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Universal Remotes

 We probably don't have to waste too much time discussing what a "Universal" remote control is, right? In a nutshell, they are those remotes that promise to control every electronic Audio Video device in your house with the touch of a button instead of this:

Oh yes... I hear some of you grumbling under your breath... "yeah, right. My Universal remote makes for a better paper weight than a remote control!"

Why is that? Well, there isn't an exact answer because there are a host of variables based on the technology and targeted end user.

Technology behind how a universal remote communicates with the AV devices varies and is one of the biggest variables in cost and reliability.

Communication Technology 
- Some use line of sight technology like IR (infrared) light
- Some use RF (Radio Frequency)
- Some use hardwired control like Serial RS232 communication
- Some are even starting to use Blue tooth technology 
- Some use a combination of all of these technologies

Most "consumer" grade universal remotes use the IR line of sight technology. This is the technology that most remotes utilize that come with your new Blu-ray player or TV. When you push a button the remote, an IR light (invisible to the human eye) blinks in a certain pattern. This light is spewed all over the room bouncing off everything and is indiscriminate. So, even if you are sending a "play" signal to your Blu-ray player the TV actually see's the signal as well. That'susually not really a problem because the TV has know idea what an IR "play" command for a Blu-ray player is, so the TV doesn't do anything.

However, in some cases, this indiscriminate IR blast of light can cause bad things to happen... very bad. What's more important understand about the IR technology is that the AV device must receive or be able to detect the IR code being sent to it via line of sight. i.e. you have to point the remote directly at the device for successfull communication.

An example of a "consumer" grade remote that promises the world but, may only deliver the moon. This is a great economy solution for DIYers and are available at Big Box stores. You will have to be good at following directions when setting one of these bad boys up yourself. Although they do a great job of creating a software package for programming these units, if you have older equipment or perhaps a device that is a little more exotic, you will probably pull your hair out after you wasted a weekend just trying to get it programmed. We don't sell this type because, as much as we like our customers, we can't afford to make repeat trips to fix them or make them work right.

Here's an example of what can go wrong AND very often does! Say you have a universal remote, like the one above, that has a function that turns on your entire system with one button. What happens is, a series of IR commands specific to each AV device is emitted from the front of the remote. Each AV device receives this stream of IR code from the remote. However, if for any reason, one of those commands does not get communicated to the appropriate device then, in short, all heck breaks lose. For example, the Blu-ray player comes on but the TV doesn't... the amplifier turns on but is on the wrong source.

So, to fix this, you push the "power on" button again...

But, because the Blu-ray player is already on from the first time you pushed the power on button, it turns off and the TV is now on and the amplifier is off playing in the grass in the back yard.

You get the picture... or maybe not because the TV is off now :)

Your all powerful omniscient "Universal" remote just failed miserably. After this happens a few times, you resort back to 3 or 4 or 10 remotes all sprawled out on the coffee table and only the teenage neighbor from across the street knows how to turn your system back on. Even if he does get it back on successfully, it's not optimal... ie. you only get audio out of the right speaker and you still have to get up off the sofa to push the play button on the Blu-ray player. FRUSTRATING!!

This is a pretty dismal story so far but, hang on, there is hope... Don't setup a futon in the pantry for the AV guy just yet.

There are a lot of solutions out there. We will introduce you to the solutions we sell and can stand behind because, after years in the field, we've selected these solutions because they simply work. The honest truth is, they are not cheap but, when you add up the frustration and service calls a lesser solution will surely cause, you will be able to justify at least some of the cost.

The following solutions (from left to right) are two examples from a manufacture called RTI and another from our friends at Crestron.

These remotes are capable of the IR (InfraRed) remote technology already discussed however, they also may include RF (Radio Frequency) and/or WiFi communication coupled with a control processor located near your AV equipment.

Okay so, what does that get me besides added cost?

The control processor is effectively a small computer capable of all sorts of communication protocols and is a platform that can accommodate sophisticated programming. Lets start with the communication methods.

First, RF, Serial and WiFi are more robust two-way communication protocols that allow the remote system to "know" whether a device function has been executed properly or not.

For example. The TV can reply to the system and say "Yes, I received the on command and I'm on". This way, you can see that your TV is on and more importantly, if the system detects that the TV isn't on and it needs to be then it can send the on command again automatically.

This seems like it is not really a big deal but, this is actually the crux and the source of frustration from those "other" remotes. It is also the source of the cost.

Serial RS232 communication is hardwired based communication meaning that there is actually a wire connecting the control processor to the device being controlled. Unlike the error prone IR method, there is very little chance of errors.

Besides robust two-way communication, a number of different options are available to add lighting control, HVAC control and control through an iPad, smart phone or computer so that controlling these systems even away from home is easy and convenient.

What about cost... that's what I really want to know?

Cost can range dramatically starting from about $1000 all the way until... well, lets say you can get pretty crazy and control your toaster if you wanted too. The reason it's hard to nail down a general cost is because each system is different.

The best way to get a good idea of cost is to invite an integrator.... such as AVDomotics (wink wink), to your home for a free consult.

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