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Wireless rivals vie to replace IR remotes

Posted: 04 May 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Bluetooth 3.0  RF4CE  Unicast Connectionless Data 

RF4CE chip makers like Freescale Semiconductor claim that Bluetooth is overkill for command-and-control applications traditionally handled by IR remotes. RF4CE was specifically designed to replace IR remote functions, solve lingering problems while increasing remote control range to over 1,000 feet compared to about 50 feet for IR and Bluetooth.

"RF4CE was designed to replace current IR remotes with increased functionality and to solve problems with IR reliability caused by [interference from LCD] back lighting, line-of-sight restrictions and only having to press a key once to get it to work," said Brett Black, commercial wireless manager for Freescale. "For that application, the ship has already left the dock—vendors are already rolling out their first remotes for consumer products using RF4CE."

Freescale and its RF4CE rival, Texas Instruments, are working with major consumer electronic OEMs, Black said, not just on TV remote controls but also for set-top boxes and other devices that use IR remotes. Freescale does not make Bluetooth chips, but is pricing its forthcoming RF4CE chips below Rs.99.44 ($2), with estimates that prices will dip below Rs.49.72 ($1) within four years.

"You can build an IR remote control for less than a dollar, so I'm not sure that those same buyers will be willing to pay several dollars to use Bluetooth in that application," said Black. "RF4CE is not intended to run the high data rates of which Bluetooth is capable, although you could do voice-level audio if you wanted to, but RF4CE was designed from the ground up for building inexpensive RF command-and-control devices."

The rivalry between RF4CE and Bluetooth is a chimera, according to In-Stat analyst Brian O'Rourke. He claimed that while Bluetooth 3.0 can be used for remote control applications, RF4CE leads in moving to consumer applications.

"This is very much an apples and oranges comparison: RF4CE is a low power, low data-rate replacement for today's IR remote controls, whereas Bluetooth 3.0 is optimised for the high-bandwidth wireless transmission of large amounts of data. They are about as far apart as you can get," said O'Rourke.

"Bluetooth 3.0 is an effort to increase its bandwidth, whereas RF4CE is a wireless master remote architecture for controlling not just your TV but your stereo system and elements of your PC cluster. I have not seen much interest in using Bluetooth for that application," O'Rourke added.

- R. Colin Johnson

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