A Home Theater Build Project - Part III


Remote control

I'll admit, I held out for quite a while. The equipment closet I use has a leafed door and if I pointed the remote at the right angle, the remote signal would pass through and hit the equipment just right for me to control things. The PS3 that I had been using used a blue-tooth controller, which didn't require line-of-sight operation and thus worked through the door just fine. I could get away with 3 remotes floating around the coffee table in the room: one for the projector, one for the receiver and the controller for the PS3. For the most part the system was usable, but really only by me: operation of the three remotes was complicated enough that I couldn't expect my wife to realistically be able to control the theater if I wasn't around.

If I was going to do a universal solution, I wanted to do it right: I wanted to construct a powerful system that my wife, heck, even my dog, would be able to use without me there to assist them. I knew many people who have success using the self-programming systems that use wizard based approaches for configuration, like Logitec's Harmony line, but I wanted to have a bit more control over the programming process. This meant looking at other options than Harmony.

I had a few overarching requirements that guided my search

Whatever remote I went with had to have Radio Frequency (RF) capabilities. Not only does RF free you from having to actually "see" your equipment to interact with it, but it also allows you to execute more complex macros without having to worry about commands being lost. Typical remote controls communicate via Infrared (IR) light pulses. These light pulses are not only incapable of passing through barriers they are also directional. When giving a series of commands required to perform more complex functions, the IR emitter needs to stay oriented towards the equipment receiving the commands. As the number of tasks and amount of equipment increases, so does the likelihood that one of these commands gets lost as the user holds the remote. Therefore, one of the first steps to constructing a reliable remote system, whether your equipment is hidden or not, is moving away from IR based solutions that requires the remote to be oriented correctly for the desired task to be successful. Given my equipment was hidden and that my tasks involved multiple pieces of equipment in different locations, RF was essential.

There is one additional piece to the puzzle: because our equipment "speaks" in IR, we need something to translate these RF signals back into an IR pulse. Referred to by different names depending on manufacturer, an "RF base-station" was also a necessary piece of gear. From this base station one runs IR emitters directly to the IR receivers on the gear, "blasting" the IR code directly to the component.

In the end I settled on a remote that had software that allowed me full access to the macro programming.

It did, without a doubt, have a steep learning curve and changing out equipment takes a little bit longer then it might with a wizard programming based solution, but after some time with the software these changes go pretty quickly. To learn more about universal remotes, their programming, and approaches that can be used to make the system both reliable and user friendly, I'd like to point you towards the forums at Remote Central.