- What is a remote control extender?
- Why you might need a remote control extender
- How a remote control extender works
- The limitations of remote control extenders
- What you need to consider when choosing a remote control extender
What is a remote control extender?
A remote control extender (sometimes called - amongst other things - an infrared extender, IR extender, or infrared remote control extender) is a simple device which allows you to control equipment using its existing remote control (or a universal remote control) when the equipment is beyond the range of the remote control or even hidden away from sight.
Why you might need a remote control extender
Remote control extenders may be useful with almost any device which can be operated using an infrared remote control where it is not possible to point the remote control at the device itself or the range of the remote control is insufficient. In practice, you'd be most likely to need a remote control extender in the following circumstances:
- You want to control audio-visual equipment which is hidden behind a (flat-screen) television.
- You want to control audio-visual equipment which is hidden behind a cupboard door.
- You want to control audio-visual equipment which is in a different room from where you watch and/or listen to it.
How a remote control extender works
Most remote controls use infra-red light to communicate with the equipment you want to control. If you think of your remote control as a torch then you need to be able to shine that torch at your audio-visual equipment in order to get it to work. That becomes rather difficult if your audio-visual equipment is deliberately hidden away in a cupboard or even located in a different room to where you're watching and/or listening to it. A remote control extender overcomes this difficulty by receiving the infra-red signal from your remote control and then transmitting that signal somewhere else.
Remote control extenders generally consist of three main elements:
- One or more infra-red receivers – which receive the signal from your remote control.
- One or more infra-red emitters – which re-transmit the signal from your remote control to the device(s) you want to control.
- Some electronics – which process the signal received by the infra-red receiver(s) and transmits it to the infra-red emitter(s).
The limitations of remote control extenders
Remote control extenders are pretty versatile bits of kit - but they do have some limitations. In particular, you should be aware of the following:
- Your remote control and associated device might not be compatible with a particular remote control extender
Manufacturers use a surprising range of different methods to create the signals that a remote sends to the device it is designed to control. Most remote control extenders are capable of dealing with this range of methods but just occasionally there is an incompatibility.
In practice there's not a lot you an do to check whether a particular remote control extender is compatible with a specific device. Remote control extender manufacturers do sometimes publish the technical specifications of the control signals they can process but the corresponding information is rarely matched by manufacturers of the devices you actually want to control.
The situation is sometimes made worse by the 'definitive' statements made on forums and in comments left on retailer websites by purchasers that 'remote control extender A is not compatible with product/brand B'. Failure to control a device can be due to many things, not least the supplied product itself having a fault or even simple user error!
In many cases, the best you can do is buy from a reputable online supplier (and exercise your legal right to return a product if it does not meet your requirements).
- Remote control extenders send the same instructions to every device
A remote control extender is actually fairly basic in so far as whatever the IR receiver receives is what the IR emitters emit.
What that means is every device in range of an emitter receives every signal from every remote control. This is no different to what happens if you have a DVD player, a Sky box and an Apple TV under your television. They are all pretty good at identifying which control signals are meant for them (because, remember, different manufacturers use different methods) and ignoring anything that they don't recognise.
A potential problem does arise if, for example, you decide to put all of your home technology in a media cupboard and you end up with identical devices (say, two Sky boxes) in that cupboard. If that's the case you're going to have to give some careful thought to how you are going to identify which device you are trying to control from which room.
- Wireless signals travel through walls and ceilings!
If you choose a wireless remote control extender solution then be aware that the signals can extend beyond the walls and ceilings of your property. This isn't really a problem if the nearest property to yours is a few metres away but it can be a problem if you live in a flat, a semi-detached house or a terraced house. In these cases, if your neighbour has the same remote control extender set as you and is using it to control the same devices as you then there is a fighting chance you're going to end up controlling each other's kit! For that reason, you might prefer to choose a wired solution if you share walls and/or floors/ceilings with a neighbour.
What you need to consider when choosing a remote control extender
To choose your ideal remote control extender you should consider your answers to the following questions:
- What do you want your remote control extender to do?
When choosing a remote control extender the first thing you need to do is to be absolutely clear what you want it do in terms of your specific situation. For example:
- You may want to control audio-visual equipment which is hidden behind a (flat-screen) television.
- You may want to control audio-visual equipment which is hidden behind a cupboard door.
- You may want to control audio-visual equipment which is in a different room from where you watch and/or listen to it.
Some remote control extenders can be used in any of the above situations, whereas others are really only suitable for more specific applications.
- How many audio-visual devices do you want to want to control?
The number, and type, of infra-red emitters that can be accommodated by a remote control extender dictates how many audio-visual devices it can control.
A 'spot' emitter can control one audio-visual device and a 'blaster' emitter can control as many devices as are within its range and line-of-sight. Depending on the number of devices you want to control you need to choose a remote control extender with enough emitters.
- Are you happy to identify the location of the infra-red receiver on each of your audio-visual devices individually?
Using one or more 'spot' emitters means that you have to find the location of the infra-red receiver on each of your audio-visual devices. This is usually straight-forward but some devices (Sky boxes in particular) can require quite a bit of trial and error as the infra-red receiver is not easy to identify.
Using one or more 'blaster' emitters means that you do not have to find the location of the infra-red receiver on each of your audio-visual devices, you can simply place the emitter in front of your equipment and it will control everything within its range and line-of-sight.
- How visible do you want your remote control extender to be?
Some (usually lower cost) remote control extenders build their infra-red receiver into their electronics module. This means that the electronics module has to be situated somewhere you can see it so that you can point a remote control at it.
Some remote control extenders have a separate infra-red receiver which connects to their electronics module via a cable. This means that the electronics module can be located somewhere out of sight and only the infra-red receiver itself has to be visible.
- If your audio-visual equipment is in a cupboard, can you easily point your remote control at the cupboard?
If you can easily point your remote control at the cupboard that contains your audio-visual equipment then you have the choice of the widest range of remote control extenders. Other than cost, your primary considerations are likely to be around aesthetics and the number of devices you want to control.
If you can't easily point your remote control at the cupboard that contains your audio-visual equipment then you should look at products which allow for separation of the infra-red receiver from the other elements. You can achieve this separation either by installing a cable between your cupboard and somewhere where you can easily point your remote control, or by using a 'wireless' solution.
- Do you need to be able to control your audio-visual equipment from a different room (and if so, can you install a cable back to your equipment)?
If you need to be able to control your audio-visual equipment from a different room then you need to choose a remote control extender which allows for separation of the infra-red receiver from the other elements. You can achieve this separation either by installing a cable between each room and the equipment you want to control, or by using a 'wireless' solution.
- Do you need to be able to control your audio-visual equipment from more than one room?
If you need to be able to control your audio-visual equipment from more than one room then you need to choose a remote control extender set which allows multiple infra-red receivers to be connected.
- How do you want to power your remote control extender?
Many remote control extenders are supplied with mains power adapters, but some can be powered from an available USB port (or a USB power adapter) or via batteries.