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ZigBee Promotes Pointless RF Remotes

3/05/2009 02:25:00 PM Eastern

San Ramon, Calif. — The ZigBee Alliance and the RF4CE Consortium, founded by four major CE suppliers, are taking elements of their respective technologies to create a standard specification for low-cost RF remotes Zigbee Alliancethat will compete with the IR remotes packaged with mainstream-priced home entertainment gear.

The resulting standard, which will become part of ZigBee’s technology suite, promises to bring RF’s benefits to low-cost mainstream remotes currently restricted by IR’s line-of-sight limitations, which forces consumers to point their IR remotes at a TV and prevents them from placing a set-top box and other equipment behind cabinet doors, the alliance said. ZigBee’s home-automation standard and other RF technologies are already incorporated in pricier remotes used in high-end home-theater systems and home-control systems, although Sony has commercialized RF remotes for LCD TVs.

“Offering a standards-based solution, meeting the aggressive cost targets for a myriad of RF consumer applications, will accelerate the transition of IR to RF and from proprietary RF to standardized RF,” the alliance said.

The merged standard, called ZigBee RF4CE, will be available to ZigBee members this month, and the first CE devices incorporating the merged standard could be available as soon as late this year, said ZigBee Alliance chairman Bob Heile. The standard is suitable for remotes shipped with TVs, disc players, set-top boxes and audio equipment, but the spec will be expanded eventually to include products such as garage door openers and keyless-entry systems.

The RF4CE Consortium was founded in 2008 by Panasonic, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics and Sony to develop an RF standard that would approach IR costs. The consortium was developing a standard that, like ZigBee’s home-automation standard, was based on the low-bit-rate 2.4GHz IEEE 802.15.4 standard.

The new standard’s initial profile will support a basic level of functionality, but the alliance plans more advanced profiles that would support macros, touch-screen displays, and the like, Heile added. For products incorporating those profiles and the initial 1.0 profile, the alliance will certify devices to guarantee interoperability. Alliance logos appear on certified products.

The RF4CE Consortium was founded in 2008 by Panasonic, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics, and Sony to develop an RF standard that would approach IR costs. The consortium was developing a standard that, like ZigBee’s home-automation standard, was based on the low-bit-rate 2.4GHz IEEE 802.15.4 standard, so “aligning the two groups was a logical decision,” said consortium chairman Bas Driesen of Philips.

With the new ZigBee RF4CE standard, Heile noted, consumers will be able to use a basic TV/DVD remote supplied with a TV to control other-brand DVD players. That’s because the standard, like ZigBee’s home-automation standard, incorporates interoperability and the ability to “pair” a remote with a CE product, much like a Bluetooth headset pairs with multiple brands of cellphones, Heile explained. Remotes incorporating the standard’s initial profile “will de facto be universal remotes at a basic level of functionality,” he added.

Pairing also eliminates the problem of RF remotes unintentionally controlling products in other rooms or nearby homes, given the technology’s open-field 300-foot range.

In the future, RF4CE remotes could be designed to integrate with ZigBee home-automation systems, which use mesh-network technology to bolster reliability and range within a home. Future ZigBee home-automation systems could include an RF4CE software stack, enabling low-cost remotes to control a room’s lighting as well as its TV, Heile said.

Other RF advantages include two-way communication between an A/V product and its remote.

The IEEE 802.15.4 standard, finalized in 2003, specifies such things as the 2.4GHz frequency band, a signaling method, a way for devices to automatically recognize one another, and an encryption method, but the standard doesn’t incorporate application descriptions or mesh or star networking.