I don’t think that TV remote control technology has changed much at all in decades which leaves lots of room for improvement. Something as simple as turning a TV on and off has become a quagmire and the reason is simple. The remote control design has not kept pace with living room technology. In the early days of remotes they operated just one device: the TV. Thus it made sense for the on/off function to be what we engineers like to call a toggle. If the TV is off the remote control power button turns it on and vice versa. Things started to get complicated with the introduction of cable tuner boxes and more gadgets are appearing that use IR (infra-red) remote control. It seems that all of these devices use the same on and off logic. Well that’s fine if you are using the remote that came with the device to operate that device. A problem arises when you have a remote that is designed to control several devices. Typically it is the cable box remote. It will have an “all on” button that appears to be a nice shortcut. Until it isn’t. Remember, the power signal is a toggle. If one of the devices is on for some reason (say, the cable box is a DVR and it has turned itself on to do some recording), then pressing the “all on” button will backfire. The TV will go on but the DVR will complain that continuing will interrupt the recording. Similar situation can arise if the devices are some distance from one another. If you don’t hold the remote just right the IR beam won’t hit all of them. Thus the attempt to toggle the power can miss one device. Things quickly go downhill and frustration mounts.

There is a better way to do this that would solve this problem. There could be two separate buttons on the remote “all on” and “all off” with each sending a unique IR command. That way there is no ambiguity. If you want to turn everything off you can repeatedly press “all off” until everything is actually off. And vice versa.

Yes, there is another technical solution to this dilemma. It is an IR repeater. This device is often found on high-end home theater installations were much of the electronics is behind the doors of a fancy cabinet. The IR receiver would be placed right under the TV and IR emitters are placed on the IR port of every device to control. If you understood everything I just said about IR repeaters or if you have extremely deep pockets then this remote control shortcoming becomes a non-issue. However there are a lot of folks who probably spend too much time scratching their heads and cursing their remote controls because half of their devices are off and the other half are on and that isn’t what they intended.

I don’t hold much hope for this changing. Usability, that is, designing things to be easy to use, does not seem to command much attention from electronics manufacturers and that is a shame.