One remote control turns on the television. Another remote control turns on the VCR, and a third activates the stereo.

That's a lot of remote controls for one entertainment system. Add more components and the number increases accordingly.The solution? The universal programmable remote control is an all-in-one controller that combines the functions of different remote controls, even those from different manufacturers.

The current issue of Video Magazine provides a comparison of universal remote controls offered from JVC, Kenwood, Marantz, Memorex, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony, Technics and Yamaha, ranging in price from $72 to $250.

Programming a universal remote control is rarely difficult, but it may be time consuming. It works like this:

When a regular remote control button is pressed to turn on the TV, for instance, an infrared light is beamed from the remote's window, which then commands the TV to turn on. To transmit a command from a regular remote control to a universal programmable remote control (or URC), switch the URC to "learning" mode, and point the regular remote at one of the windows on the URC. Press corresponding buttons (such as "Power On") on both remotes and wait for the URC to signal it has learned the infrared light command. Then move onto the next pair of buttons.

Experts advise labeling each command button on the universal remote control as it's programmed to avoid confusion. It pays to buy a URC whose keys have designations similar to those on the individual remotes.

An ideal universal programmable remote control should have one key for every command and should be small enough to fit in the hand. Keys should be logically grouped, widely spaced and easily distinguished from each other by touch so as to avoid operating errors. Keep it simple - don't buy a URC with more programming functions than actually needed.