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Why TV Remotes Need Connectivity Protocols Like Bluetooth® LE and RF4CE

Telink Staff

June 25, 2020


Two hands with different remotes

When it comes to TV remote connectivity, Bluetooth® LE and RF4CE outpace infrared technology. Here’s what you need to know.

Engineers and product designers have two options when it comes to remote control connectivity: infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF). IR and RF connectivity protocols differ notably in their coverage range, data rate, and wavelength frequency. IR-based remotes have a coverage range of up to 10 meters, a data rate of 500 bps to 1 kbps, and wavelengths between 700 nm and 1 mm. RF-based remotes have a significantly longer range of 50 meters (with line of sight), a data rate of 100 kbps, and wavelengths between 300 GHz and 400 THz on the frequency scale.

While many remote control manufacturers still opt for legacy IR technology because it’s relatively inexpensive, RF-based protocols, specifically Bluetooth® Low Energy and Zigbee Radio Frequency for Consumer Electronics (RF4CE), offer many distinct advantages for consumers. For instance, RF-based remotes are more responsive and allow users to control their TVs or home theaters from anywhere in their homes instead of having to remain within a few meters of their systems.

In this article, we take a look at how Bluetooth LE and RF4CE work, how they address the shortcomings of IR protocols, and why Telink chips are leaders in remote control solutions.

How Do Bluetooth® LE and RF4CE Work?

The explosive growth of the IoT and the prevalence of smart devices have made advanced RF technologies a necessity. According to the 2019 Bluetooth Market Update, over half of all TVs sold in 2023 will have Bluetooth as the standard connectivity option, and 300 million Bluetooth remote controls will ship annually by 2023.

The connectivity protocol of choice for devices like smart lighting and wearables, Bluetooth LE improves on Bluetooth Classic by significantly reducing devices’ power consumption, which is critical for massive bases of IoT devices running on batteries. Bluetooth LE operates in the 2.4GHz ISM radio band to send and receive data between connected devices. No additional hardware is necessary, and Bluetooth LE is easy to use — in fact, most consumers are already familiar with the technology.

Zigbee RF4CE is a low-power, low-cost, low-latency connectivity solution that can power a number of smart devices like garage door openers and keyless entry systems. It provides a reliable form of two-way communication and allows users to control their devices from greater distances. RF4CE creates a personal area network (PAN) that consists of a target device, like a TV or set-top box, and a controller device like a remote control. Upon initial connection, each target device creates its own PAN with which other connected devices can pair. Users with RF4CE-enabled remotes can easily pair their remote with multiple devices without sacrificing functionality or connectivity.

Bluetooth® LE and RF4CE vs. Infrared

When it comes to TV remote connectivity, Bluetooth LE and RF4CE outpace infrared technology in five key areas:

  1. Transmission: IR is unidirectional and requires a clear line of sight for data transmission. RF technology, on the other hand, is bidirectional. Bluetooth LE and RF4CE remotes can control target devices without a clear line of sight, and can transmit through walls or behind cabinets.
  2. Pairability: IR technology uses pulses of infrared light rays to build a one-to-one connection between two devices. Since each Bluetooth LE- and RF4CE-enabled device creates its own PAN, they can connect with multiple devices and host universal remotes.
  3. Range: While IR devices have a range of no more than 10 meters, Bluetooth LE and Zigbee RF4CE have long-range capabilities. A Zigbee remote control has a coverage range of 50 meters, while Bluetooth LE’s range can extend to almost 100 meters with more advanced settings.
  4. Energy Efficiency: Early iterations of RF technology quickly drained battery power. Both Bluetooth LE and RF4CE are designed to keep transmission power low. Engineers can translate these power savings into longer battery life or a smaller remote battery.
  5. Voice Control: The latest IR technology doesn’t support voice control, but Bluetooth LE and Zigbee do. A full-featured RF4CE remote control includes a digital PDM microphone that allows it to record a user’s voice through the audio inlet at the top of the remote. Rigorous testing has proven that Bluetooth LE’s low-complexity communication codec (LC3) offers higher audio quality at lower power and data rates.
Remote Control Ranges

Given these advantages, engineers and product designers choosing a communications protocol for their remote controls should place radio frequency-based technology at the top of their lists. Bluetooth LE and Zigbee RF4CE are sophisticated connectivity protocols that offer flexibility, pairability, superior transmission range, and energy efficiency.

The Telink Difference

Telink is a leader in Bluetooth LE and Zigbee RF4CE connectivity solutions, powering remotes for some of the largest smart TV, set-top box, and OTT box manufacturers in the world. We have years of experience fine-tuning our stack based on client feedback, and we know what capabilities are most important to you. Our chips offer RF technology’s performance, reliability, and energy efficiency, and they empower engineers to implement RF technologies at scale.

When you choose Telink, you receive high-performing chips with optimized BOM and comprehensive developer support that accelerates your time-to-market. To learn more, contact us today.

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