4 cutting-edge TV remote-control trends

The newest ways to navigate your high-tech set

Published: January 2014

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Controlling that smart TV with a basic remote control seems kind of dumb, doesn’t it? Modern TVs require more sophisticated navigation than just changing channels and adjusting the volume. That’s why more TVs have advanced remotes that offer new ways of controlling a set.

These new technologies are promising, but they’re not foolproof just yet. For many operations, the familiar push-button remote is still the most reliable. Here are trends to keep an eye on:

Keyboards, touchpads, and more

Remotes with keyboards can make it a lot easier to type in text when you're searching for a movie title or entering a password. Only a few brands and models have them.

More TVs, including higher-end sets from Panasonic and Samsung, come with two remotes: a traditional model and a second one with a small touchpad that lets you move quickly around a screen. Those also usually have a few buttons for common operations such as changing the channel and adjusting volume.

LG's Magic Remotes use Nintendo Wii-like point-and-click action for onscreen navigation, abetted by a small scroll wheel. Some Sony remotes have near field communication (NFC) capability, so you can tap the remote to a phone or tablet to send content from the device to the TV.

Voice and gesture controls

Remotes for many high-end TVs have built-in microphones for voice control, and we expect more mainstream sets to have them in 2014. But in our experience, voice control hasn’t worked consistently.

Motion and gesture control are becoming more common but can be awkward to use and unreliable. Samsung's top TVs respond to hand gestures, and some 2014 sets will respond to detailed finger gestures.

Universal control

Is your coffee table starting to look like a remote-control landing field? A few TVs—mostly pricier sets—have remotes that can control other equipment, such as a cable box. In some cases they use external IR (infrared) blasters to do so.

Before you buy a new set, check our TV buying guide and Ratings.

Smart phones and tablets

Perhaps the biggest trend in remote controls is that more people are abandoning them in favor of using their personal mobile devices as TV remotes over the home Wi-Fi connection. A quick search of your phone or table's app store will reveal whether a remote-control app exists for your TV.

Some apps provide additional features. For example, Sony’s TV SideView app has the TV Guide program guide, which lets you search for content from your TV service, Netflix, and YouTube. Samsung’s SmartView App acts as a companion for Samsung Smart TVs. In addition to controlling your TV, set-top box, Blu-ray player or home theater, it lets you watch TV content on your mobile device.

You can use Panasonic’s TV Remote 2 app to send pictures, videos, music, or even Web content back and forth from the TV to your mobile device. And LG’s TV Remote app includes Mini TV, which lets you watch some channels on your phone or tablet, plus On Now, which offers program recommendations based on your viewing habits.

Advanced remotes speed searching


With many TVs, you have to use the remote's arrow keys to select letters on an onscreen grid, which makes entering a password or searching for a title pretty tedious. Some TVs have more Internet-friendly remotes with a keyboard, a thumbpad, or a point-and-click system.

Panasonic Viera VT- and ZT-series plasmas and WT- and DT-series LCDs come with a second remote that has a touchpad. LG plasma and LCD TVs in the 6500 series and above include the gesture-based Magic Remote (which works like a Wii game controller). And its Google TVs (the GA series) have a QWERTY keyboard as well as a Magic Remote. Samsung LCD and plasma TVs in the 5500 series and above have a touchpad remote.



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