The era of the remote control is over, according to a presentation on the entertainment control platform (ECP) delivered last week at the Freescale Technology Forum (Orlando, Fla.).
Using the same wireless radios as ZigBee, Freescale Semiconductor Inc. (Austin, Texas) has defined a simpler networking protocol for controllers and controlled devices that it claims enables wireless interoperability among multiple consumer electronics appliances from multiple manufacturers--many of which Freescale says will announce ECP-compatible products before Christmas.
"Imagine coming home with a new DVD. You pop it into your player and it comes on, switches the amplifier input to DVD, adjusts the speakers to surround sound, dims the lights for the movie's opening scene--and you still don't know where the remote is," said Victor Berrios, global platform manager and leader of the team that developed the networking software and protocols for ECP over the past two years.
Freescale demonstrated its RF wireless entertainment control platform--including the light-dimming function triggered by DVD insertion--in its digital living room at the forum. For the demo, Freescale engineers equipped components ranging from televisions, receivers and amplifiers to iPods, DVD players and CD players for ECP compatibility. By next year, Freescale promises to be able to build a nearly identical digital living room, but populated with ECP-enabled consumer electronics brands straight off manufacturers' shelves.
ECP is based on networking software and protocols for the IEEE 802.15.4-based communication standard, designed from the ground up for devices with a very long battery life (measured in years) and correspondingly slow data rates. ZigBee wireless mesh networks also use IEEE 802.15.4, so there is a plethora of radio chips available, some of them already packaged with a Freescale microcontroller. Freescale's microcontroller development system software now includes the ECP networking protocols, in addition to the ZigBee protocols already provided, so OEMs can enable interoperable communications among their consumer devices.
"We are still very much behind ZigBee, but when you are communicating among devices within a relatively small area and don't need mesh networking, ZigBee's hierarchical infrastructure is overkill," said Brian Kelly, global market and applications manager of the group that specifies new global products. "What we do is use the identical IEEE 802.15.4 radio chips as ZigBee but implement the entertainment control platform instead."
Today's controllers only send data from the remote to the device, but ECP enables interactive controllers, since it supports two-way communication. By using ECP to specify that a device is a controller, interactive displays are possible. Freescale expects makers of high-end video displays to offload their on-screen programming to LCD-based touchscreens using ECP.
Since ECP is radio-based, it does not require line-of-sight communication, as is necessary for today's infrared remote controls. And because infrared competes with switching transients coming from plasma displays, switching to radio frequencies will solve that problem as well.
ECP specifies more than 16 thousand public commands, but thus far Freescale has only assigned 600 because those were all that were needed to define today's consumer device functions, according to the company. Manufacturers can also specify their own, confidential commands to differentiate their device or enable it to perform special functions.
Three 2.4-GHz channels are used simultaneously among devices, providing enough redundancy for transparent interference elimination, according to the company.
The platform will roll out on consumer electronics devices this fall, but Freescale isn't yet divulging the details of any design wins or saying how many more announcements will be made before Christmas.
Initially, the products will come with an ECP-compatible remote control. But if the standard catches on, eventually consumers would be able to buy an ECP-compatible device without a remote, since it could be controlled with any other ECP-compatible controller the consumer already owned--or sometimes, as in the DVD-to-dimmed-lights example, without any remote at all.