How Does a Remote Control Work

How does a remote control really work? It seems like magic: push a button and the channel changes. You probably haven't given much thought to what happens after you press the button, or wondered how TV remote controls can do so many different things, from running a DVD player to adjusting the volume or the brightness of the picture.

Invisible Beams of Light
There are two primary remote control technologies: radio frequency remotes, or RF remotes, that use radio waves, and infrared, or IR, remotes that use infrared light. Because so many devices use radio waves, from cell phones to wireless routers, almost every home remote that's made today uses IR technology.

IR technology uses low-frequency light wavesthat fall below red on the light spectrum. They are undetectable to the human eye.

By modulating the infrared light pulses, a remote control can broadcast a set of signals representing a specific task to the television. The signals are created when you push the button on the remote.

For example, if you press the increase volume button on the remote, your touch presses the key down onto a circuit located on a circuit board inside the remote. The button makes contact with the circuit and sends out a pattern of light waves that tell the TV to turn up the volume. A remote control has a separate circuit for each thing you want to control, such as channel, volume, etc. Additional circuits are used to run cable receivers or DVD players.

Each circuit converts a button press to an electrical impulse. The circuit sends this electrical impulse to an infrared light-emitting diode (LED) located at the front of the remote. The LED converts the electrical impulse to infrared light pulses. Each signal is repeated five times a second to make sure that the receiver gets the information

The television contains an infrared receiver that picks up these incoming signals from the remote and translates the light pulses into the proper electrical command.

Most infrared devices operate in a 30-foot radius, and they must have a direct line of sight between the remote and the receiver. The infrared receiver on a TV responds to a specific wavelength of infrared light, usually 980 nanometers. 

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