Why would anyone buy an infrared remote?

This is your garden variety infrared remote. We have tons of different types at Solid Signal, plus manufacturer branded ones from DIRECTV and DISH. All of these remotes have one thing in common: they may do something else, but they can all put out an infrared signal which controls some (or all) of your devices.

The thing about infrared remotes, though, is that they aren’t incredibly good at what they do. You have to point them carefully, they don’t work if there’s a wall or door between you and the thing you want to control, and they can even be defeated by a simple piece of tape.

It would be one thing if there weren’t competition out there. Many devices — especially DIRECTV and DISH receivers — can be controlled by RF remotes. These devices look just like other remotes but they give you the option of putting the equipment it a cabinet or just not having to aim as well. DIRECTV’s Genie and DISH’s Hopper ship with RF remotes because people like them, and even if you want to buy a replacement they’re not that pricey. RF would seem like the way to go.

Or, because it’s 2018, you can control a lot of stuff with your phone. I spent years railing against smartphone remotes which weren’t very good and required you to unlock the phone first, but I’ve come around pretty recently because it’s just getting better and easier.

So why, to paraphrase John Oliver, are IR remotes still a thing? Let’s take a look at the facts.

Cheap and reliable

Infrared, or IR, remotes don’t cost much to make and they’re really efficient on power. That’s a big part of their appeal. Most equipment is designed to use an IR remote because it literally costs pennies to build this functionality into something, and just a quarter or two more for the remote itself.

Forget about futureproof, they’re pastproof.

The universal remote control has been around for decades. (Here’s the proof.) Dedicated IR remotes were around even before that, becoming common in the 1970s. A lot of the same names that were around back then, names like Philips and Sony, are still around today and their equipment still uses the same IR codes more or less. Pick up a remote from a brand new Sony TV chances are it’s going to operate that 1970s Trinitron.

Manufacturers like this kind of stability, it’s good for customer service to say that most remotes are going to work equally. If you had a DIRECTV D10 in your bedroom and you replaced it with the most modern Genie Mini Client, the remote from the D10 would still work. It wouldn’t work as well as the new RF-enabled Genie Remote, but it would still work. And if you like that old remote and it makes you happy, that’s something important to consider.

Everything has IR, it’s too common to ignore.

Even fancy RF remotes also have IR built in so they can control IR devices. Some fancy smartphone-based setups include an “IR Blaster” so that the phone can control older or less expensive devices. It’s just ubiquitous. Luckily RF remotes switch back and forth to IR quite easily… for example your garden variety Genie Remote controls your TV with IR and your DIRECTV box with RF. You don’t even notice the difference.

Should you buy an IR-only remote?

If you’re trying to control a lot of different devices, especially older or less expensive ones, an IR remote may be all you need. But don’t be afraid to get a remote with some RF capabilities if you think you’ll need them. It’s always nice to have options.

Thanks to Signal Pro Jessica who contributed to this article!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.