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Tips & Tricks to Learning IR Codes
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Tips & Tricks to Learning Infrared Codes

Learn about techniques that can help overcome IR
teaching difficulties on learning remote controls.

f you’ve ever tried learning infrared codes off of a myriad of remotes to various brands and devices, chances are you’ve hit upon a few troublesome buttons: those that just wouldn’t learn properly, or those that once learned won’t work as they should. While there may be some very good reasons as to why a particular IR code can’t be taught (check our feature on proprietary remotes), there are a few special learning techniques you can try before pulling out your hair.

To Hold or Not To Hold?
The most accepted method of teaching another remote an infrared code is by holding down the original button until the remote finishes capturing it. In fact, this is how the process is usually described in manuals. Continually sending a signal allows the remote to sense its auto-repeating portion and store it once, properly. (Note that there are some situations where a particular remote requires a different learning technique – if you experience problems, be sure to read your remote’s original documentation.)

Even when following directions, often one or two buttons from a particular remote will simply refuse to learn – it’s even been reported that codes for entire brands may experience problems. In these cases it’s worthwhile to try just pressing the button once, briefly. You may wish to experiment by pressing for different lengths of time, but generally a good solid push is all that’s required.

The reason that this “single push” technique is not normally recommended is because learning remotes are generally unable to sense repeating codes when buttons are not held down (repeating codes are needed for volume up, fast forward, etc. to work properly), and it may store the signal one and a half or even two times, wasting valuable memory. But when you simply must learn a particular button, this technique can be helpful.

Proper Spacing
The sensitivity of your learning remote’s eye can play a large part in determining how far apart your remote should be from each other. Though most manuals recommend four to six inches, certain original remotes may send a particularly strong signal that can overwhelm the target remote’s circuitry. By placing the remotes further apart – often more than one foot – you provide a weaker, easier signal to learn. Conversely, remotes with faint IR beams may need to be placed as little as an inch or two away. Finally, you may try placing the remotes at a 45 degree angle if you continue to have problems.

Replace the Batteries
Yes, your original remote may appear to still work... but if you’re having trouble learning off of it, its signal strength may be too weak or erratic to be properly picked up. Simply installing brand new batteries may solve your difficulties. If you use NiCads you may find that you need to recharge them more frequently than you would replace Alkalines, since they tend to lose their charge at a fairly quick rate even when sitting idle.

Weak batteries also generate poor quality signals with fluctuating code structuring and frequency. The original remote may still work with your devices, but these unreliable signals can cause serious issues when captured and then reproduced.

Lights Out!
Attempting to learn codes in a dark or near-dark room can help with some difficult remotes or buttons. In particular, some fluorescent light fixtures emit a fair amount of IR interference at 50Hz that can confuse your learning remote. Incandescent bulbs and plasma or LCD televisions can also throw off great quantities of infrared light that may overwhelm sensitive learning remotes.

Software or Hardware?
If you own a Philips Pronto, URC Complete Control or other computer programmable remote control, you will generally program your remote entirely through a personal computer. Although this is usually the best option, you may find certain codes that the software reports as properly learned don’t in fact work during testing.

If your remote control supports it, in situations such as these you may wish to try the learning function built-in to the hardware – unplug the remote from your PC and learn everything through the built-in menus. In many cases, codes that won’t work at all through the software can be captured perfectly, as the hardware’s learning routines often filter or process codes differently to the software. Alternately, if you are having a similar problem with one of these remotes but aren’t using the PC software, you may wish to try it.

If your remote’s computer software has a “Test” button to transmit an infrared signal through a connected remote, do not rely on this to test the functionality learned signals. Instead, to test codes download your complete configuration to the remote, where you will be guaranteed that everything really works!

Right Side Up
Can’t figure out why not even one command will learn? Something that has stumped more than a few users is that the learning eye on certain popular remote controls is NOT at the front of the unit, but is instead on the bottom.

2-Way Confusion
If you’re using 2-way IR equipment such as many high-end receivers or DVD jukeboxes, you may find that infrared signals sent from the device back to the remote can interfere when attempting to learn codes. In order to provide a clean IR environment, you should instead learn codes in another room, out of sight of the original equipment.

IR Reflections
Sometimes, learning signals on a glossy or reflective table surface can produce IR reflections that confuse the learning remote. Instead, try learning on a matte or soft surface, or try placing the remote you are learning to slightly off the table’s edge, and then hand-holding the remote you are learning from.

Duck Blind
In the rare case that none of the above tips work, you may want to try another more complicated method. When placing both remotes head-to-head, place a book or magazine in between them. Make sure that the book is of sufficient size to completely block the infrared signal. Then, start pressing the button you want to learn on the original remote and continue to hold it down. Set the target remote to learn mode and, while continuing to press, remove the magazine. This blocks off the initial burst of code and, in situations where that burst confuses the learning remote, it can sometimes allow a remote to pick up the remaining important parts.

This method is also handy when trying to learn a particular segment of code from a “hard-coded macro” button. For instance, many Sony receivers have input source selection buttons that perform various steps besides changing the receiver’s inputs – they may also turn on the TV and change its video input. The problem with this is that the code becomes too long to be learned, and so the whole thing is rejected. The idea is to remove the magazine and put it back so that only the short portion of code you desire is seen by the learning remote. This may take many tries before you can claim success, but it could be worth it. This also works with some “system on” and “system off” buttons, and may work with other mysteriously long infrared sequences.

The Flutter Effect
Is nothing working? Then you may want to try “fluttering” the code. To do this, set your learning remote ready to capture, and then quickly and repeatedly press the source button as many times as you can in a second, effectively sending brief “bursts” of the command to the remote. You may wish to experiment with exactly how quickly you flutter the button.

Another advanced method you can try is this. Set your learning remote ready to capture, but this time start with the source remote a distance away – perhaps 6 to 8 feet. Start pressing the source button and then, while continuing to hold the button down, quickly move the original remote closer to your learning remote. Although this is effectively similar to the “Duck Blind” technique, it has helped in rare situations. You may want to try combining this with “The Flutter Effect”.

The Substitute Teacher
If you are having difficulty learning certain codes on a particular universal remote control, and also own more then one learning remote (even if it is a low-end or original equipment remote), then you can try teaching those commands into that second remote. Sometimes, one remote may have difficulty learning codes that another remote is able to capture without issue. And occasionally, the first remote will be capable of learning the codes after they have been processed through the second remote.

This technique also holds true for all remote control sources. If you are unable to learn from the device’s original remote, but have access to other preprogrammed remotes with commands for that device, then you can also try learning from those.

Out of Memory?
Another explanation as to why your remote won’t learn a particular code could be that its memory is simply full! Some remotes only have the capability to store a few codes – 15 or 20 – though most should be able to hold 50 or more. Low memory remotes include the Marantz RC2000, Sony RM-AV2000, almost anything from One For All or Radio Shack, and many “learning” remotes that ship with televisions or receivers.

In order to save space, try to use preprogrammed codes first and the learning function only to fill in holes or other unsupported devices. Plus, remember to use the “hold” learning technique as described above, as quite a bit of space can be wasted if you unnecessarily use the “press” method. If all else fails, try resetting the remote and starting over from scratch, being careful not to make too many mistakes that can fragment memory on older, less advanced models, and reduce their overall capacity.

- Daniel Tonks (Remote Central)

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