After years of reliance on infrared technology to control consumer-electronics devices, RF remote controls finally are taking off, with a market set to exceed 217 million devices in 2016.

The technologies required to deploy RF remote controls on a wide basis are well-developed, but under-deployed. The main technologies in play are RF4CE (now part of ZigBee) and Bluetooth. According to ABI Research, the market will be driven by those standards plus proprietary solutions. 

“RF4CE is seeing traction in the set-top box market as service providers have begun trialing and, in some cases, deploying these remote controls,” says Jason Blackwell, practice director/Digital Home at ABI. “Bluetooth was assumed in the past to not have a strong fit in the remote control market, but we are seeing a good amount of activity in the CE space, especially televisions, for Bluetooth remote controls.”

RF remote controls target a range of markets including televisions, Blu-ray disc players, set-top boxes, and digital media adapters, among others. Televisions are in the early stages of RF remote adoption, with Panasonic, Samsung and Vizio using Bluetooth for high-end models. The result is a slew of advanced features including applications, search and Internet browsing.

Service providers, in contrast, are leaning toward RF4CE-based solutions as Comcast, DISH Network, France Telecom and others have upcoming set-top boxes supporting the standard. 

The adoption of Bluetooth may be driven by recent announcements from TV manufacturers that have chosen Bluetooth as the RF technology to support a new 3D glasses standard. As Bluetooth is embedded in more televisions, it’s likely manufacturers will leverage the chipset investment with incremental features.

“Profit margins in televisions are extremely low,” says Group Director Jeff Orr. “If manufacturers are going to invest in a technology like RF, they must maximize the benefit and use it to its full potential.” 

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