Above: Image © Rameshng, Wikimedia Commons

June 20, 2006

So, you're at home watching the O.C... or Survivor... or MuchMusic. Probably all three if you're like most people who have mastered the art of the remote control flip. And isn't that what remote controls are meant for — multitasking? Imagine, though, if your remote could do more for you than simple channel changing. Like doing your homework or making your little brother always agree to do what you tell him to do.

In Click, the new movie slated for release this summer, that's just what happens to Michael Newman (played by Adam Sandler). He's on the hunt for the perfect remote device to replace the gazillions of remotes his family has.

On his search, he meets Morty (Christopher Walken) who gives him a controller that he soon discovers has magical powers. All of a sudden, Michael is able to control his career and personal life with a click of a button. Is this possible? Perhaps not, but it begs the question: how do universal remotes really work?

First of all, if remotes could really do what Adam Sandler gets them to do, I'd be writing this article from a beach chair in the Bahamas! No, sadly they cannot make all your dreams come true, but the premise behind the universal remote control certainly seems magical. If you consider that a single remote can replace your separate TV, VCR, DVD, and stereo system remotes — that's some pretty cool technology.

All remote controls we use for home electronic equipment use infrared light to send signals that change the channel, turn up the volume, start the movie, etc. Remote controls work a lot like radios, except because they use light, their signals cannot go through walls or around corners like radio signals can.

 

Did You Know?
Infrared means "below red". In the visible end of the spectrum, the colour red has the longest wavelength. Infrared light has wavelengths between 750 nm and 1 mm.

Open up your remote (as long as you remember how to put it back together again) and inside you'll find a chip. When you press a button, the chip senses it and translates this action into a sequence, much like Morse code. Each key forms a different code, which is how you can change the channel with one button, and turn up the volume with another.

The chip then sends that Morse code-type signal to a transistor in the remote, which makes the signal stronger. Now that it's stronger, the signal can be transmitted to the infrared light LED (light emitting diode) at the end of the remote.

The LED looks kind of like a small light bulb, and when you press a button on your remote, that little light bulb is sending out an invisible red beam of light with the command you want. Because infrared light is just below the colour spectrum for the human eye, we are unable to see the red beam [see Try This below].

 

Did You Know?
LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are semi-conductor devices that emit lights. The shape of the LED allows light to be focused. In remote controls, this light is in the infrared end of the spectrum.

A universal remote takes this basic principal of sending signals and multiplies it. Even though there are hundreds of different television, stereo, and DVD makers in the world, they all operate using a limited number of frequencies and programming codes. When you go to program a universal remote, you choose the make and model of your electronic devices from a coding list, and enter the info.

There's no doubt these inventions have made our lives easier, but for now at least, we'll have to wait for someone to invent one with magical powers.

Click opens June 23 across the country. For more information, check out the film's official website at www.sonypictures.com

TRY THIS — seeing the infrared light beam

If you have a camcorder, have someone hold the remote up to the lens and press a button — look through the lens and you'll be able to see the beam of light — this light is what your TV "sees" when you go to change a channel.

Jessica Kosmack works in communications and special events in Toronto. She's a graduate of the University of Guelph (International Business & French), and Centennial College (Corporate Communications).

Photo Credit: Tracy Bennett. Copyright: © 2006 Revolution Studios Distribution Company, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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