Among the hottest trends in home theater equipment are free apps that let you control your gear via smartphone or tablet. All of these apps let you use your phone or tablet as a remote, and some offer advanced features not possible from the basic button-heavy mess that often ships with today's HDTVs, Blu-ray players, and A/V receivers.
The most common type of app allows you to control your TV using your iPhone, iPad, Android device, or other mobile device over your home's network. These apps allow you to change channels and volume and navigate menus. Many TV companies also make Blu-ray players and home-theater-in-a-box systems. In some cases, the same app will operate all of these. In other cases, there's a separate Blu-ray player or theater remote app that adds additional and product-category-specific features.
On the audio side, there are A/V receiver control apps that let you control the basic stuff (volume, input selection), along with more advanced features like EQ, streaming music, surround sound settings, and more.
Then there are apps that let you control and access your DVR. Certain service providers offer apps that let you browse the full channel guide for shows to record and also let you delete the episodes filling your hard drive.
The response to all of these apps has been mixed. For those able to get them to work, they usually love them. Often, though, consumers want to try the app and find their device model isn't supported. In other cases, buggy features and the inclusion of in-app advertisements ruin the experience.
The first step is finding the app. This is usually as simple as a search for the brand of the product you're trying to control, either on iTunes or Google Play. However, as mentioned above, many brands have multiple remotes for different product categories. Look over the details closely, and make sure your model is supported. Once downloaded and installed, setup is often as simple as connecting your devices to your home network, and letting the app find your gear.
The Next Steps
While these free apps are great, they generally only control one device - or multiple devices from the same brand at best. Stepping more in the home automation direction, there are products that combine an app and an IR blaster, allowing your device to function as a universal remote. The IR blaster can be a small dongle that attaches to your iPhone or iPad, or a separate small unit that communicates with your portable device via WiFi.
From there, the sky's the limit in terms of home automation. More advanced systems offer extensive control of all your gear, plus lighting, security, HVAC, and more. These systems require trained setup and installation, and are best left to the professionals. But for the simplest interaction and that futuristic "smart home" feel with every aspect of your house, nothing beats a full home automation system. Contact a local home technology professional for more details.