I firmly believe that within a couple of years, expensive universal remotes will be all but dead, as more home theater devices ship with Wifi built in and a phone or tablet app that controls them.
However, I'm worse than an early adopter- I'm an early experimenter. That's why rather than waiting for this to come built in to my next generation home theater/TV/cable box, I am going to spend a bunch of money and go through a bunch of hassle to try and make it happen right now.
My goal is to have total control of my media centers- both television and house-wide streaming video- from my iDevices by the end of this month. Here's what I am using to accomplish this:
Redeye Universal Remote System for iPhone and iPadThis is a clever device that joins your Wifi network and translates control inputs from your iPhone, iPod or iPad to IR control signals for your home theater. It's well reviewed by the users who seem to have realistic expectations about it. The few negative reviews seem to come from people with very large homes, and apparently the IR signals aren't powerful enough to propagate very far.
Overlarge rooms certainly won't be a problem for me, but the need to place this in front of the devices it controls is a problem- that will place it squarely in range of my 1 year old son, who will undoubtedly yank it off the coffee table the moment he sees it.
To avoid that, I'm going to pair it with a set of remote IR emitters. That way, I can hide it from prying hands and keep my family room coffee table a bit cleaner, too. It will add a bunch of wires to the rear of my entertainment center, but it's a rat's nest back there anyhow- a little more won't make much of a difference.
Music is going to be a little more complicated. I could go out and spend a bunch of money on a Sonos multi-room music system, which comes complete with an iPhone app for control. However, I already have a few parts that should allow me to (in theory) approximate the benefits of a Sonos without much extra money and work.
One of those pieces I already own is an Airport Express, which allows me to use a Remote app on my iPhone to play downloaded songs and streaming Internet radio from an existing Mac Mini. However, that setup misses on important piece of the Sonos experience - the ability to easily play different playlists and sources to different rooms, and seamless integration with Pandora and Sirius XM streaming radio. To enable that, I'm looking at Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil, which seems to have a few solutions to allow for that kind of flexibility using the Airport Express/Mac Minin/iPhone combination.
Sonos fans typically aren't satisfied with cheaper workalikes, but perhaps never having samples the Sonos goodness will allow me to live with a more "hackish" solution for the time being. However, if I have to keep running down to the Mac Mini to reboot something or restart the server software, I will probably relent and crack open the wallet eventually.
The goal is to have this stuff up and running in the next couple of weekends. I do know that juggling nine total remotes for three TV systems is going to get old quickly. If nothing else, the savings from AA and AAA batteries alone should be significant...