Here's a cool Apple TV feature that you probably didn't know about, particularly if you're like me and the third-generation Apple TV is your first foray into Apple's "hobby" device. In addition to the pre-packaged and somewhat spartan remote and Apple's more full-featured Remote app for iOS devices, it turns out you can control your Apple TV with virtually any third-party remote control. We first wrote about this feature about a year and a half ago, but we're guessing there are a lot of Apple TV newbies out there since the recent update, so it's worth a refresher.
On your Apple TV, head into Settings > General > Remotes. There, you'll find an option called "Learn Remote." From there, it's a simple matter of following onscreen instructions; press and hold the button on your remote that you want to have control the corresponding function you see on your TV.
In addition to the basic navigation functions, you also have the option to program more advanced playback functions. This will allow you to set up fast-forward, rewind, next chapter, and a handful of other functions on your third-party remote.
The whole procedure is pretty drop-dead simple, but results will vary depending on your remote. I didn't have any issues setting up the basic navigation functions on the remote that came with my surround sound system, but no matter what I tried I couldn't get the playback controls to pair up with my Apple TV. At the very least, having the basic nav functions let me toss the standard Apple TV remote in a drawer, so that's something.
This is one feature that Apple doesn't go out of its way to advertise, but like many other things Apple's done, I now find myself wishing everything worked this way. If my TV had a programming function like this, I could finally get down to one remote control without having to shell out extra money for a universal remote.