IR network

We use mostly infrared (IR) to control our home.  There is an IR receiver in every major room, including the garage, and one near each of the entrances we use most.  There is also a remote in almost every room.  So when you want to tell the house to do something, you simply pick up a remote and hit a few buttons.  There are a few wireless X-10 transmitters in various places also.  Those are described in the Lighting section.

The network

The IR network is mostly made up of Xantech receivers.  We had some Imagine (Buffalo) receivers but most of them have been replaced.  They worked okay except that we use a lot of compact fluorescent light bulbs and the Imagine receivers are very sensitive to them (and to sunlight).  We are replacing them with Xantech compact fluorescent friendly receivers.  We have a mix of Hidden Link and J-Box receivers.  The Hidden Links mainly sit on top of TVs with the J-boxes used everywhere else.

All the receivers are connected using CAT5e house wire that runs to the media room.  In the media room is a Xantech 791-44 amplified connecting block.  The receivers all need to attach to the connecting block via a single connector with three screw-down terminals.  (Each receiver has three wires: signal, power, and ground.)  There is no way to get the wires for all the receivers onto the terminals.  Xantech makes a parallel connecting strip specifically for this but it is ridiculously expensive.  As an alternative, Radio Shack has isolated connecting blocks, but also sells jumpers to turn them into parallel connecting strips.  Three of these, one each for signal, power, and ground, did the trick for a lot less money.

 

The Xantech 791-44 has ten emitter outputs.  I have put a combination of dual and single emitters on these to go to the various equipment in the media room.  A few of the outputs are linked to the house wiring on another pair on the same CAT5e cable that the receiver is on, to power an emitter for each of the TVs in the house.  We made special connection boxes with RJ-11 plugs on one end and stereo plugs for the receivers and emitters.  (A TV on/off sensor also plugs into this box.)  This puts the TVs on the whole-house IR system so they can be controlled from the remote or by the home automation controller.

 

Two of the TVs are Toshibas so have the same codes.  To deal with this, the remote for the basement TV was setup up with un-used TV codes.  The home controller was programmed to recognize the codes from this remote.  When it gets a code, it uses the zoned-IR capabilities of the HomeVision multifunction board to send the correct Toshiba IR code only to the basement TV.  At all other times, the controller directs IR codes to the bedroom TV so its remote works.

Some of the equipment in the media room do not use emitters, but are hardwired into the IR network just like the receivers. The Xantech amplifier and Xantech A/V switcher are two such devices.

Our IR network has enough receivers on it that ambient IR radiation can create noise on the network.  If the noise is strong enough it can drown out good signals.  But it can also cause more sensitive components, like the home automation controller and the IR keyboard on the home automation computer, to receive false signals   To solve the problem, per Xantech’s web site, we put an 470 ohm resistor between signal and ground at the connection block.  This worked, but we probably can’t add many more receivers without doing something more drastic.  Getting rid of the last of the Imagine receivers probably will also help.

The Remotes

The remotes we use are OneForAll URC 6131 remotes.  I really like these remotes.  They are reasonably small, fit your hand, are well laid out, and the keys and base use color to help you quickly locate the keys you want.  This remote is specifically designed for PVRs (like TIVO) so has some extra keys you won’t find on other remotes.  We have two PVRs so we really needed this, but they also come in handy to map home automation functions to.  The remote supports six devices.  But most important of all is that it is JP1 capable.

JP1 remotes allow you to connect them to your PC to program them with codes (called upgrades) and move key codes around so they do what you want.  They are not as flexible as, say, a Philips Pronto, but, for the price, they are outstanding.

Some OneForAll remotes come JP1 enabled out of the box.  The 6131 is not one of them.  It must have an EPROM and connector soldered to the circuit board.  If you are handy with a soldering iron ,you can do this yourself. You can also buy them on the web pre-modified, like I did.  Follow this link to the JP1 forums.  Go to the Market Place forum and look for the "Rob's Remotes for Sale" post.  It's usually right at the top.

I used JP1 to add custom programming so the remote in each room controls that room’s TV and whole house audio.  They also share some programming so they can all control home automation functions and the video sources in the media room.

In addition to the house remotes, we each carry a small IR device with us.  I (Gary) have an IR wristwatch; Scott carries an IR keychain remote.  These let us easily tell the house when we are leaving or arriving.