Zapping the telly

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The remote control is the most common accessory of them all; virtually every home entertainment box has one. They work by emitting pulses of infra-red light, variations in pulse timing and duration conveying specific commands to the control processor of the TV, video recorder or whatever.
Breakdowns and batteries
When a zapper fails, it’s generally due to contact wear, dry soldered joints or build-up of dirt or corrosion on the key contacts. The latter two can be easily fixed by a technician, but it’s more common to replace the whole thing. You can get remote control testers from accessory suppliers like CPC for less than £10. Sometimes oxides build up on the battery contacts: rotating the batteries with a finger or thumb will restore order. Rechargeable batteries are not suitable for zappers because their voltage is too low at 1·3. The use of good quality alkaline cells gives best longevity and protection from leakage, particularly relevant where the handset may fall into disuse once a Sky zapper has taken over from it. Real problems can then arise when the ‘real’ zapper is mislaid or discarded: it’s not possible for the Sky handset to control more than programme select and sound level, and repair/installation technicians cannot set up a TV set or the like without its own zapper. This has led on several occasions to customers having to buy a new handset in order to have the set repaired or re-installed.
Replacements
Several types of replacement zapper are available, all offering a good margin to dealers. Best, perhaps, (and absolutely guaranteeing full functionality and user-familiarity) are the ‘real McCoys’ from the setmaker or its agent. These tend to be the most expensive. Some setmakers, especially for older models, supply third-party ‘pattern’ zappers of the sort we shall examine below, but at a higher price than when obtained direct – beware of this.
Probably the most common replacement types are the specific pattern types, coming from the likes of Classic (01633 278678) and Wallis on 020 8870 3388. These are relatively cheap and need no setting up or programming but they have a different appearance and key layout from the original; they’re widely available from component and accessory trade suppliers.
A second class of substitute zappers are ‘universal’ types, with a huge memory bank of make/model command codes which can be selected by keying in a generic code, then if necessary by trial and error. One for All (www.oneforall-int.com) and the Sky handset are examples of these, designed to replace a clutter of zappers and to drive the TV in conjunction with satellite-box control respectively. They may have limited functionality, or become outdated – some of our customers have had to buy the latest version of the Sky remote control to be able to work their new thin screen TVs.
Customised to go
A neat and sophisticated way of dealing in replacement zappers is to programme ‘blanks’ from the shop PC and a software databank. You hook up to the new handset, click on the TV make and model, and hey presto, it’s done. This is the Ruwido Amadeus system, available from Ceratech on 01420 85470. They offer a dealer starter pack of 20 blank handsets, CD-ROM and USB cable for a special price. These zappers typically cost £6-odd plus VAT, and retail at about £20 once programmed. The Com Genius (CHS, 0870 9909474) is similar.
A different kind of replacement handset is the ‘learning’ type. These are taught head-to-head with the original zapper, whose command codes they take on board and henceforth reproduce. They’re not as popular as the other types because of the need for programming at home with lots of keystrokes, and to have working original handsets available. Their main application is in ‘multi’ remotes for home cinema use. The QED type (Lektropacks, 020 8847 2776) controls up to seven devices including ‘difficult’ ones like Bang and Olufsen and Pioneer Elite. Metal-bodied and sophisticated, it sells for about £100.
£800 zapper
Having got onto home-cinema and home-automation control systems, the sky is the limit in terms of sophistication, functionality and price. Fully featured multi-device mini-console zappers with customisable LCD screens by Marantz and others sell for up to £800.

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