Life After Harmony: GE 8-Device Remote Control
With Logitech’s axing of its Harmony line, programmable remote controls for home theater seem to have taken a big step back. A cut above conventional remotes, Harmony represented the perfection of the genre: Just download the app or desktop software, enter your system’s components into the program, zap the data from computing device to remote via USB, and you have a remote to rule your system. But Logitech doesn’t want to be in the remote business any longer and soon retailers will run out of existing stock. Given that — and the three-figure pricetags of Harmony remotes — maybe it’s time to consider what a less advanced universal remote might do for you. That’s why I ended up ordering a GE 47508 (affiliate link). It looked pleasant enough, with its silvery, textured, metal-like plastic finish, and it handled up to eight devices. For eleven bucks it seemed worth the risk. Spoiler alert: Now I use it all the time.
When I was a full-time audio-gear reviewer I tended to avoid universal remotes. Oh, I’d tried them, including both the preprogrammed kind (enter numeric codes for each component) and the learning kind (place remotes end to end and transfer codes). But they seemed cumbersome. Even my coveted Harmony remote languished in a drawer — not because it wasn’t a great product for consumers, but because I wasn’t a consumer. I constantly needed to punch into the menus of my audio and video components to change or check settings. Every set of speakers that came in for review required its own settings in my reference receiver, and when I reviewed a receiver, I’d have to set it up with my reference speakers. Using the original remotes for every component in my system was cumbersome but faster than finding commands overlaid from an original remote to a universal one. I just kept a lot of remotes at hand.
Now that I am semi-retired, still a tech writer but a less active one, I’m freer to act like a civilian. And loving it, by the way. I finally got to buy the dual monster subs of my dreams without having to displace them for borrowed gear. I’ve also started favoring streaming devices over disc playback, at least for video consumption. Sure, a Blu-ray disc offers the best sound and image, and I still play a lot of music on disc (digital and analog). But nearly all of my movies and TV now come through a Roku box, an Apple TV box, or a Vizio smart TV connected to a pair of excellent Audioengine2+ powered speakers. I save the big Denon receiver, Paradigm/Klipsch speakers, and HSU subs for music and occasional movies. Even the cable box is gone — apps on Roku and Apple TV have taken over that function.
The Roku and Apple TV remotes have never bothered me. Roku’s is an understated design masterpiece, the one for the Apple’s second-generation 4K box is much improved, and both are sturdy and easy to use. But to switch between them, or to the Oppo Blu-ray player via the Denon receiver, I had to pick up the Vizio TV remote and press the input button to cycle among HDMI-connected devices. I wondered if my streaming life would be easier if I could merge the Roku, Apple, and Vizio functions into a single remote. In fact, why not throw in the disc player and receiver as well, operating nearly my entire system — barring the turntable — with the same remote? I might resort to the original remotes for tweaks, but how often would that happen? The cost of finding out was only eleven bucks. And I had to know.
The GE 47508 is not actually made by General Electric, the legendary century-old conglomerate whose financial woes have recently broken it into three more specialized units. Its former consumer electronics operations have long since been parceled out to other companies marketing under the venerable brand. This remote is actually manufactured in China by Jasco, which describes itself as an Oklahoma City-based company with offices throughout North and South America as well as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen. It has won awards, including one for its Philips Companion Remote, and is active in LED lighting, home security, smart home, and other products. It makes numerous other remote controls, including GE models handling four to six devices, but a quick online trawl suggested that the eight-device 47508 (and variations in other colors) had the features and, yes, the look I wanted — utilitarian, but with the faintest traces of style.
Its nine by two by one inches are rather handsome for a cheap remote. Sure, it’s lightweight and plastic, but it looks like it’s made of metal, and the silver finish makes a nice contrast with the blue backlit buttons. If the backlighting is too bright, you can turn it off. I expect any decent remote to have controls well organized by size, shape, color, layout, and labeling. This one qualifies. I’d have liked the eight buttons that switch the remote to different devices to be a little larger, and the rarely used numeric keys a little smaller, but on the whole this form factor works for me.
My much-desired input-cycling button is easy to find in the top right corner next to power and backlight on/off. Below are eight device-select buttons labeled tv, dvd, strm, aux, b-ray, cbl, sat, and amp, all lowercase and rather elegant, if you ask me. You can assign any device to any button — the labels are not tyrants. Next down are two rows of transport controls for streaming devices and disc players. Appropriately oversized and easy to find are the navigation, volume, and channel buttons, with numeric keys at bottom. For the rest, check the pics at the bottom of this page, and note the sweetly retro GE logo embossed into the bottom of the remote.
The two necessary AA batteries were not provided. Not a problem. I am a grownup. If you are constantly running out of alkaline batteries and bemoaning the cost, what is wrong with you? An unmarked brown cardboard box of Amazon Basics batteries coughed up what it took to light up those backlit sky-blue buttons. Now it was time to program the remote, the only part of the experience I’d been dreading. It had been years since I’d grappled with the numeric codes and button pushing necessary to make a preprogrammed remote operational. Would this break my spirit?
