Cross Contamination

Posted in Media, Tech at 9 am

We have a television from Planar Systems, an overstock display purchased through an employee discount. The TV was designed for a home theater installation, so it has a few quirks compared to most consumer televisions. One of those quirks is having two separate buttons on the remote for power. One turns it on, the other off. Most TVs, of course, have these as a single power on/off toggle button. But in Home Theater installations, this allows for external control of the display for an automation system. Because the automation system can send a specific state (on or off) there is never a concern that the systems would be out of sync. If there was only a toggle switch, then if the tv has a power failure or someone manually turns it off, the automation system would send the next toggle (perhaps to turn the TV off) and end up turning it on. The discreet pair of switches fix that.

However, I am not a rich man. I have no such automation system. What I do have is a TiVo and the very best TV remote control I’ve ever used, the TiVo “peanut-shaped” series of remotes. Like most remotes, it has a single power button, expecting to toggle the power. I looked through all the documentation for the Planar TV. There was no toggle command available. Discreet power on and power off were the only options. I called the tech support people, and since I was an employee there at the time, went to talk to The guy who handled all of the Planar Home Theater product support. There was no way to send a toggle. It wasn’t built to handle that, it was built to be part of a Home Theater Installation, for Home Theater Dealers, using Home Theater automation. A few more hours of research and I came up empty on the power toggle search.

The Pledge: In order to get the TiVo remote (which is programmable) to control the Planar display, I programmed the remote’s power button to send out the Power On signal. I then reprogrammed the Mute button to send the Power Off signal. Not a bad compromise. The green On Button works to get things going. The Mute button shuts the TV sounds off… along with the entire display. It took a few weeks to get used to it, but it worked.

The Turn: A few years later, Amy and I are buying myriad toys for our boy, with trains being the latest fashion. Wooden Brio-style trains are the rage, but the slightly larger Thomas the Tank Engine starter set in the “TrackMaster” style is also in there. At Toys-R-Us, the in-house brand of trains runs the same size as the TrackMaster Thomas, but with a twist: a remote control for the engine (with an unknown signaling method). Forward, backward, blow the whistle, stop the train buttons. But surely this remote would be RF (radio frequency) based, because an IR sensor on a train engine would be turned away from the controlled half the time on a circular layout. Right? Each turn of the track would hide the sensor… unless the sensor was mounted straight up?

Well, it so happened that the control was IR (infra-red) based, not RF. The sensor wasn’t set on top, the engine had two sensors, giving nearly 360 degree coverage. Playing with the new train was great as we set it up in the living room. Four trains on 10 feet of track is tough, but workable, except that every time we started the new remote control train, the TV turned on …and then off. On and Off.

It took a second or five to sink in, but after covering up the TV’s IR sensor (letting us play with the train for the evening) James was off to bed and Dad had a few minutes to experiment with the new toy’s unintended side effects.

The Prestige: So my personal holy grail of IR commands was found. The train’s remote control was used the program the TiVo remotes and now we have a fully functional TiVo/TV system.


  1. Micah Stupak-Hahn said,

    07.03.14 at 2 am

    That’s kinda hilarious. Life is full of fun little surprises, eh? 😉

  2. Charlie Levenson said,

    07.03.14 at 2 am

    Babysitters are going to need a full day of training.

  3. Di Giacomo Sal said,

    07.03.14 at 8 am

    Hey Ross, what model do you have?

  4. Jennifer B. Davis said,

    07.03.14 at 4 pm

    That’s great. You are such a problem solver. Perhaps you should market the Thomas train control system. 🙂

  5. Wm Leler said,

    07.04.14 at 4 am

    I wish ALL devices had both on and off buttons.

  6. Ross Olson said,

    07.10.14 at 2 pm

    Di Giacomo Sal it is the PD370. You authorized the replacement on the power supply in 2008 or so.

  7. Kathleen Greenhaw said,

    03.12.15 at 8 am

    Kathleen Greenhaw liked this on Facebook.

  8. Jason Stone said,

    03.12.15 at 8 am

    Jason Stone liked this on Facebook.

  9. Charlie Levenson said,

    03.12.15 at 8 am

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  10. Micah Stupak-Hahn said,

    03.12.15 at 8 am

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