Using a Xantech IR emitter for TiVo control of an external receiver

by Matthew Gast

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TiVo's official recommended solution to the recent breakage in serial control of some external receivers is to use infrared control instead. Initially, channel changes were slow to take effect, and quite unreliable. In a different thread on the TiVo Help Forums, another poster suggested keeping the emitters out at least one inch from the face of the satellite receiver. The extra distance helped, but I was still suffering from frustrating digit misses.

When IR is not reliable, the "official" advice is to build an ugly IR tent. I didn't want an IR tent because I use the display on the satellite/HD receiver as an "at-a-glance" indicator of whether or not I have a lock on the digital channel. If the receiver can't grab on to the channel, it will display "NO SIGNAL" in letters that march across the display. I wanted to retain this indicator of the health of my antenna system if possible.

So, I went looking for an alternate IR emitter that I could use to replace the TiVo emitter. Stick-on emitters adhere to the plastic in front of the IR "eye" on most equipment, and are a bit more reliable because they beam the control commands right into the device in question. After searching through the TiVo Community Forum, I decided on a Xantech emitter. They are small enough to largely remove the eyesore of the TiVo IR blasters. As a bonus, they also are transparent to IR so that I can still control my HD receiver with its original remote, even though there is an emitter stuck over it. (For those who need to completely block out IR, Xantech also makes a self-adhesive shield that covers the emitter and blocks all incident light.) Xantech makes several emitters. I selected a single-headed emitter, rather than a double-headed emitter. There are two styles of Xantech emitter. "Blink-IR" emitters will flash red when they transmit IR light, while the standard ones do not. I didn't have a strong preference, and I ended up buying a blinking emitter because I found a liquidator selling blinking emitters cheap on eBay.

Installation is a snap. Pull out the old blasters, and replace the cable with the Xantech emitter. It's much less obtrusive, as you can see from the picture.

With luck, TiVo will fix the serial port protocol and I won't have to keep using IR. Although the Xantech emitter seems a bit more reliable, IR control is still slow. Back when serial recording still worked, the TiVo recording would start off on the correct channel because the channel change command would be quick on serial. IR is much slower. The first few seconds of each recording are taken up by the channel change, and it's possible to see each of the digits being beamed to the HD receiver. So far, the Xantech emitter seems to be working out quite well. I'll have to see how reliability compares over the next few days.