radio or electronic device. Source: Oxford Languages.

RF Remote Control

A RF remote control transmits a signal from the device to your TV or other playback device without having to be in direct line of sight with it. The most common type is an IR (infrared) remote that sends signals through infrared light waves which we can’t see but are able to reach our devices.


Popular streaming media player and service with a low price point and a variety of device options for streaming.

📚 Related: Best Remotes for Roku



Popular Smart TV manufacturer.

📚 Related: Best Remotes for Samsung TVs


Similar to Creston and Control 4, Savant is a manufacturer of premium home automation systems and universal remote controls for the luxury market.


Manufacturer of a universal remote with an adaptive LCD that changes based on the device in the remote’s crosshairs. For example, if you point it at your TV, it will show you controls for the TV. Point it at your smart light and it will show lighting controls such as brightness and color.


Manufacturer of a small line of expensive LCD remotes.

📚 Related: Sofabaton vs Harmony


Manufacturer of a line of “add-on” remotes for popular streaming devices such as Fire TV, Roku, and Chromecast. Sideclick remotes “click” into your existing remotes for these steaming media devices, extending their functionality. They are not true universal remotes as they will only work with that single device.


Apple’s voice assistant which can be used as a “voice remote” to control home theater as well as smart devices depending on the implementation (e.g., Apple TV).


Popular high-end audio speaker manufacturer; many Sonos speakers come with their own remotes can may also be controlled via advanced universal remotes.

📚 Related: Best Remotes for Sonos


Popular smart TV manufacturer.

📚 Related: Best Remotes for Sony Smart TVs



Popular Smart TV manufacturer.

📚 Related: Best Remotes for TCL Roku TVs

Transport Control Buttons

The reason so many love the SR-260 is that it has a button for virtually everything you would want to do and its laid out very well. The regular transport controls for play, pause, fast forward, rewind, skip, etc. are all in the center of the remote.

TV type codes

There is not one universal TV type code because each manufacturer has their own proprietary way of transmitting infrared light wave signals that work only on their devices and TVs. Similar codes are available as devices as well. These are the equivalent of the big list of codes that many cable companies give customers to program their remotes to work with your devices. However, as the technology gets better these are becoming less common.



Sofabaton’s flagship LCD remote that lets you control up to 15 home theater devices.

Universal Remote Control

A universal remote control generally works with multiple devices, such as TVs and DVD players. In recent years, this has expanded to include “smart” devices such as lights, blinds, and even your thermostat.


Verizon Fios

Popular cable TV and internet provider, formerly known as comcast.

📚 Related: 5 Best Universal Remotes for Verizon Fios


Popular smart TV manufacturer.

Voice control

The ability to control your devices, such as home entertainment and smart home, using your voice. While this can be done using voice assistants like Alexa, Google, and Siri, many manufacturers are also building in their own proprietary voice controls into their devices.


Wall-mounted remote

A universal remote that you mount of the wall of your home and use a keypad or LCD panel to control devices instead of holding the remote in your hand. These are typically used to control smart home devices and streaming music as well as home theater systems.


Wall Mounted Remote


Wi-Fi is a wireless local area network (WLAN) technology that can be used to transmit data over short distances from one device to another.



Popular video game console that will also let you stream media and live content.

Xfinity X1

Popular cable TV and internet provider, formerly known as comcast.

📚 Related: Best Remotes for Xfinity



Kickstarter DIY build-you-own LCD universal remote kit that plans to launch a commercial offering. More info here.


Popular video-sharing website that makes it easy to share and watch online videos.

YouTube TV

YouTube’s popular cord cutting streaming service that gives access to the most popular TV services over an existing Wi-Fi connection at slightly lower resolution that you get with Cable TV. Related: Best Universal Remotes for YouTube TV.



Degraded wireless communications protocol that is limited to four hops per devices. This is unlike Zigbee, which has no limit.


The Zigbee protocol is a wireless personal area network (WPAN) specification that operates in the globally available license-free, unlicensed ISM bands. It is often used in a hub and spoke configuration that is popular in smart home networking.

Glossary of Universal Remote Terms: How Did I do?

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Tim Brennan

Tim Brennan is a technology blogger and hosts the @TecTimmy YouTube channel. He writes about smart homes at oneSmartcrib, home theaters at UniversalRemoteReviews, and AI in writing at Writeinteractive. A graduate of Northeastern University School of Journalism, he has written about technology for 30 years. Tim lives on the ocean in Nahant, Massachusetts.

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