TV remote.
Filippo Carlot/

TVs—both smart and dumb—have some fancy technology inside that you probably don’t think twice about. IR blasters are one of those things and this little gadget can make your life a lot easier.

The long name for the IR blaster is “infrared blaster” and that tells us a little bit about how it works. You almost certainly have IR blasters in some of the devices near your TV. Let’s see how it works.

What Is an IR Blaster?

An IR blaster is a pretty cool-sounding name. The name describes exactly what it does: It blasts out infrared light.

The most common example of an IR blaster is a TV and a remote. Your TV has an IR sensor built-in that communicates with the IR blaster in the included remote. The remote “blasts” out the commands, and they’re received by the sensor in the TV.

Infrared is light, which is why the remote needs to have a clear line of sight to the sensor on the TV. The light has to be able to reach the sensor. In this example, the IR blaster was in the remote, but they’re found in other devices as well.

RELATED: Are IR Scanners in Phones Bad for Your Eyes?

Where Are IR Blasters Used?

Roku remote in hand in front of a Roku home screen.
renata colella/

IR blasters are most often found in remotes, but another common place is cable boxes. This is what allows you to use one remote to control your cable box and TV. The cable box receives the commands from the remote and uses the IR blaster to send them to the TV.

Similarly, your streaming box may be able to do the same thing. Many Roku devices come equipped with IR blasters in the remote and box. During the initial setup process, the Roku will program itself to your TV to allow you to control it with the Roku remote.

Speaking of remotes, you might have guessed this is how universal remotes work. The popular Logitech Harmony Elite works with the Harmony Hub. The Hub receives commands from the remote and sends them to your TV, cable box, streaming box, gaming system, or Blu-ray player with an IR blaster.

For a brief period of time, some Android phones had IR blasters. You could use your phone as a basic remote with no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection required. People were even using the feature to control TVs at restaurants. It’s pretty difficult to find a phone with an IR blaster these days, though.

Logitech Harmony Elite Remote and Hub

This pricey system will allow you to control all of the devices in your living room with one remote. It can control TVs, Blu-ray players, gaming systems, sound systems, cable boxes, and more.

Light Up My Life

IR blasters are surprisingly simple and effective little gadgets. They’ve been around for a long time, making it possible for devices to communicate with each other. And it all works with a little infrared light and a sensor to receive it.

While IR blasters are pretty old tech, they are still commonly used for TVs and remotes. Some smart TVs and streaming boxes have switched over to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth along with HDMI-CEC to control everything, but that’s not a clear advantage over IR blasters.

The next time your remote isn’t turning the volume down on your TV because you aren’t holding it in just the right position, you’ll know why.

RELATED: How to Enable HDMI-CEC on Your TV, and Why You Should

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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