The Evolution of a Remote Control

Remote controllers have been around for over 6 decades, but they weren´t always as sophisticated as they are now. So how exactly have they evolved over time? Well let´s take a look...

Over the last few decades, the number of consumer electronic devices that have infiltrated our living room has significantly increased. And as a result, the number of remote controls that we are forced to use has grown exponentially. If you're operating a home theatre system, for instance, you may even need as many as 5 or 6 remotes (and that isn't even mentioning remote controlled lighting and curtains).

Remote controllers have been around for over 6 decades, and they weren't always as sophisticated as they are now. So how exactly have they evolved? Well let's take a look...

Click to see full size

Error loading MacroEngine script (file: /GUT/ShowResizedContentImage.cshtml)


First Iterations

The remote control entered our lives all those years ago as a device that enabled us to change the television channel from the comfort of our sofa, with perhaps the earliest example being the Lazy Bones, which was launched in 1950.

The Lazy Bones was very simple and only had a few buttons. As well as having a switch that would turn your TV on or off, there were two other buttons that you would push to rotate the tuner clockwise or counter-clockwise. Customers genuinely enjoyed being able to operate the TV remotely, but they often complained that they kept tripping over the cable.

As a result of this feedback, Zenith created the first wireless TV remote control in 1955. Dubbed the "Flash - matic", the remote was operated by means of four photo cells, with one in each corner of the TV screen. The viewer then used a highly directional flashlight to activate 4 control functions, which could turn the picture and sound on and off, while you could change the channels by turning the tuner dial clockwise or counter-clockwise.


Although the "Flash-matic" pioneered wireless TV control, it did have its limitations. Most notably, it had no protection circuits, meaning that when the shone directly on your set, the tuner would often start rotating.

To overcome this problem, Zenith came back again with the Space Command. Also known as a "clicker", the Space Command was a mechanical controller that clicked and struck a bar when the user pushed a button. Each bar omitted a different frequency, with the circuits in the TV detecting this noise.

Zenith Space Commander

However, the original Space Command was expensive, as it needed a rather technical receiver to be installed within the TV. This unfortunately increased the price of your television set by about 30%


Further Innovation

Remote control technology further adapted and evolved during the 1960s. During this period, we saw the rise of hand-held battery-powered control units that could now be designed to generate the inaudible sound electronically.

Woz Core

But when we hit the 1980s, these seemingly primitive devices were no good for us anymore. Now, our remote controllers used semi-conductors for omitting and receiving infrared radiation to switch on our television, change the channel, or adjust the volume. With the infrared remote, each button had its own command, which it sent to your set via a series of signals.

The emergence of infrared technology paved the way for the universal remote. During the 1980s, Steve Wozniak of Apple was one of the few people to show a real interest in developing a universal remote control. The result of his hard work was the release of CORE (Controller of Remote Equipment) in 1987.

CORE was (for the time) a fantastic piece of kit, as it could learn to use remote signals from various other devices. It could also be connected to a computer and be loaded with updated software codes when needed. Yet CORE was never commercially successful, as many consumers believed that the device was far too complicated.


Now Days...

As with almost everything, we are now able to control our television sets with our smartphones and tablets. And unsurprisingly, many television manufacturers have jumped on the band-wagon.

For instance, you can make the most of your Panasonic TVs with the VIERA remote app. Not only does the app allow you to change channels and play content, but it also give you full touchpad interaction with all of the set's settings. What's more, you can push pictures and videos from your Android or iOS device to your screen, and you can even browse the web with your TV as a monitor.

But perhaps the most sophisticated remote control on the market currently is the LG Magic Remote. The Magic Remote offers four modes of remote control for Smart TVs- point, wheel, gesture, voice. This means that you can use the wheel to switch between channels, while speaking into your remote to browse the web (probably not a good idea to do it at the same time though).

LG Remote

Most importantly though, we think that the Magic Remote is an absolute blast to use, and it's certainly a far cry from the Flash-matic and the Space Command found back in the 50s!