A Tale of Infrared Transmission Reliability: My Thoughts, Solution, and a Suggestion

Hi All -

Before I begin: I have yet to determine why some of these workarounds work - or rather, why some didn’t work.

TL;DR: Equipment that Worked

I, like many of you, had some difficulty getting Infrared signals to reach all of my equipment. I would like to share what worked for me. Since resolving this issue, I have been enjoying my Unfolded Remote Two much more. I hope that this helps at least one person.

Setup Context
I have an LG TV on my wall above a closed-off media cabinet, not dissimilar from this one - but without doors. On the opposing wall, I have my couch with a little side table.

When I backed the remote, I got two docks, with the intent that one would live on my side table, and one would live in the media cabinet. I assumed that, like the Harmony hub, the Unfolded hub on the bottom shelf + one IR-emitting “puck” would be able to cover all of my equipment. Alas, no such luck.

The Problem
Upon review of other threads, it became apparent that the total output power of the Unfolded dock pales in comparison to the Harmony hub: the Harmony hub has quite a few large IR LEDs, and the whole top case of the Harmony hub is IR-translucent plastic.

The Unfolded dock, by comparison, appears to have fewer, lower-powered, and narrower-emitting IR LEDs. I thought that hooking up the Harmony IR pucks to the Unfolded dock (with a 3.5mm male ↔ 2.5mm female adapter) would resolve the issue, but alas, it seems the RC2 dock wasn’t giving them enough gas to cover my equipment.

Solution Requirements

  • Something that works for all three levels my equipment are on: top (TV), middle shelf (inputs), bottom shelf (inputs and AVR).
  • Increase the power of the IR output.
  • Avoid sticking little emitters directly to equipment - I don’t love it from an aesthetic perspective on my open-front cabinet, and the entire front of my Panasonic blu-ray player hinges down when the tray opens - I wanted to ensure consistent IR transmission to that device whether the front was open or closed.
  • Maximize reliability by avoiding the use of infrared “eyes” to amplify the signal, which could create a feedback loop. In other words, this necessitated a “hard-wired” connection between the dock → IR booster → IR emitters

Infrared Amplification
I tested two infrared repeaters, but one of them - a BAFX model - did not work with this hookup method. It seems like the unfolded dock puts out voltage on the 3.5mm IR outputs at all times, and the BAFX repeater kept my IR emitters “on” all the time.

The ENSIGEAR IR Repeater Kit did not have this issue.

Unfolded Dock → IR Extender Connection
It seemed like most any 3.5mm cable should work, but this 3.5mm TRRS three-ring cable is one I had on-hand, and it worked.

Connecting my AVR
My AVR has a 3.5mm IR signal input. As previously mentioned, the Unfolded dock seems to put out a signal on the 3.5mm emitter outputs at all times: connecting the 3.5mm Unfolded IR output → AVR 3.5mm IR input did not work. However, using a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable to connect the AVR to the ENSIGEAR IR Repeater has given me, and I cannot emphasize this enough, 100% reliability. Until the Denon/Marantz integration allows us to transmit any command over IP, I will use this for advanced sequences.

Controlling my Blu-Ray player
This one was a little odd. Through my trial-and-error, I found that if I sticky-taped a little IR “eye” to the top of the shelf above and in front of the player, and plugged the IR emitter into the Unfolded dock - I would get 100% reliable control. But, plug that IR emitter into the ENSIGEAR, and the player would not respond. I don’t know why that is but…no matter, the Unfolded dock has two IR outputs, good to go.

Controlling my TV
This one was a little fickle. I found that I could use the IR emitter eye, but I wanted to avoid an eye traveling back to the dock. I was getting pretty good response using the HDTVHOOKUP Remote Control IR Multi-Device Emitter hooked up to the ENSIGEAR, but still occasional dropouts.

To resolve this issue, I route IR commands for the TV to the dock on my side table. Something about the dock being further away from the TV seems to give better signal. And, to keep up reliability when a drink or something is placed in between the dock and the TV, I wired up the IR puck from my old harmony and neatly cable-managed the excess to the under-side of the table. Using some cable channels I’m already using to route power up to the dock, I was able to discretely connect up the harmony IR puck and blast out commands.

Summary
With a little Plinko, I now have 100% reliable IR transmission. But, I do feel that there’s a bit more “jank” in this setup than I’d like.

Moving Forward
I would like to see Unfolded introduce dedicated IR hardware: to be blunt, it seems like the Dock is built for charging first, aesthetics second, and IR third.

My recommendation is for Unfolded to design a device with the following features:

  • Connectivity: Ethernet port (PoE?), WiFi, USB-C Power, 2-6 3.5mm IR emitter outputs with enough current on tap to reduce the likelihood of voltage sag if a lot of IR emitters are connected.
  • Construction: IR-translucent plastic top (if injection-molded), cutouts for IR diodes (if UC wants to release .STLs for people to print a case, this seems sensible)
  • Built-in IR emitters: let’s take inspiration from the Logitech Harmony Hub and use at least six through-hole IR LEDs pointing at different angles for maximum dispersion.

