Wireless remotes for TVs and other consumer electronics have been using infrared (IR) technology for a long, long time. Although I do remember another technology that was deployed as a wireless remote.
While in college back in the stone ages, one of my roommates brought in an old television that his parents had replaced. It used some sort of high-frequency sound to change the channels. It produced a clicking sound using a trigger mechanism. The high-frequency signal picked up by the TV was beyond what could be heard by human ears.
As you would expect, the remote actually caused a mechanical movement on the television. It could make the channels go up or down, or increase or decrease the volume. This remote was called the Zenith Space Command. It was “perfected” and significantly cost-reduced over the years and lasted through the 1980s, about 25 years after its inception. Although the remote worked, it never really worked well.
I also remember the family's second VCR shipping with a wired remote (the first VCR had no remote at all). That one worked just fine, as long as you didn't trip over the wire.
Fast forwarding to current-day technology, just about every remote control today that sits in the family living room employs IR. But that could be changing, a need that's precipitated by the latest televisions, which are much brighter than previous models. That brightness causes “issues” with the IR signal.
To overcome that problem, vendors have developed a technology called RF4CE. The big names behind RF4CE on the system side include Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, and Sony. In terms of ICs, Freescale, OKI, and Texas Instruments are the key players.
While RF4CE isn't a brand new technology, the news surrounding it is that it's now been brought into the ZigBee Alliance (www. zigbee.org). There are no plans to join the two technologies, but it's easy to see how designers can bridge between the two to form an über home network. RF4CE employs a star topology, while ZigBee forms a mesh network.
As its name implies, RF4CE uses RF signals rather than infrared, so it's unaffected by the television's brightness. It also operates at a lower power level than IR, allowing remote makers to offer a longer battery life, or go from AA batteries to AAA batteries. You can expect to see the first RF4CE remotes ship within the next few months.
Richard Nass is editorial director of TechInsights. He can be reached at .