IR Distribution

So you want to hide all your tech devices from sight but need to control them with your IR remote controls.  Problem is, IR remote controls only work in line of sight.  You have to actually point the remote control at the device to control it.  Not to worry, there are lots of products out there which can relay the IR signal to another location.

magic_ir_eye_front

IR Receiver

Pictured above is the Labgear MRX110 set top IR receiver.  Place one of these or a simliar product in each room on top or under your TV to relay IR signals from your remote control to where ever your device is located.  Each MRX110 or other makes of IR receiver are connected to a single run of Coax cable.  This cable can also carry an RF signal which can be sourced from a TV ariel or straight out of the back of your satellite or cable box or even your CCTV using an RF modulator.  The set top IR receiver is powered by the small voltage running in the coax.

IR Decoder

Power is injected into the coax using the Labgear MRX120 unit pictured below.  This unit extracts the IR information from the incoming coax cable and sends IR commands to IR emitters which are plugged in to the bottom of the unit. Depending on your requirements you can use specific and directed IR emitters which attach to the front of the device, or you can use flood IR emitters to control multiple devices.  The IR decoder contains it's own power adaptor so can be plugged directly into the mains.  The input is the Aerial or RF signal you want to distribute via the outputs.  This means you can distribute TV or radio via RF along with the IR.  Most types of IR receiver come with a splitter so you can feed one piece of coax into the back of the TV and the IR receiver.

labgear_ir_repeater

This works well if you only have 2 locations recieving IR, but if you want more you'll need something to split and amplify the signal.


IR Distribution for Multiple Rooms

LabGear make a nice distribution unit available in 4 and 8 channels.  Below is a picture of the LabGear HDU681 8 channel version.  It's not just for distributing IR throughout your house, but also distributes RF, UHF, FM and DAB.  So basically anything you recieve via your TV Ariel or the RF outputs from the back of your cable or sky box.  Please note that the picture quality from the RF socket of your sky or cable box is only acceptable for old CRT TV's.  An RF signal looks terrible on modern HD TV's.  But distributing your TV ariel throughout your house means that TV's with Freeview decoders can pick up a good quality signal.

Each IR receiver and TV is connected via coax to the out connectors.  Connect one of the outputs from the MRX120 ir decoder(above) or similar device into the uplink on the Labgear HDU6XX.  The IR signal will be sent back to the LabGear distribution unit and then on to the MRX120 which in turn will emit/relay the IR signals to your devices where ever they may be. 

labgear_hdu681_ir_distribution

Also known as a 'loft box', the Labgear Distribution Unit needs mains power.  The power supply is built in and vented on the right hand side if you look at the picture above.  The unit has mounts to attach it to the wall.  With so many connections it's important that the distribution unit is secured firmly.


IR Emitters

So you've created your IR network, now you need to relay the IR signal to each device you want to control.  IR emitters connect using a standard headphone jack like you'll find in an iphone or a good old fashioned Sony Walkman!  There are many IR emitters to choose from and as long as the connection fits all brands i've tried work.  There are 2 main types of IR emitter.  They are:

Single Device IR Emitters

Single device IR emitters normally attach to the IR receiver of the device you want to control.  Most come with a peel off sticky back plastic so you can stick it directly onto the infrared receiver.  If you can locate the IR receiver on your device, in theory this is the most reliable way to control anything via IR.  Because the IR emitter is directly on the receiver there is very little interference so the signal should be strong.  But if you have lots of devices to control it can be a pain attaching all the emitters.  Below is a picture of the Lab Gear single device IR emitters supplied with the Labgear MRX120 ir decoder.

ir_single_device_emitter

Stick on single device IR emitters are also useful for controlling TV's in rooms from Node 0. You can use Cat 5 to run the IR signal from Node 0 to your TV.  Normally you would do this to control the TV from an IP device emitting IR.  Read the next section.

IR Flood Emitters

As the name suggests these IR emitters are designed to flood a location with infrared. If you have all your devices in one location such as Node 0 and you don't have problems with IR conflicts(except Sky - read here) flood emitters do the job well.  I use 3 flood IR emitters for a 42U rack as an example.  Below is a picture of a QED IR flood emitter.  The screw holes look useful, and i sure they are when mounted on wood.  But mounting on a 19" rack normally means you need to use tape!

ir_flood_emitter 


The Modern way to control IR devices

The invention of wifi networks and mobile touch screen devices such as the Itouch or Iphone has seriously started to challenge the traditional IR dominated method of control.  Technically you can forget about the IR network and use an IP network to relay IR commands to 'simple' devices such as your Sky box or Blue Ray player.  Now it's common place to have an IP network in your house, so why bother with an IR network?  The answer is simple.  In most cases you need to send a TV ariel signal to each zone so you need to intall the coax anyway.  You do have the additional costs of all the IR gear, but as long as you have power, it works.  It also means you can use your normal IR remote controls in every room.  This means anyone can use your TV without using or destroying your touch screen device.  And when your network has problems, mobile battery runs out or server goes down you can still watch TV!

Remote IP IR Control 

There are various methods to control IR devices through an IP network.  You can plug PCI cards into the back of your PC to emit IR, but the industry standard seems to be Global Cache.  Global Cache make a variety of good quality products which are small network devices that have outputs for IR emitters.   They also have options for contact closures and serial port control.  You can learn your IR codes using the Global Cache IR learning device.

To control your Global Cache network device you are going to need some kind of software.  Most Home Automation software supports Global Cache.  I use Global Cache with Homeseer and MainLobby running on my server via HSTouch on my Iphone/ITouch, but now there are specific apps you can download to control Global Cache without the need of a server running 24/7.  Software is available to design your GUI. Global Cache has an open API, so anything on a network than can send an http command can and will control it.

Below are a couple of screen shots from my HSTouch App.  The one on the left is the screen which controls my Sky+ box.  On pressing a button HSTouch sends a command to Homeseer which then executes an event telling the Global Cache device to emit IR.  Having more than one Sky box will cause IR conflicts.  Read here for more.

HSTouch sonos style skyremote HSTouch_sonos_style_xbmc_remote

On the right hand side is my XBMC controller page.  XBMC is an opensource media centre which I use to view all the media on my server via any TV in my house.  XBMC is not controlled via IR so instead, Homeseer excutes a custom VB script which then sends http commands to XBMC.


IR Distribution Conclusion

It all depends on your setup and how much you depend on IR.  Technically you don't need to have IR relayed from every room in your house, but if all your media devices are centrally located it makes sense.  Sure, a server or Iphone app can control these devices but it's always nice to be able to pick up the standard remote control.   It's a fail safe option.

There are many makes of IR devices and systems on the market.  You can pick and mix in most cases but check first.  One thing is for sure, you'll need a Global Cache for anything more than a simple 1-1 magic eye installation.

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