Remote controls will not be going away but they will be evolving. For the time being no TV maker or cable company will dare to ship a system without a remote. It is all about customer service. For the few bucks a remote costs, they are ensured against most customer service calls: the TV or entertainment device HAS to work out of the box. They can't afford to have the consumer return the device because they can't figure out how to change the channel or raise the volume with the smart phone.
For this they need a remote that is proven to work for the device. Yes, in addition to the remote, your device can be programmed via the net. However, TV makers and cable companies do not want to provide customer service on your iPhone or smartphone. Because of this need to have the device work out of the box, tens of millions of remotes will continue to be shipped every year. One service call can equal or surpass the price of the remote control device.
Here is another reason you need a remote.
What happens when you are on the phone and your kids or significant other wants to change the channel? Are you going to hand them your phone? Probably not. Imagine you are going out for the evening and the babysitter wants to watch TV. Are you going to let her have access to your web connection? Most people will not leave the phone at home while they are out. So, not having a remote control just does not make sense.
Remote controls are not going to disappear.
However though, remote controls are evolving - away from IR to RF (more specifically to Zig-Bee RF4CE). Many industry players have already signaled the switch over. For example, interactive RF4CE remotes are already shipping with Comcast's new Xfinity set top boxes and Sony TV's in Japan.
Comcast's RF4CE remote controls are including both RF and IR transmitters. Consumers can use them to control the new generation of TVs and set-top boxes as well as older BluRay and DVD players, internet streaming boxes, etc. However, in a few years, as IR disappears, more and more remotes will be RF only.
Sony is using RF4CE with their new TV sets to enable their users to easily order and purchase items they see on TV. They don't need a computer or phone. It is all done via the RF4CE remote.
Why are RF based remotes better than IR remotes?
RF is all about radio - using ZigBee RF4CE - which is very similar to Wi-Fi in range, reliability, security, etc. RF based remotes signal can penetrate walls, cabinets, floors, furniture, etc. This means no more pointing of the remote at a small IR sensor on your TV or set top box and hoping that it will work. The set top box can be hidden away in a closet or home entertainment cabinet. The radio signal will penetrate the wood and enable the user to control all the TV and set-top boxes functions.
RF4CE remotes support interactivity. This is one of the top reasons that cable companies are moving to RF4CE now. One of the biggest problems that cable companies face is that their subscribers have a hard time configuring their cable company supplied remote with the control codes for rest of their home entertainment hardware. This is even worse with new gear that they go out and purchase after their cable box is installed.
RF4CE's interactivity enables the cable company to download the new control codes to the set-top box which then transmits them to the remote control. Voila. The cable remote can now control other devices. No more researching esoteric IR control codes and then laboriously punching them in one by one to find a code that actually works.
Cable companies are also interested in RF4CE's exceptionally low power demand. Eliminating the need to change batteries reduces service calls associated with out of power remotes, which interestingly enough are a significant percentage of the total number of calls. It also means that end users no longer need to change or recharge batteries. Because of that, there is no need for battery compartment doors., resulting in more elegant remote control designs.
In addition to easy configuration and reduction of remote control service complaints, cable companies are looking to the future and their very existence.
Much has been said about the migration away from cable to web based entertainment. In order to fight loss of subscribers, cable companies need to offer new engaging and highly valuable services. These can include home security, energy monitoring and management, environment control, home health monitoring, etc. All of these applications, feeding into the cable companies set top box, can be controlled and monitored via the interactivity feature of the ZigBee RF4CE remote control.
Other features are targeted to the home user. One cool feature that uses RF4CE interactivity is the new 'Find My Remote' button. Push the Find My Remote button on the TV set or cable box and your missing remote starts beeping and flashing, making it a lot easier to find.
New motion controlled remotes will let users escape the drudgery of having to click though programming guides. Instead, using the remote like a wireless mouse, they can easily scroll up, down, sideways, to navigate their entertainment and control options.
How many of us still rely on keyboard commands for our computing? It is mostly mouse and movement driven. The same evolution will come to remote controls. IR will not support that level of interactivity and motion sophistication but RF4CE surely can.
Prepare for a new generation of easy to use radio powered remote controls that interact and interface with the set-top box to manage and control entertainment and home automation capabilities.