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Remotes Blog
Newest information from the Care Team at Remotes.com

What is the range of a remote control?

Remotes are convenient tools that make our lives a lot simpler, but they have their limitations. The limits often come down to the type of signal a remote sends. We’ll go over the differences and the limits in this article. After reading this, you can be confident of the range and limitations of the remotes you use every day, which can help you use your electronics to their potential and help with troubleshooting remote issues.

Infrared
The vast majority of remotes for consumer electronics used today (2018) are infrared remotes. Invented in 1980 by ViewStar, infrared became the dominant kind of remote because it has a much larger range of functions that can be programmed in the remote than previous technologies. Many manufacturers use distinct frequencies of infrared light and unique patterns of light for each of the functions a remote can do. <a href=”https://science.nasa.gov/ems/07_infraredwaves:>Infrared</a> signals are light waves that are past the visible spectrum we can see. So, you won’t be able to see the signal the remote is sending with your naked eyes, but they can be detected by most digital cameras.
The limitation of infrared signals is the dispersion or blocking of the light. Most infrared remote signals will be too weak to reach past about 30 feet, or 30 degrees to the right or the left of the sensor in the unit the remote controls, but an object placed in front of the sensor will keep a remote from working at all. Since infrared is limited by line-of-site and dispersion beyond a very short distance, it only makes sense that they are now starting to lose ground in popularity to the latest type of remote which is the next category.

Bluetooth
Second in the number of remotes in use today for consumer electronics, Bluetooth is quickly being integrated in all sorts of electronics because of its versatility. The Dutch company Ericcson invented Bluetooth in 1994 to wirelessly transfer data over short distances. Since then the standard has been used for all sorts of electronics including, wireless speakers, phones, stereo receivers, car entertainment systems, and many others. Bluetooth uses radio to establish two-way communication between the remote and the device it controls through an exclusive connection between the two called pairing. In the case of a TV that has a Bluetooth remote, this kind of connection allows for much more complex data transfer between the remote and the TV than with a traditional infrared remote. If you’ve seen commercials where people are talking into the remote to find TV shows or movies they want to see, they are using a Bluetooth connection.

Like all electronics that send energy signals, there is a limitation to the range because the signal attenuates or dissipates over distance. The first version of Bluetooth used a very low voltage transmitter which only reached 30 feet. However, Bluetooth 2.0 has improved the performance drastically both in the quality of data transfer and the distance the signal will reach. With 2.0, a signal is strong enough to transmit up to 100 feet away. One advantage of a radio signals is that it will go through wood walls and bounce around corners. Many Bluetooth devices do not need to have line of sight to the other Bluetooth device they are connected to. With Bluetooth, some manufacturers are even creating Apps for smartphones to use the technology and allow people to use their phone as a remote control.

Ultrasonic
Tiny hammers? Zenith invented a miniature piano that fits in the palm of your hand and used aluminum rods and small hammers to strike the rods which produces a soundwave that is too high for our ears to pick up. That is basically, what an ultrasonic remote is. Usually consisting of 4-6 rods early on, the ultrasonic remote was limited in what functions it could control, but it was a consistent performer and was the standard in Television remotes for about 20 years. The effective range of an ultrasonic remote depends on the sophistication and sensitivity of the sensor. Current sensors can detect an ultrasonic signal from about 20 meters or 70 feet away. However, attenuation of the signal (reduction of the strength of the signal over distance) varies. The higher the frequency, the shorter the distance the signal will travel because the signal doesn’t have enough strength to travel very far.

Ultrasonic remote controls for TVs only worked within about 20 feet of the television because of the technology of the time, and the amplitude of the signal was not boosted electronically.

Summary:

Below is a chart that shows the type of signals used by each type of remote covered in this article and also the limitations of each technology.

Remote

Invented

Signal

Distance

Limitation

Ultrasonic

1956

Sound

20 feet, not limited by direction.

Number of commands

Infrared

1980

Light

30 feet, limited to line of site.

One-way communication

Bluetooth

1994

Radio

100 feet, not limited by direction or line of site.

Interference


For more information on the history of remote controls in consumer electronics, please see our article on the History of Remotes. (Internal link to first article)
For more information on the technology of signals used for communications I recommend this as a good article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency-hopping_spread_spectrum

For more information on Bluetooth signal technology, I recommend Bluetooth’s website: https://www.bluetooth.com/bluetooth-technology