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How Does an IR Repeater Work? IR Repeater Kits Explained

With all the different video sources and other equipment (receivers, projectors, etc.), the remote control situation for your home entertainment system can quickly become a nuisance. The biggest problem is that, to hide equipment away, you’re almost certainly going to cover up the infrared receivers built into your devices, rendering the remote controls useless. There’s a well-understood solution to this problem, known as, IR Repeaters.

An IR (infrared) repeater is a device that transmits the IR signal from a remote control to somewhere it wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. If you store equipment in a closed cabinet, or in another room entirely, an IR repeater kit can reproduce the signal there and allow you to keep components hidden.

I know what you’re thinking: “yet another set of hardware to manage.” But don’t worry – this particular upgrade to your home theater, unlike many others, will actually reduce the level of complexity rather than increase it. If you aspire for a clean, simple setup, then keep reading. First. We’ll talk a little about how these repeaters work in the first place.

Components in an IR Repeater System

There aren’t a ton of components in an IR repeater kit. The main ones are:

  • IR Receiver – Receives an IR signal and transmits that signal to the connection block.
  • Connection Block – Receives the incoming signals from the IR receiver, processes them, and outputs them to the connected IR emitters/bugs/blasters.
  • IR Emitter, IR Bug, or IR Blaster – Fits over or is placed close to the IR receiver for the device receiving the IR signals. (ex: TV, Cable Box, Blu-Ray Player, etc).

IR Receiver

IR Receiver from an IR Repeater Kit

The first main component of any IR Repeater System will be the IR receiver. This is nothing more than an infrared sensor with a wire trailing out behind it. The infrared signal from your remote hits this sensor and is converted into an electrical signal that will travel through the connection block (or not, see below) and to the emitter. These receivers can be big or small, and some are even cleverly hidden away in wall plates. This is the piece of the unit you put near the screen, where you will actually point the remote control.

IR Connection Block

IR Connection Block from an IR Repeater Kit

That electrical version of the infrared signal travels down the wires from the receiver, and from there it might go straight to the IR emitter, or it might possibly stop by a connection block on the way. This will depend on what type of unit you purchase. Some simple units won’t have a connection block per se, instead, the signal will travel from the receiver to the emitter with a power supply tied in somewhere. But even slightly advanced units will have a connection block, and this is where multiple outputs can be managed, and where the signal can be amplified, if necessary.

IR Emitter, IR Bug, or IR Blaster

IR Emitter from an IR Repeater Kit

Finally, the signal will end up at the emitter. These are sometimes called “IR blasters” or “IR bugs”, and their job is to reproduce the signal being sent from the receiver. They basically act the same as the tip of your remote would, sending an infrared signal out. The emitter will be in the cabinet, or at the entertainment system with the devices to be controlled. The infrared emitter will be small, often they look like nothing more than a sleek teardrop of black plastic.

When to Use an IR Repeater Kit

So, now that you know what an infrared repeater is and how it works, you might be wondering when to use an IR repeater kit. Use an IR repeater kit any time you want to put your equipment somewhere that you can’t comfortably point the remote at it from where you’re sitting.

Maybe you want to put everything in a nice cabinet with no visible electronics. Or maybe you want to put all of your equipment in the other room, using wireless HDMI and an infrared repeater to achieve the cleanest look possible. No matter what, if you want a clean look you’re going to be put in a position where the infrared sensor on the equipment is just not visible, and certainly not line-of-sight to where you want to be sitting.

In cases like these, you’ll need to use some kind of infrared solution, whether it’s a simple IR repeater kit like the Cable Matters Bluetooth powered infrared remote extender, or a more robust, all-in-one solution like the Logitech Harmony Hub. This is the only way to hide the equipment, and also control it with the native remote. There may be advanced hardware that is part of your system that has its own app or another control scheme, but the industry standard is a dedicated remote with IR communication.

How to Use an IR Repeater Kit

So, you’ve come to the conclusion that having an infrared repeater as part of your home theater is going to be the best solution. Congratulations. There are still a few more details to cover, to help you pick the right solution to implement.

First, you should know that, while hiding all of your equipment and using a repeater does produce a cleaner space/look for your home theater, this is only a cosmetic upgrade. If you have six devices that each have their own dedicated remotes, all using IR, you still have a problem: those six (or however many) remotes, will need their own IR repeaters!

There are specialized solutions for this, like the Cables Direct IR Repeater System, which allows you to place 1 sensor in the position of your choice that beams IR signals back to 6 different emitters. This is going to move the cable problem downstream to the equipment cabinet, but hey, having only 1 cord to the IR sensor in the position of your choice is progress. This Cables Direct repeater even has a nice wall-plate IR receiver, so it’s possible to get rid of the cords entirely with this setup.

But all of this still doesn’t solve the controller problem. Six devices still, largely, means six controllers cluttering up your theater.

The Final Solution

Home theaters and home entertainment systems are sometimes an experiment in blossoming complexity. Problems require ever more ingenious solutions. Managing high resolutions, multi-channel audio, and now infrared repeaters sometimes start to make you feel like you’re trying to fly a small aircraft. When all you want to do is swap inputs without some link in the chain breaking.

But every once in a while, you get the chance to really condense some of the work here. Earlier, I mentioned the Logitech Harmony Hub as a more advanced IR repeater solution. That’s true. But it does a lot more than that. The problem we’re talking about now is not just IR repeating, which the Harmony Hub does well, but also remote-control cloning.

Yes, that’s right, you can map your multiple remotes to the Harmony Hub, and finally address the last link in the chain here: the stack of remotes in your theater. The Harmony Hub not only beams infrared into a cabinet, or entertainment center stored out of sight, but it also moves all of the heavy lifting of the remote control into a clean smartphone app. I could go on about the level of automation this allows (that, and more setup notes are discussed in out Logitech Harmony Hub Setup Guide, but the point is, if you’re already going to be installing a repeater solution, you might want to at least briefly consider the Hub option.

You may also use the Logitech Harmony Hub in conjunction with an IR repeater kit! This is a great method if you have a bunch of different devices that are spread out and not very close to each other.