Technology | Media | Telecommunications

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ready for Next Generation Remote Controls?

The traditional infra-red remote control device used to command consumer electronics (CE) equipment -- including TVs and Pay-TV set top boxes -- is somewhat limited. Even universal remotes that control multiple devices are quite one-dimensional and poorly designed, from a usability point of view.

If some major CE manufacturers have their way, the next generation of remotes will be based on Radio Frequency (RF) technology. The growth curve for these products is just beginning, but is forecast to show a 55 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2014.

According to senior analyst Jason Blackwell of ABI Research, the first such products are already appearing in Japan. "RF remote controls are starting to ship with a few high-end Japanese TVs such as Sony's premium Bravia models. Companies like Sony hope to start with early-adopters, then ramp up volumes, drive down costs, and move these remotes into more mainstream products."

IR remotes perform the basic task, so why move to RF? The reason is interactivity, which is becoming prevalent in today's digital home.

As more devices add Internet connectivity and the ability for two-way communication and greater interactivity, RF remotes offer the prospect of better communication with devices -- they can sense the status of the devices they control, for example, and report that back to the user.

Users can also input information through more evolved interfaces. There's no need for the line-of-site required by IR, so an RF remote could control a set-top box or audio receiver in another room.

The move to RF remotes is being driven by major OEMs, not by consumer demand. But, adds Blackwell, "If vendors can make consumers aware of the benefits, that will drive consumer adoption. And, if manufacturers can offer a remote that works with a wide range of devices, RF adoption becomes that much easier."

To that end, a number of manufacturers are currently working on new technical standards for the RF remote modules. ABI's latest report analyzes the market for OEM and aftermarket universal remote controls.

Remote control shipments and revenues are forecast by region and major market segments. A forecast for the penetration of RF technology in the remote control market is also presented.