The Early Days of the TV Remote

Sony remote control replacement

In what is easily the most offensive part of television’s history, the very first television remote control was called “Lazy Bones.” Because if you didn’t already hate yourself for watching five hours of the evening news alone with a TV dinner and your cat, the cherry on top is that your own TV remote controls are judging you.

Nevertheless, people seemed to be okay with the name (for while, at least) and the home invasion of TV remote controls had begun. Previously, remote control technology had only been used for official military purposes in World Wars I and II — so it was a pretty big deal when Zenith Electronics Corporation made this technology available for average people to use in 1950.

The downside to the Lazy Bones was that it a cable connection was required — not the cable that TV viewers today are thinking of, but a literal cable wire running from the remote control to the TV set. Not surprisingly, people started getting real sick of tripping over their television remote controls, and they weren’t fans of the big cable running through their living rooms.

It only took about five years for the first wireless TV remote controls to take over, and luckily, Zenith decided to rename the device to something a little more catchy. In 1955 the Flashmatic started making its way into American living rooms, and life was good again… until people started realizing that the Flashmatic had some unfortunate flaws too. For example, these TV remotes were wired with unprotected circuits, meaning that strong beams of light could get in the way of the signal and start messing with the TV.

Zenith researchers realized that something needed to change. At first, they thought they could make replacement remotes that used radio waves instead of photo cells. This got rid of the sunlight problem, but researchers soon figured out that a radio-controlled remote could accidentally end up connecting to TVs in nearby rooms, and even in separate buildings.

Eventually, Zenith engineers made use of ultrasonic waves, which are sound waves that run at such high frequencies, the human ear can’t detect them. This technology was much more effective than the Flashmatic, but it ended up being pretty pricey. It wasn’t until the 1980s that replacement remote controls with infrared light ray detection started being produced, but once the television industry found out about this technology, it was a hit: not only was it effective, but it was incredibly affordable.

Even though many newer TVs have begun using digital TV remote controls, many people still prefer the good ol’ infrared technology. These remotes are completely safe, very affordable, and easily replaced if they ever get lost (and they do have a tendency to get lost). Find out more here.

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