Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

And all for the want of an Apple TV remote

This is the story of how the new Apple TV remote cost me hundreds of dollars, but in a good way.

We were happy earlier this month to take delivery of a new Apple TV 4K, to replace one that I had given to my daughter when she returned to college last fall. (I thought a new model might have been imminent—oops.) And along with that new Apple TV box came a new remote, which has earned a lot of praise for not being the old Apple TV Siri Remote.

It was a single button on that remote that started it all: the new Power button. While the Apple TV has been able to control external devices for a while now, the Power button is so much more explicit: You should be able to use this button to turn your TV on and off.

Which is great, except that I have a complicated setup that includes a home-theater receiver and a TiVo, neither of which can be controlled via HDMI-CEC1, the protocol that Apple TV uses to control other devices.

I’ve also been frustrated by the number of remotes we have to keep around. We’ve got a TiVo remote, an Apple TV remote, a Logitech Harmony remote, and even a Lutron Caseta remote for our living-room lights. Plus, occasionally we need to use the remote that came with our TV. It’s a lot.

So, inspired by the Apple TV Remote, I ripped up my entire living-room setup and tried to build something better. It started with a new receiver, one that supports HDMI-CEC, AirPlay, (and—via a Homebridge plug-in—HomeKit).

With a new receiver, I was able to use the Apple TV remote to turn my TV, receiver, and Apple TV on and off, adjust the volume, the works. This is great, except we still use the TiVo for a few things, mostly Jeopardy! and live sports. I’m not ready to give up on the TiVo, and Logitech has given up on the Harmony, so I decided to see if I could find an alternative way to control the TiVo using HomeKit.

Here’s my solution, at least for now: I replaced the Logitech remote with a HomeKit-compatible Remote I had laying around. I reprogrammed the top button on the remote to turn the receiver on and set it to the input being used by the TiVo. (The receiver, when it powers on, uses CEC to turn on the TV itself.) The bottom button I set to turn everything off.

I had two buttons left, so I set them to control our living-room lights at two different levels of brightness generally associated with TV viewing—dim and off.

With all that done, I’ve reduced my remotes on the coffee table to three: the simple smart remote, the TiVo remote, and the Apple TV remote. Yes, I would greatly prefer to simplify further—if I can train the TiVo remote to fire off the right infrared signal to the receiver, it might be able to kick off the whole thing without needing that third remote.

Still, not only is my living-room setup simpler than it was—there are fewer remotes, and they’re easier to use!—but I got a more modern, full-featured receiver with Dolby Atmos support out of it.

And all because of the Power button on the Apple TV remote.

  1. Newer versions of the TiVo software do support CEC, but those new versions are awful, and I refuse to upgrade. 

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