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Remote Control Setups for Multi-room Systems

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A multi-room system can deliver music and video throughout your home, but it won't necessarily give you much control over your gear from afar. If you've installed in-wall volume controls along with your speakers in a multi-room music system, for example, then you can adjust the volume of whatever source you're listening to from your remote rooms. But you can't turn your system on or off, change sources, tune in a different radio station, or have your CD changer skip a track or move on to a new disc.

If you'd like to add that kind of control to your multi-room system, here are some options to consider:

  1. An RF remote control
  2. A wireless IR repeater system
  3. A wired IR repeater system

Below, we'll take a look at each of these options, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each.

RF remote control

An RF remote is a great solution for folks who want to set up additional listening or viewing areas that are within 50-100 feet of their main system. Since RF-capable remotes tend to be pricier than standard IR remotes, most people only buy one. If you go with this option, you may want to limit your system to one or two additional rooms — imagine misplacing your remote, and having to search five or six different rooms to find it.

This is a great solution for people installing a system in a finished home, since it doesn't require installation of any new in-wall wire. It's also a good fit for folks who want single-remote simplicity for their entire system.

How it works
Unlike conventional IR (infrared) remote controls, RF (radio frequency) remotes don't require line-of-sight to send commands to your gear, since RF signals can travel through floors, walls, and cabinets. However, since your audio/video components only understand IR signals, you'll also need an RF receiver to translate the RF signals into IR (often included with an RF remote), and IR flashers to send those commands to your gear. An IR flasher looks like a regular cable with two distinctly different ends. One end plugs into the RF receiver or RF hub; the other end is the IR emitter. It sits in front of the component's IR sensor, which is located on the front-panel.

RF remotes diagram RF remotes don't require line-of-sight to send commands to your gear, since RF signals can travel through floors, walls, and cabinets.

A few RF remotes let you control other devices, too
A few remotes use an RF technology known as "Z-Wave" that allows you to control other Z-Wave-enabled devices in your home, such as dimmers and switches. Using these lighting controls and your remote, you can create and activate custom lighting "scenes." For example, turn your lights down to the perfect background level for movie-watching, or turn off all the lights in your house before you go to bed. Z-Wave devices can also communicate with each other over longer distances, since each device can both receive a signal, and transmit it to another Z-Wave device.

Setup tips
Choose an RF remote that's also a "learning" remote — one that you can program to control all of your audio/video gear. With just one remote, you'll enjoy simplified, streamlined system operation.

What you need

  • RF-capable remote control
  • RF receiver/hub
  • IR flashers (1 per component, or a few larger multi-component flashers)

Pros

  • Easy to set up — no additional wires to run between rooms
  • Just one remote — since most RF remotes can be programmed to control all of your A/V gear, you won't need to keep all of your other remotes around
Cons
  • Limited range — most RF remotes can only transmit signals as far as 50-100 feet

Wireless IR repeater system

If you'd like to add more control to your secondary listening areas within 50-100 feet of your main system, without pulling additional wire through your walls, consider a wireless IR repeater system. This setup is a great fit if you already have a few programmable IR remotes that you'd like to use — some remotes that came with gear you already own, like a DVD player or cable box, may fit the bill. For the sake of convenience, you'll probably want one remote for each additional listening area.

How it works
A wireless IR repeater system starts with an IR remote control that's programmed to control the components in your system. When you press a command like "skip" or "play" from a secondary room, a tabletop transmitter changes the IR signal to RF, and sends it to an RF receiver near your main A/V system. The RF receiver turns the signals back into IR, and passes these commands on to your A/V components via IR flashers.

Wireless IR system With a wireless IR repeater system, a tabletop transmitter changes your remote's IR signal to RF, and sends that signal to an RF receiver near your main system.

Setup tips
Place your IR sensors in convenient locations, where everyone in your family finds it easy to aim the handheld remotes. Remember that the line-of-sight infrared signals your remote control puts out won't penetrate solid obstacles, such as glass cabinet doors.

What you need

  • IR remote (1 per room)
  • IR receiver/RF transmitter (1 per room)
  • RF receiver
  • IR flashers (1 per component, or a few larger multi-component flashers)
Pros
  • Easy to set up — no additional wires to run between rooms
  • Easy to expand into multiple rooms
Cons
  • Limited range — most IR repeaters can only transmit signals as far as 50-100 feet
  • Limited setup flexibility — IR receiver/RF transmitter and RF receiver must be installed near an AC outlet

Wired IR repeater system

A wired IR repeater system is perfect for folks installing a multi-room system in a home that's still under construction. You can install the IR control wire along with your in-wall speaker wire, before drywall goes up. Wired systems offer a clean, professional-looking installation.

How it works
You'll need an IR remote and IR sensor in each area where you have other audio/video gear that you'd like to control, such as speakers. The sensor detects signals from the remote control and relays them to an IR hub installed near your main system using in-wall IR control wire. The hub accepts the IR signals from each room, and passes the instructions on to your A/V gear via IR flashers.

Wired IR system In a wired IR system, an IR sensor detects signals from your IR remote and relays them to an IR hub installed near your main system via in-wall IR control wire.

Setup tips
Be sure to install sensors in convenient locations, where everyone in your family finds it easy to aim the handheld remotes. Your speakers are natural targets for a remote control, so you might install an in-wall or in-ceiling sensor nearby. Also, some in-wall volume controls include integrated IR sensors.

Try to avoid locations that are exposed to direct sunlight, since that can interfere with the reception of infrared signals in a few sensors. Also, remember that the line-of-sight infrared signals your remote control puts out won't penetrate solid obstacles, such as furniture cabinet doors.

What you need

  • IR remote (1 per room)
  • IR sensor (1 per room)
  • IR control cable (CAT-5 or CAT-6)
  • IR hub
  • IR flashers (1 per component)
Pros
  • Broad range — capable of supporting larger multi-room systems with longer distances between rooms
  • Expandable into multiple rooms
Cons
  • Difficult to install in finished construction

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