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  • DIRECTV doesn't support HDMI-CEC ... and that's a good thing.

    Thanks to Signal Labs member Bill Van for suggesting this story.

    Sometimes, it's ok to leave something out. A recent review of DIRECTV's Genie on another blog pointed out that none of DIRECTV's products support HDMI-CEC. And yet, we say, "that's ok." Why?

    What is HDMI-CEC?

    HDMI-CEC is a standard for Consumer Electronics Control that is included in every HDMI implementation. It's been there since day one, and the goal is simple: one remote to rule them all. The idea is, you use your TV's remote to control other devices. The TV receives the command and passes it onto another device like a Blu-ray player or AV receiver. It's offered my many manufacturers under their own names (Samsung calls it Anynet+, Sony calls it Bravia Link, etc.) and if you stay within the same product line it works fairly well. In other words, if your TV and Blu-ray player are both Samsungs, you'll find that the TV remote works quite well. It even turns the Blu-ray player on if necessary.

    So what's the problem?

    The problem is that it doesn't work terribly well at all if you have multiple manufacturers. You'll find that the basic stuff is supported like play and pause, but once you get into unique features (like DIRECTV's {INFO} button) it doesn't work at all. The TV remote doesn't have the right button, there are multiple options for the same button, and it's just a mess. Major tech forums are full of threads suggesting you turn off HDMI-CEC in all your devices.

    In some cases, like Samsung's, HDMI-CEC carries manufacturer-specific information that you may not want to use. Samsung's Blu-ray players, for example, change resolution and picture settings when HDMI-CEC is used, and not if it isn't. This can be very confusing if you're trying to calibrate.

    What's the answer?

    DIRECTV chose from the beginning not to implement HDMI-CEC. It's possible that this was due to the many incompatibilities in the HDMI standard as it existed in 2006, but even as HDMI became more and more stable, DIRECTV decided this still wasn't the right route to take. Instead, they developed a comprehensive IP control standard.

    DIRECTV receivers can be controlled through wired or wireless networks using a command set called SHEF. (The programming specs can be found here.) This is the technology behind DIRECTV's smartphone and tablet apps, and it is a much richer and more flexible technology than HDMI-CEC. In fact, more and more devices use IP control instead of, or in addition to, HDMI-CEC. Any device that has a smartphone-based remote is actually using IP control. It forms the basis of most new home automation systems, too.

    By skipping HDMI-CEC, DIRECTV simply skipped a lot of problems.

    So where is it going?

    It looks like the future will see remote controls that send IP commands instead of proprietary codes. According to NTS-AT, DIRECTV will be using the Zigbee RF4CE system to send IP commands over RF. If this up and coming standard becomes common, it will be even easier to send commands from any device to any device, over RF (meaning through walls) and with even fewer problems.

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    Comments 4 Comments
    1. bjdraw's Avatar
      bjdraw -
      For starters, I assume you are referencing my review of the Genie, and officially I omitted mentioning CEC in the review. Something I expressed regret in the comments about, though.

      Second. The idea that it is a good thing that DirecTV doesn't support CEC because it doesn't always work, could be said about every single technology, ever -- I'm sure there are plenty who'd say DirecTV isn't any good because of potential signal problems during storms. The reality is that DirecTV is a great service and works through most storms. The reality about CEC is that it does work in certain use cases and it would be beneficial to users of DirecTV hardware. Your example is flawed, too. Who would try to use their TV's remote to control their DirecTV Genie? Even if it did have CEC, that isn't how most would use it.

      My favorite use case is the great DirecTV iPad app. The app does a great job as a TV companion, but yet it isn't possible to even adjust the volume using the app. DirecTV knows people don't want to grab their TV's remote out of a drawer, they have to realize people would like to avoid switching between the iPad and another remote while watching TV.
    1. Stuart Sweet's Avatar
      Stuart Sweet -
      Interesting perspective and well made points. DIRECTV's done a good job with their IP control and several TV manufacturers and integrators have as well. Seems to me that's the way to go in the future.
    1. bjdraw's Avatar
      bjdraw -
      Quote Originally Posted by SS@SolidSignal View Post
      Interesting perspective and well made points. DIRECTV's done a good job with their IP control and several TV manufacturers and integrators have as well. Seems to me that's the way to go in the future.
      I agree that DirecTV has done a good job with its IP control and RS-232. But how does that help the iPad use case? Again, I'm not expecting the TV to take control of the Genie, I'm thinking the other way around.
    1. Stuart Sweet's Avatar
      Stuart Sweet -
      Putting aside the iPad app itself, most of DIRECTV's IP control protocol is open and can be used by custom integrators to build remotes that use IP control for all devices. I'm hoping that future generations of connected devices use a combination of IP control and RF4CE rather than relying on IR or HDMI-CEC. This would make for much better remotes, whether they were dedicated or software based.