Unfolded could take the model of the AirGradient Air Quality monitors: start by releasing a BOM [build of materials] component list, .STLs for 3D printing of an enclosure, and KiCad files for people to have PCBs printed at OshPark. Then, some documentation for assembly and firmware for flashing.

As resources allowed, Unfolded could offer varying levels of kits:

  • Unassembled PCB, parts, and/or case.
  • Pre-soldered PCB, case, user flashes.
  • 100%-assembled device.

While unfolded is rapidly improving upon its integrations, it’s clear that looking at the discord and unfolded chat, IR is an important feature for a lot of people who have made substantial investments into equipment that isn’t compatible with these integrations, or companies that are coy about granting access to their IP controls.

Again, I want to emphasize how happy I am with this product thus far. Does it need work? Yes. Is the Unfolded team small and still spooling up? Also yes. This is a hard space to capture. Keep up the good work, and I’m sure success will follow. There are a lot of people who can’t afford to (or are simply unwilling) to invest in Savant, Control4, etc. I strongly believe in the vision of UC.

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Thanks for the incredible write up. :+1: :smile:

Do I understand right though? You plugged the Ensigear with the mentioned cable directly into the Dock?

Yes, precisely. Unfolded dock has two IR outs.

IR Out 1 → Unfolded IR emitter to handle the blu-ray player.
IR Out 2 → 3.5mm TRRS cable → Ensigear IR repeater → 3.5mm TRRS cable → Marantz AVR.

I did test and this all would have worked perfectly if I had positioned the Ensigear IR repeater “eye” in front of the unfolded dock. But, I wanted to avoid the possibility of creating a feedback loop where having IR emitters and receivers in such close proximity could cause a situation where a command is both boosted and again picked up by the Ensigear system through reflections.

Low risk, admittedly, but I since I found a solution that prevents it entirely, I figured I’d share.

The apparently random behavior of various solutions you tried is probably at least partially due to the different methods of driving an IR emitter: either supplying the anode with +VCC and completing the circuit from cathode to ground to send a signal, or else grounding the cathode and sending +VCC to the anode to send a signal. From what I gather from your post, UC is using the former method. I don’t think either is “standard”. Also, if you’re using a TRRS plug in a TS jack (which I assume the UC doc’s jack is) it’s a crap shot which contact, other than tip, is going to be made. When you say the dock is putting out DC voltage at all times, what are you measuring with respect to?

I went ahead and got the Ensigear. Heck, only 35 bucks. The “eye” for that plugs into a TRS jack, with ring (I think) supplying +12V. There are also separate terminal contacts for “signal”, “+12” and “ground”. It seems to me the “signal” input would be the more flexible and predictable method to drive it. Again, it’s not clear which contacts your TRRS cable is actually making, but presumably it’s sending a signal biased up to +5 DC and inverted, and the Ensigear doesn’t mind this. Maybe because its rail is all the way up at +12, so a +/- 5V swing will not get cut off. Polarity is unimportant in a modulated signal.

Rather than hook the repeater directly to the dock, you could plug an emitter into the dock, plug the “eye” into the repeater, then put both in a light-tight container, thus avoiding feedback loops. Or else use a commercial opto-isolator IC, which in essence is what you’d be building.

I have yet to figure out what the “status” power connector is for. If I plug the wall wart that came with it into the “status” jack it lights up the green LED and that’s all I know.

It frustrates me that all these things are designed for a single use case–sticking an “eye” on your TV to point your remote at, and sticking emitters on your gear either remotely located or in a cabinet, with few details on how they are accomplishing this. Have you tried driving a Harmony blaster with this, and does it have enough “gas”?

My to-do list includes replacing the difusor window of my projector’s IR port (which got yanked off by one of the sticky emitters–I bought a little battery powered vacuum pick-up tool for this that should work), get this Ensigear hooked up in the manner described, plug in a Harmony blaster, then see if I can bounce an IR signal from the alcove where my equipment rack is , off the screen, and all the way to the projector, as I can with the Harmony. When I have tried that, however it works out, I will post the results here.

I have this emitter kit and it works perfectly fine. It’s exactly what I would expect from an IR repeater device. I’m not sure why it would be frowned upon to have emitter “eyes” running to cabinet compartments though. That is how literally every IR blaster works, even the harmony remotes. In my opinion, it’s better to run the cables as they’re more reliable. It’s easy to keep them out of sight if you have an actual entertainment cabinet. Anyhow, I bought this kit to specifically add more IR outputs (blasters). The dock only has two and my Harmony has six. I run a stereo cable directly from one of the dock’s blaster outputs to the IR emitter box. Then, I run all blasters from the kit to each cabinet compartment. This setup works flawlessly for me. The remote two does have sorry IR power, but in my current setup… everything works great and responds immediately.

