Making Remote Controls Work Through Cabinet Doors

Hardware add-ons are available that allow remote-control infra-red signals through wood doors. February 6, 2007

I keep hearing references to something called an "infra-red" remote for audio cabinetry. As I understand it, this allows you to put an opaque door in front of something like a VCR but still enable the signal from the remote control to activate the VCR or DVD. What all is involved with this? Is there some kind of radio transmitter? How complicated is it to make the transition from the components to the remote? How big is it and what does it look like from the happy side of the cabinet?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor D:
Almost all remote controls are infrared. What you're talking about is a secondary receiver eye, that will then transfer the signal to the components. These are quite common, even Rockler has them.

In my own home, I purchased a unit through Crutchfield that is quite nice. Just below the TV is a receptacle mounted into the wall with the "eye". That signal is transferred through a cat 5 cable to another room where the components are. The infrared signal is transferred to the components with a little eyeball on the end of cord that is stuck to the face of the components. It was all very easy. The eyes come in many shapes, some as small as the tip of pen. Easily hidden in the cabinetry or the wall.

From contributor J:
You've got two choices.

An IR extender (Niles makes a good one), essentially a small electronic box that has a number of ports into which plug variations of either peel and stick or mountable "flashers" that attach to each component directly over its infrared receiver. A separate small receiver also plugs into the box and is mounted inconspicuously to the fascia of the cabinetry.

In conjunction with the Harmony remote (a truly wonderful product), you can now operate all of your components by aiming at the receiver. While other remotes will also work, the Harmony allows you to watch TV, play a DVD, listen to music, etc. by simply pressing one button. It even has a screen and will operate your Sirius or XM system. It does take some computer prowess to set up, as you must download each individual component's specs from their website.

Your other choice is an RF converter. Two small pyramid shaped receivers, one for inside the cabinetry, one anywhere in the room. The IR signal is converted to radio frequency (RF) which will pass through the cabinet walls, and then converted back into IR inside the cabinet. I've never seen one in action so can't offer an opinion, other than to say that all of the high end systems I've seen use the IR extender, not the RF converter.

From contributor E:
There are basically two kinds of remote controls: infra-red (most common) and radio frequency (also referred to as RF). Infra-red transmits a light-wave signal to a receiver on the audio component. Since it uses light (although invisible to us), it requires transparency between the sender and the unit. This is usually glass or, sometimes, cloth. RF has no such limitation, as it uses radio waves to transmit the signal. Radio waves easily penetrate most solid materials - wood doors present no difficulty at all. I have seen after-market units that will allow the use of RF controls on equipment initially designed for IR. It involves a transmitter, a receiver and multiple remote transmitters that are attached to the audio components.

Remote IR is another option, using a system of external receivers like the one contributor D referred to. This gives you the same result as the RF setup. The remote receivers are usually quite small and can be hidden pretty easily in the cabinetry.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor G:
I have used "IR Blasters" in a few video cabinets and found them to be a bit touchy, particularly with the new flat panel TV's that emit massive amounts of signal that often interferes with the IR receiver/emitters. Certain types of lighting in a room can also give you fits, also generating interfering signals. Units worth buying cost in the hundreds - I'd opt for tinted glass in the doors.