AV Police Squad

IR Buds Aren’t That Friendly

IR Remote

Every person in the AV industry, at one point or another, has had to control something with an IR bud. Whether you’re a certified programmer with a countless string of acronyms after your name, or you’re a totally green tech setting up a universal remote, I am sure you’ve had to wrestle with this pickle. It should be a walk in the park. You select the appropriate driver, or learn it, compile the program…and it should just go. Easy peasy.

When it doesn’t, we’ve all fallen into the trap of troubleshooting the most difficult things first:

  • Is it the code? Sure, four million people have used this module successfully. Maybe they’re wrong. Let’s try another one.
  • Is it the cabling? Sure, you can send IR signal hundreds of feet on a teensy-weensy Cat5 cable conductor…even further over audio cable. Maybe we didn’t get the oxygen-infused, gold-plated cabling. Let’s pull another.
  • Is it the controller? Sure, all the other devices in the system with way more complicated protocols are working fine. Let’s get an advanced replacement.

The first thing I’d check is whether or not the IR bud is working at all. Not many people know this, but IR emitters are called IR buds because they are delicate little flowers. While etymology alluded to in this statement is almost certainly false, the fragility described is not. IR emitters burn out. Some of the cheaper ones can get damaged if you accidentally wire it backwards. They are diodes, after all, and if too much current flows the wrong way (like if you try an IR bud from Manufacturer A that is typically used with no-name gear with a controller from Manufacturer B that is typically used for commercial installations), they can fry. It won’t be as spectacular as shorting an amplifier, but the magic smoke will be released nonetheless.

There are many reasons why an IR bud might stop working. It could have been damaged. It could be wired wrong. There could be a manufacturing defect. Wouldn’t it be great if we could add an IR emitter tester to our kit? What if I told you that you’ve had one in your pocket this entire time! I bet you would feel like Dorothy when the great and powerful Wizard of Oz told her she had the means of getting home with her for the entire adventure.

That’s right folks. We can’t see IR with our naked eye. But cameras can. If you have a camera on your phone, you can test to confirm if an IR emitter is working. Get into a dark place (some emitters are brighter than others), click your heels together three time and point the IR emitter at the lens. If you see the “flashy, flashy,” she’s good to go. If not, you might want to try another bud. It’s near impossible to tell good IR emitters from bad IR emitters without the camera. Just remember: “Only bad IR emitters [or witches, rather] are ugly.” (-L. Frank Baum)

Camera IR – Proof of Concept:

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