Swapping streaming remotes for fewer cord-cutting annoyances

It’s all too easy to overlook the quality of the remote control when picking a streaming device, as I’ve written before.

You might not realize it from the price tag, for instance, but the $180 Apple TV 4K has one of the worst remotes on the market. The slim design too easily slips between couch cushions, and its trackpad-based controls have a steep learning curve. Conversely, the $29 Roku Express seems like a great value until you realize that its remote lacks basic TV controls.

What’s a cord-cutter to do, then? If you’re stuck with a bad remote, consider a third-party replacement instead of buying an entirely new streaming device. Here are a couple options I’ve come up with:

Third-party IR remotes for Apple TV and Roku

My impetus for this little experiment was One For All’s URC 795 universal streamer remote. A few weeks ago, I spotted it on sale for $15 at Best Buy, down from the regular $25, so I decided to see how it would work as a replacement remote for Apple TV and Roku players. (At the time this story was edited, Walmart was selling a version of the URC 795 for $17, and eBay has open box ones for even less.)

What drew me to the One for All remote was its design, which looks like it’s meant for streaming instead of cable. The layout of the directional pad and navigation buttons are similar to that of a Roku remote, and there are no number keys or other unnecessary cable remote clutter.

Jared Newman / IDG

The One for All remote is a lot heftier than the Apple TV’s Siri Remote, and it has a lot more buttons.

Out of the box, the remote works with any Roku player that supports infrared input. Those include the high-end Roku Ultra and the budget Roku Express and Premiere models, but not the Roku Streaming Stick or Stick+. It can also control power, volume, and inputs on Samsung TVs by default.

To use the One for All remote with other devices, you have to enter specific button combinations as outlined in the instruction manual. Pairing an Apple TV, for instance, requires holding down the streamer power button and home button, then letting go and holding down the TV power button. It’s a clunky process, but the upside is that you can program a streaming box, TV, and A/V gear to work simultaneously. That means you can consolidate remotes without having to fiddle with HDMI-CEC.

With setup out of the way, I was impressed with the remote overall. While infrared is inherently less responsive than the Bluetooth connections used by most streaming remotes, I didn’t have any issues controlling my Apple TV 4K, even outside my home office from 20 feet away. The rubberized buttons feel snappy, and unlike with most streaming remotes, they’re backlit.

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