Zenith was the first company to develop and market television remote controls almost 50 years ago. The first was a wired remote, called Lazy Bones, introduced in 1950. It had a cable that ran from the TV to a remote in the viewer's hand. Buttons on the remote activated a motor in the TV that changed the channels. Unfortunately, having a wire running through the middle of the living room was not very practical. So Zenith began development of a wireless remote.
The first wireless remote, introduced in 1955, was called the Flashmatic. Developed by Zenith Engineer Eugene Polley, the Flashmatic shined highly focused light beams on four receivers located around the screen. But the Flashmatic had limitations. Viewers couldn't remember which corner did what, and sunlight could change channels. Once again, Zenith engineers took on the task to develop new approaches to wireless remote control.
In the fall of 1956, Zenith started production on a type of wireless remote that used "ultrasonics," or sound beyond the range of human hearing , to activate signals in the TV. This, the first practical wireless TV remote, was invented by Dr. Robert Adler, whose design was used by the entire industry through the early 1980s. More than 9 million ultrasonic remote control TVs were sold by the industry during the 25-year reign of Dr. Adler's invention.
Now, the most common and widely used remote control is the infrared, or IR, remote. The IR remote works by using a low frequency light beam, so low that the human eye cannot see it, but which can be detected by a receiver in the TV. For every function on the remote, the beam flashes a code - a rapid series of signals like Morse Code. The signals for each function are determined by a tiny micro-processor in the remote. The signals are then sent to a diode at the front of the remote. The diode flashes the signals as low frequency light. These signals tell the TV to change volume, switch channels, adjust color, operate a VCR, and dozens of other functions. The signal is repeated five times a second to be sure the receiver in the TV has read it and knows what to do.
Some of today's sophisticated TV sets have remotes with as many as 50 buttons. Today, more than 99 percent of all TV sets and 100 percent of all VCRs sold in the U.S. are equipped with remote control.