What remote controls are


A remote control is an electronic device used for the remote operation of a machine.

The term remote control can be contracted to remote or controller. It is known by many other names as well, such as clicker and also the changer. It however, is also known as the button, mainly in North England[citation needed. Commonly, remote controls are Consumer IR devices used to issue commands from a distance to televisions or other consumer electronics such as stereo systems and DVD players. Remote controls for these devices are usually small wireless handheld objects with an array of buttons for adjusting various settings such as television channel, track number, and volume. In fact, for the majority of modern devices with this kind of control, the remote contains all the function controls while the controlled device itself only has a handful of essential primary controls. Most of these remotes communicate to their respective devices via infrared (IR) signals and a few via radio signals. They are usually powered by small AAA or AA size batteries.


Television Remote Controls

The first remote intended to control a television was developed by Zenith Radio Corporation in 1950. The remote officially called 'Lazy Bones' was connected to the television set by a wire. To improve the cumbersome setup, a wireless remote control called 'Flashmatic' was developed in 1955 which worked by shining a beam of light onto a photoelectric cell. Unfortunately, the cells did not distinguish between light from the remote and light from other sources and the Flashmatic also required that the remote control be pointed very accurately at the receiver.

The Zenith Space Commander 600 remote controlIn 1956 Robert Adler developed 'Zenith Space Command', a wireless remote.It was mechanical and used ultrasound to change the channel and volume. When the user pushed a button on the remote control it clicked and struck a bar, hence the term 'clicker'. Each bar emitted a different frequency and circuits in the television detected this noise. The invention of the transistor made possible cheaper electronic remotes that contained a piezoelectric crystal that was fed by an oscillating electric current at a frequency near or above the upper threshold of human hearing, though still audible to dogs. The receiver contained a microphone attached to a circuit that was tuned to the same frequency. Some problems with this method were that the receiver could be triggered accidentally by naturally occurring noises, and some people, especially young women, could hear the piercing ultrasonic signals. There was even a noted incident in which a toy xylophone changed the channels on these types of TVs since some of the overtones from the xylophone matched the remote's ultrasonic frequency.

The impetus for a more complex type of television remote control came in the late 1970s with the development of the Ceefax teletext service by the BBC. Most commercial remote controls at that time had a limited number of functions, sometimes as few as three: next channel, previous channel, and volume/off. This type of control did not meet the needs of teletext sets where pages were identified with three-digit numbers. A remote control to select teletext pages would need buttons for each number from zero to nine, as well as other control functions, such as switching from text to picture, and the normal television controls of volume, station, brightness, colour intensity and so on. Early teletext sets used wired remote controls to select pages but the continuous use of the remote control required for teletext quickly indicated the need for a wireless device. So BBC engineers began talks with one or two television manufacturers which led to early prototypes in around 1977-78 that could control a much larger number of functions. ITT was one of the companies and later gave its name to the ITT protocol of infrared communication.

Social Effects of the Early Television Remote Control

In the 1950s remotes were extra upgrades options to TV sets. As previously mentioned, Zenith was ready to change the lives of 'lazy' people for good.The initial purpose to the TV remote was to turn off the TV set from afar, and to change the channels or mute commercials. People were told that the remote could turn off the TV while they were still laying in their LaZBoy and thus could drift off to sleep without interruption. A common complaint was that people tripped on the cable that was attached to the first remotes. It was not until 1955 that Zenith created the 'Flash-matic'or their first wireless remote. While it helped keep the flow of traffic without tripping people along the way, the 'Flash-matic'was not flawless. It frustrated people when the sun would hit the TV set, thus changing the channel.

The remote gave viewers an opportunity to 'arm' themselves. Viewers no longer watched a show because they did not want to get up to turn the channel.

Audiences were 'armed'with the ability to change their minds about what they were watching. It allowed audiences, for the first time, to interact with their TV. The remote's technology and buzz started something the first of its kind for the everyday TV viewer: the Joystick.The Joystick allowed people to interact with their TV, liberating the kinds of interaction they had with their television. Pong- the game in which people first used joysticks- was a basic game that was based on ping-pong. This new technology gave the average TV owner the ability to manipulate his or her own pixel on the TV screen for the first time.

The invention of the remote control has led to several different changes in television programming. One thing that the remote control led to was the creation of split screen credits. According to James Gleick, an NBC research team discovered that when the credits started rolling after a program, 25% of its viewers would change the channel before it was over. Because of this, the NBC 2000 unit invented the'squeeze and tease'which squeezed the credits onto one third of the screen while the final minutes of the broadcast aired simultaneously.

The remote control also led to an adjustment in commercial airings. Networks began to feel that they could not afford to have commercials between programs because it would detract viewers from staying tuned in on their channel. Programmers decided to place commercials in the middle of programs in order to transition into the next show directly.

With networks keeping in mind that people were equipped with remotes, thirty-second advertisement spots were cut down into segments of eight seconds or less. MTV was made up of this high-speed and broken cutting style, which aired music videos that were around three-minutes and each shot no more than two or three seconds. But MTV felt that even these three-minute segments were too long, so they created an animated series called Beavis and Butthead, to keep their viewer's attention. In the show, they would show segments of music videos and then switch back to the characters and offer dialogue and action while the music video played in the background. Beavis and Butthead was purposefully stagnant, with slow dialogue and depending on reaction shots, but animation takes the most management and the pacing is everything. The last fraction of a second of sound track overlaid with the first fraction of a second of the visual track for the next scene.

Other Remote Controls

In the 1980s Steve Wozniak of Apple, started a company named CL 9. The purpose of this company was to create a remote control which could operate multiple electronic devices. The CORE unit as it was named (Controller Of Remote Equipment) was introduced in the fall of 1987. The advantage to this remote controller was that it could 'learn'remote signals from other different devices. It also had the ability to perform specific or multiple functions at various times with its built in clock. It was also the first remote control which could be linked to a computer and loaded with updated software code as needed. The CORE unit never made a huge impact of the market. It was much too cumbersome for the average user to program, but it received rave reviews from those who could figure out how to program it. These obstacles eventually lead to the demise of CL 9, but one of its employees continued the business under the name Celadon. This was one of the first computer controlled learning remote controls on the market.

By the early 2000s, the number of consumer electronic devices in most homes greatly increased, along with the number of remotes to control those devices. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, an average American home has four remotes. To operate a home theater as many as five or six remotes may be required, including one for cable or satellite receiver, VCR or digital video recorder, DVD player, TV and audio amplifier. Several of these remotes may need to be used sequentially, but, as there are no accepted interface guidelines, the process is increasingly cumbersome. Many specialists, including Jakob Nielsen, a renowned usability specialist and Robert Adler, the inventor of the modern remote, note how confusing, unwieldy and frustrating the multiplying remotes have become.