The fear proved unfounded. I quickly found my Vizio, Roku, Apple, Oppo, and Denon codes on the code sheet included with the remote. If you misplace the sheet, Jasco also provides the codes on the internet. However, you are probably a grownup like me, and no doubt you will file the code sheet in the “G” folder of your extensive collection of product manuals, which you prune occasionally to get rid of manuals for products you’ve tossed. Right?
I pressed and held the setup button, then pressed the device-select key for the component, then keyed in the four-digit code. Multiple codes are provided for most products, and depending on age and generation, the first one may not always work. The only way to confirm if I’d gotten it right was trial and error — if the power or enter buttons didn’t get a response, I’d move on to another code. I never needed more than three tries to find a code that would operate a component.
Since acquiring the new remote I have rarely needed the original ones for video streaming. If I’m watching, say, the Spectrum cable app on the Roku box, or Netflixing a movie from the Apple TV box, I gravitate to the universal remote. The originals don’t do anything I need to do daily. For things I do less often, I’m still getting the hang of the GE’s setup, menu, home (up arrow), and info (asterisk) buttons. I have yet to find anything I can’t do; commands and settings accessed through anything other than the navigation keys just take more time and forethought. Basic surfing with the GE has become instinctive.
No universal remote is ideal for all devices. There are things I like and dislike. I can use either the menu or home buttons to return to the main menu on either Roku or Apple, and contrary to a negative review on Amazon, the menu-back button works fine for my Roku. It’s encouraging that when I switch the remote to Roku mode, the big volume keys still work the TV — but irksome that when I switch to Apple TV mode, the volume keys act as rev/FF. To adjust TV volume when streaming from the Apple box I first have to put the remote in TV mode. It also insists on TV mode to turn the TV on or off. Yet changing the TV’s HDMI input from Roku to Apple or vice versa is always easy whether the remote is in Roku, Apple, or TV mode, allowing me to switch easily between my two main streamers, before finally hitting the device-select button to access menus on the next device. The GE is a net timesaver for streaming.
I still favor the Oppo and Denon remotes when playing a disc through the receiver, invoking the full majesty of my home theater system with its 5.2.4 speaker array, but I may soon wean myself off those remotes for all but the most obscure operations. I still need to change the Vizio TV’s HDMI input to access the receiver, and the Denon remote can do that, but it is not on speaking terms with the Oppo’s transport controls, so playing a disc means using both remotes. The GE remote is often the simplest option because it changes HDMI input and operates basic functions on all devices. And when I run a streaming device routing audio through the TV’s HDMI-ARC jacks to the Denon’s TV Audio input — bypassing the TV speakers to use the receiver’s surround processing with the big speakers — it’s easy to operate the streamer, TV, and receiver using only the GE remote.
Within its eight-device limit, this remote operates several dozen brands of TV, cable/satellite box, DVR, and DVD player, along with smaller but still considerable numbers of Blu-ray players, receivers, soundbars, HTIBs, and (for the determinedly low-tech among you) even VCRs, VCR/TV combos, and converter boxes for elderly analog TVs. Token numbers of home automation, media PC, and HDMI switcher products are also represented — though only one gaming platform, the Xbox.
Note that this is an infrared remote control. It does not shoot RF or Bluetooth commands. The Amazon listing is careful to warn: “Does not work with Roku streaming stick or Fire TV/stick or other RF streaming devices.” It works fine, however, with my first-generation Roku Ultra 4K box, so presumably the Roku accepts infrared commands from the GE.
If you are in any doubt about covered devices, and don’t want to order the product to see the code sheet, the Jasco site offers a code lookup. It helps to know if the device has CL3, CL4, or CL5 codes — though when I checked my Oppo disc players, the three sets of codes were identical. I tried to get this remote to work with six devices (with room for two more) and nailed them all: Vizio E-Series TV, Roku Ultra 4K first gen, Apple TV 4K second gen, Denon AVR-X7200W surround receiver, plus Oppo UDP-203 4K and BDP-83 HD universal disc players. The Oppos work with the same codes, so to avoid confusion, I’ll power one of them up with the front-panel button, leaving the other Oppo in standby and thus unconfused.
Your experience may vary. I can’t guarantee that this remote will work with everything in your system. Look up the codes or take the minimal risk. Even if it does work, there is a learning curve. I got everything working in a half-hour but it took a few more days of desultory surfing and experimentation before I was truly comfortable with my new remote.
GE’s eight-device remote is available from Amazon (affiliate links) in silver (47508), gold (47509), rose (47511), and the original basic black (37123). I paid $10.71 for the silver version reviewed here but the most expensive alternative was well under $13 at presstime. Check for availability and current pricing. You can also order the silver version direct from the manufacturer for $17.99.
I plan to get a lot of use out of this cheap universal remote. Safe to say, it’s a keeper.