I have bought another emitter (oneforall URC1000) and it works…sort of

The dock is 4,5 meters (14 feet) away from the IR blaster and the IR signal won’t make it unless I put the dock much closer (3,5 meters or less). I don’t want to plug wires to the dock (my wife can’t stand visible wires anymore). However the TV IR signal which is direct work from the dock at that distance.
So to sum up :

  • dock → IR blaster : 3,5m (11 feet) maximum
  • dock → any device without IR blaster : 4,5m (14 feet) maximum, maybe more
  • remote (IR signal sent from remote) → IR blaster : 2,2m (7 feet) maximum
  • remote (IR signal sent from remote) → any device without IR blaster : 4,5m (14 feet) maximum, maybe more

So the IR emitter from the remote is less powerful than the dock as already pointed out but it is okay to work from a couch at a reasonable distance.
The culprit is the IR receiver from the IR blaster. I am interested to know which distance operates yours

We should clarify our terminology here. An “eye”, as I understand it, is a sensor that picks up the IR signal optically and sends it to the emitters or hub. One objection to using them is that under certain conditions they could create a feedback loop (picking up and re-sending an emitted signal). That’s probably why they’re mostly designed to pipe signals locally to each device via a sticky emitter. I don’t think anyone is objecting to needing separate emitters in a closed cabinet. What we’re objecting to is that with the Harmony system, and an open cabinet, is was often possible to cover all the equipment in a room–including a distant projector–without picking up and amplifying the original signal, but not possible with the R2 dock. I’m very interested in knowing whether this Ensigear hub is capable of driving the Harmony blasters with the intensity to accomplish that. Right now, with an IR emitter taped over the hole in my projector where the IR window used to be, I can’t test that. I hope to get to that eventually, but it requires hauling out a ladder and possibly removing the projector from its ceiling mount.

Those averse to running wires should consider a wireless repeater system like this:

I have not yet tried feeding the transmitter of this pair directly from the R2 dock, and probably won’t.

I, like the rest of us, had some difficulty getting the IR signal to all my stuff. I have everything working but it’s very kludgy. I understand why some design decisions may have limited the IR signal strength but what really bothers me is that the included IR cables are so short. I have the hub to the left of my LG TV without blocking the screen. The TV’s IR receiver is on the right side of the TV. It’s a 65 inch TV and the cable is so short I can’t even get it over to the TV’s IR receiver. Very annoying! I just ordered some emitters with longer cables.

For an almost $500 remote they really cheaped out on the IR cables!

Gerry

What does your setups look like?

My av-cabinet is 180cm wide. To the right is an SVS-PB3000, in the middle is an Yamaha CXA5200 and a center speaker, to the left lives a Panasonic UB9000 and a set top box.

Sure thing the cable for the IR eyes is short, but with a male to female extender there where no problems at all to get sufficient IR coverage (for me). It cost me 4€. Tv is LG and the base is to the left of it.

Have I to some degree been disappointed at times, yes! But at the same time, this remote isn’t from any of the big players on the market.

So I might be naive, but I really believe that this eventually is going to bee the swiss army knife I thought it would be from the beginning.

I realize now at the point of taking the picture that the Harmony Elite was still alive, but no more.

So, put a pic in the thread if you like to. And then it might be easier with assistance. I just used the 3M and put them in top of the cabinet.

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Lurifuxx:

First off, while I initially had a lot of frustration when I first got the R2, I have to say that right now I am extremely pleased with the R2! It is doing ALL the functions I had the Harmony Elite doing and then some (especially since I have it controlling my dimmers and ceiling fan via Home Assistant Green) . In fact I am almost ready to totally retire the Elite, that’s how happy I am with the R2. And right now I DO have sufficient IR signal going to ALL my components. I think with the longer emitter cables I just ordered I’ll be able to make my setup much neater.

But I’m just saying for such a powerful and not so cheap remote they could have included longer IR cables!

Agreed!

And I wish for full Bluetooth control so that we can choose channel direct on our set top box.

But, it will come eventually. In all honesty, I have time for a zip of wine when changing channel now. :wink:

But. Cred for the design that makes it possible to use the remote laying on the table with one hand without wiggling.

Hi ALL,

I just bought two of these:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017LQAKXW?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_share

I have 5 IR devices: LG TV, Sammy Blu Ray, Frontier DVR, Denon AVR and Roku Ultra (the last two can be controlled via IP but I couldn’t get them to work properly and IR control works just fine!)

The hub is on a glass shelf above the Sammy so it gets its IR signal from the hub. The emitters I bought are 10 feet long with two emitters each. So I am able to position the emitters inconspicuous right by my other components. The emitters cables included with R2 are so short that they are essentially unusable. I know others may have more complex setups but for me it’s all working nicely and I’m satisfied!