If you have a newer HDTV set, you may have noticed that your TV remote can function as a universal remote of sorts (but it doesn’t work with all your devices). Read on as we explore how newer televisions are able to control the devices connected to them (and vice versa).

Dear How-To Geek,

The other day I noticed my wife using the remote control for our Samsung HDTV set to pause the Blu-ray movie she was watching. I was really surprised because I had no idea you could control the Blu-ray player with the TV remote (the Blu-ray player isn’t a Samsung brand one, either, so that rules out some sort of in-brand compatibility). She told me she’d always used the TV remote to control the Blu-ray player. When I tried using the main TV remote to control other stuff in my media center (like an older DVD player we never got around to unhooking and our cable box) it couldn’t control either of them.

What gives? I know universal remotes have been around for ages, but I’ve never programmed this remote to do anything (and I’m positive my wife hasn’t either). What allows the TV remote to control one thing but not the other?


Haunted Remote

Although we’re not there to examine your media center setup, we’re pretty confident we can guess exactly what is happening from afar: your HDTV set and your Blu-ray player are communicating via the Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) protocol (and the rest of your gear is not). It isn’t that your TV remote is directly controlling your Blu-ray via infrared, it’s that the television set is accepting commands from its own remote, and then passing them along to television set via the HDMI cable. CEC is a really great feature built into the HDMI specifications that is, unfortunately, poorly understood by most consumers simply because the various ways electronics companies brand and market it.

Rather than each company simply calling it CEC, they typically put a marketing spin on it to make it sound like you need other products from the same company to take advantage of the system. Samsung calls it Anynet+, Panasonic calls it EZ-Sync, LG calls it SimpleLink, and so on. While we’re sure it helps sell more Samsung TVs and Samsung Blu-ray players together, it doesn’t present a very clear picture to consumers. Regardless of what the companies call the CEC functionality included in their products, it’s all the same.

CEC has been included in HDMI specifications since HDMI 1.0. All HDMI specification-compliant HDMI cables support CEC (and have since 2002) and reserve the 13th wire/pin, as seen in the photo above, for the CEC service. Per the HDMI specifications every cable must support CEC, but implementation by manufacturers in the actual HDMI compliant devices is optional. Thus it’s possible to buy an HDTV set today and a brand-new HDMI device like a Blu-ray player, and not have CEC support, but that’s increasingly rare. Because CEC has been included in the standard for over a decade now, you won’t need to upgrade your HDMI cable to take advantage of CEC functionality. CEC allows for a single device and/or remote (typically the TV remote) to control up to 10 other CEC-enabled devices linked by HDMI.

So how does this relate to the specific situation you find with your own media center? Most likely the situation is such: Your Samsung TV is using CEC to communicate with your Blu-ray player (which is also CEC compliant) via HDMI. There is very little chance that your old DVD player is on an HDMI cable and thus no chance that it can communicate with the TV via CEC (it’s most likely plugged in with composite or component cables). Your cable box could be older (likely, cable boxes aren’t frequently upgraded) or even if newer and on HDMI, the box might simply not be CEC complaint (so it doesn’t matter if the TV and the HDMI cable are).

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Fortunately, save for truly dated electronics (or serious oversight by the manufacturer) it’s uncommon to find newer devices from major electronics companies without CEC support. It’s a fantastic feature that not enough consumers are truly taking advantage of. CEC allows for a wide range of really useful features like allowing devices connected to the TV to turn the TV on, adjust the volume, display on-screen messages, switch inputs, and even turn it the device on. If you have a Google Chromecast, for example, you can send a video to your Chromecast and, via CEC, the Chromecast will turn the TV on, switch to the input channel the Chromecast is on, and start playing your video without you even so much as having to touch the TV remote.

Have a pressing tech question? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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