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IR vs RF Remote Controls. Which is right for you?

IR(Infrared) vs. RF(Radio Frequency)

In today’s electronic market, there are two primary types of remote control systems available to consumers, IR based systems and RF based systems. Deciding on which system is the right one for you takes an understanding of the key differences between the two.

Let’s start with the more popular type of control, which is IR, or Infrared.

I always explain to clients that the easiest way to understand how an IR remote control works is to think of it as a “flashlight”. In order for a flashlight to work correctly for you, you must point it in the direction you want to see. The same holds true for an IR remote control. Infrared remotes emit light from the front of them, therefore you must point them directly at the piece of equipment you are trying to control.

The equipment has what is known as an “IR pickup” on the front of it, which takes the different frequencies of light coming from the remote and interprets them as “commands”. Just about every remote that comes with any piece of A/V equipment these days uses an IR based control system. This type of system works great if all of your equipment is sitting at eye level and directly in front of you with no obstructions between you and the equipment. In today’s homes, however, this is usually not the case.

More often than not, people are hanging their TV’s on the wall and putting all of their equipment in a nice piece of furniture below, or simply setting the TV on top of a cabinet which holds the equipment. This can cause some functionality issues with an IR system.

That brings us to RF, or Radio Frequency control systems.

The easiest way to think of an RF remote control is to compare it to a walkie talkie. If I have a walkie talkie in one room, and you have one on the same channel in another room, we can still communicate with each other, regardless of the fact that there are walls and other obstructions between us.

That is exactly what an RF control system can do for you and your A/V equipment. It can allow you to place your equipment behind the solid doors of a cabinet, or even in a closet in a hallway or another room, and still have the ability to control it. The best part is that you don’t have to point the remote at any of the equipment. This is because with every button press on an RF remote, that “command” is sent via radio frequency to an RF “processor”, which in turn translates the command into IR, and out to the piece of equipment you are trying to control.

The most important things to consider when trying to decide on which type of control system is right for you are the location of the equipment and where you will be controlling it. An IR system can work just fine as long as there are no obstructions between you and the equipment. As a rule of thumb, an RF system is usually the better choice, because it allows more flexibility in the install, more reliability, and better ease of use.

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