A Challenge to the IR Standard

Comcast, the largest Cable provider in the US, is exploring Zigbee RF as an alternative to the traditional IR control of their STB’s (Set Top Boxes).

IR is the most basic remote control communication protocol in use today.  It’s a standard used by most A/V equipment manufacturers providing a hand-held remote.  There’s a couple problems with IR – most prevalent being the ‘line-of-site’ limitation for controlling sources – you must literally ‘see’ and ‘point’ your remote the vicinity of the IR receiver on such devices.  If you’ve ever had to make the aesthetically displeasing choice of cable box location – you’ve experienced the line of site issue.

Latency is the other top issue affecting IR Controls.  Typical latency rates can exceed 100ms of response time from button pressed to command recognition on equipment – which can seriously degrade user experience.  And of course, IR codes are not standard.  Your Panasonic Plasma’s ‘ON’ command may be completely different than the Samsung LCD upstairs.  Generally these command-sets come pre-programmed on the remote by manufacturer – but programming these things can be tedious.

Zigbee RF communication can rectify these issues.  Radio communication can travel through furniture and walls, which immediately resolves equipment placement issues.  An average residence can place their cable box neatly in an armoire, leaving only the TV to be seen.

Latency is significantly reduced to average 5-10ms with 20-250kbps potential bandwidth over Zigbee RF.  Yes, bandwidth.  RF Control provides two way communications for potential future uses.

Imagine your TV remote with a headphone jack for late-night viewing.

The future implementation of Zigbee RF as an A/V command protocol for mass produced hardware is largely becoming a reality.  Automation Systems have been using this RF technology for years now, and to see the subsystems these systems control – like a cable box for example – explore the same communication standard is very promising.   HDTV manuafacturers such as Philips, Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic have joined the ZigBee alliance and plan to implement this RF4CE Protocol as a command standard for displays.

Ultimately it’s going to require the big STB Manufacturers – Cisco, Scientific Atlanta, Motorolla, and Samsung – to adopt the technology.  If the A/V community shares my opinion then we’re welcoming a change – as most STB’s still lack basic discrete ON/OFF commands.

Ideally one day all home appliances and equipment will be Zigbee RF enabled – with the ability to communicate to a control system.  Cue remotely scheduled coffee maker and toaster.

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