Electronic Design

Get Ready For Next-Generation RF4CE Remotes And STBs

Heavily promoted by the world’s leading cable operators, ZigBee RF4CE is being rolled out for TV sets, home entertainment systems, and set-top boxes (STBs), as well as for the remotes that control them. Cable companies plan on supplementing their traditional video delivery business by moving into the home networking space, connecting home automation and “smart” home services via the STB.

Infrared (IR) remote controls are disappearing and are being replaced by new ZigBee RF4CE remotes that use radio frequency (RF) instead. This means no more point-and-shoot to control the TV or set-top box, HDTVs, Blu-ray players, and other devices. End users no longer have to aim the remote at the small sensor to control volume, pick a channel, or set recording options.

The Rise Of RF4CE

ZigBee RF4CE is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, and in many ways it’s very similar to the ubiquitous IEEE 802.11, also known as Wi-Fi. A true wireless local-area network (LAN), it provides the same comprehensive home coverage as Wi-Fi, can penetrate walls and floors, offers a secured communication mechanism, and resists interference from other wireless communications.

The big difference between RF4CE and Wi-Fi is its bandwidth and power usage. ZigBee RF4CE was designed to support a narrow bandwidth (250 kbits/s), so it doesn’t require a lot of power to transmit those few bits from one end of the home to the other.

In addition, by adding ultra-low-power features to the basic RF4CE standard, it’s possible to design and build remote controls whose batteries never need to be replaced. Tests have demonstrated that remote controls using GreenPeak’s ZigBee RF4CE transceiver chips can run for more than 10 years on a single coin-cell battery. The GreenPeak chip power draw is only 18 mA during transmission, and sleep mode only draws 150 nA.

Not only does this enable manufacturers to produce a remote with no removable battery compartment lid, it also improves the environment by reducing the need for batteries by a factor of 10. Since batteries are filled with toxic chemicals and hazardous ingredients, their manufacture and disposal are growing challenges in our green world.

Key Benefits

ZRC is one of the three application profiles that compose the ZigBee RF4CE standard. The other two are ZigBee Input Devices (ZIDs), used for wireless mice, keyboards, and tablets, and the emerging ZigBee 3D Sync profile for 3D TV systems and 3D glasses.

By using RF4CE ZRC remotes, design-conscious consumers will be able to conceal STBs and media players in cabinets or closets. The collection of home electronics boxes no longer has to be out in the open and accessible to the IR remote control.

ZRC also means no more worrying about running out of batteries or having to use rubber bands or duct tape to keep your cracked remote control together. The profile makes it much easier to pair a single remote control with other entertainment devices as well.

You no longer will wonder where you left your remote either. The cool new “Find My Remote” consumer electronics feature enables users to push a button on the TV or STB, and the missing remote will start beeping and flashing, making it a lot easier to find.

Service providers and cable companies are eager to roll out RF4CE with ZRC for their STBs and remote controls. Service providers need to provide additional functions and services to keep their subscribers from cutting the cable and turning to the Internet for all of their entertainment needs. By providing an enriched experience, they engage home viewers and keep them on cable.

They know that their customers will greatly enjoy the convenience of being able to control their entertainment devices from anywhere in the house. Maybe the most intriguing feature of RF4CE remote controls is interactivity. Consumers will be able to use their remotes for a variety of applications such as answering polls, voting on contests, and buying products.

The RF4CE remote also will be able to receive messages and alerts from the STB regarding DVR storage status, upcoming programming, special events, and other features. The service provider may opt to use the interactive function to deliver personalized advertising and messaging to the viewer as well.

ZigBee RF4CE also can be used to provide “Follow Me” entertainment. As viewers go from room to room, the program they’re watching can be paused on one screen and transferred to the next, without missing any moments of exciting action. The RF4CE remote, with motion sensing capabilities, additionally can be used as a game controller for multi-user electronic gaming.

Maybe the most attractive aspect of RF4CE for cable operators is the opportunity to install, sell, and maintain a wide variety of home automation and smart home systems (see the figure). Cable operators are predicting a home network that consists of a variety of sensors and controllers connected via RF4CE to the STB.

These applications for environment control, ambiance (lighting and music), energy management, home security, home health monitoring, windows and shades opened or closed, and other functions can be monitored and controlled by a RF4CE remote in the home or by a smart phone or other mobile device when the user is away.

What Developers Need To Know

ZRC defines the pushbutton pairing process between the controller and its targets. The mechanism works in conjunction with the existing ZigBee RF4CE discovery and pairing mechanisms. Discovery, pairing, and security (as necessary) all can take place via a single button push.

ZRC defines commands for basic consumer electronics device control (user control pressed, user control repeated, user control released). The user control pressed command carries HDMI Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) commands. ZRC supports manufacturer-specific commands and provides command discovery: remote to HDTV and HDTV to remote.

ZigBee Remote Control, as well as other ZigBee RF4CE application profiles, provides new and improved ways for consumers to control and interact with their home entertainment systems, as well as with home automation, security, and environmental controls.

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