How to Use SmartThings with a Device with an IR Remote

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These days it's quite common to find IOT devices from lamps to air-conditioners that have IR (infrared, not RF) remotes. So the question is how can you control those from SmartThings? SmartThings itself does not have an IR transmitter.

There are a number of different ways of doing this, both simple and complicated. However, the simple ways tend to be much more expensive. So this could be somewhat frustrating process. But you can almost certainly accomplish it.

Air Conditioners

First, before we talk about anything else, if you have an air conditioner, go to the air-conditioner FAQ. There are some devices made specifically for air-conditioners and you're going to want to look at those:

Community FAQ

Everything Else

Now let's take a look at the IR control options for everything else. I'm going to list these in order of easiest to use, with the easiest first. That also means the most expensive choices are going to be first. I'm not suggesting you go that way, different things work for different people, but if you just want easy solutions you may not want to read through all the other discussions

1. Very simple, quite expensive: Simple Control (formerly Roomie Remote) with their version of global cache. IOS Only. $229 to start, $50/year thereafter. US only

Global Cache makes an excellent Wi-Fi to IR device intended for makers and professional installers. The device itself will run around $115. But then you need software to operate it.

The simplest software for this purpose, The one that doesn't require you to be a programmer, is from Simple Control, A tablet or phone-based app (IOS only) which can control all kinds of devices, and even has an official (on their side) SmartThings integration. So far so good. Their support is excellent, and the system is flexible and pretty easy to use. Setup is similar to setting up any home theater equipment.

However, you have to pay both an upfront app fee of $9.99 and an annual subscription in order to use it. ($50/year) and there are additional add on fees depending on the exact features you choose. They list a start up cost on their site of $229. You're paying strictly for convenience – – everything this setup does can be done in other ways for less money, but requiring a lot more work on your part.

Generally people either love simple Control or think it's overpriced. But if you just want a fast and easy method with a strong support system available, give them a look. Remember, you are going to have to also buy their version of global cache ($100) to go with it. So $229 to get started and then $50 every year and it's only available for iOS. But at least nobody will expect you to be a programmer just to get it set up . 😉

Simple Control official site

Logitech Harmony Hub. Pretty simple. No cost if you already own one. Annoying setup, but you don't have to be a programmer. US or U.K.

If you already own a Logitech Harmony hub, this will be the second easiest way after simple control to set up control of an IR device. And if you already have one, you don't have to pay extra for it unless you need to buy an extra mini IR blaster. So that's the good news. The odds are pretty good that harmony already has your device in their database, but if they don't, you can add it.

https://support.myharmony.com/en-us/compatibility

So that's the good news. Now for the bad news. The official harmony integration is at the "activity" level for any device that operates on IR. So I hear all the time from people who say "I set up an activity to turn my fan on and off, but when I turn the fan on, my tv turns off."

There is a way around that, but it's annoying and a lot of work for a one time set up. After you get it set up it'll work just the way you want, though.

The trick is to understand how harmony activities work and only ever turn an activity on; never use the activity to turn your IR device off.

To make this work smoothly, you have to create multiple versions of your activities.

So let's say you just have a fan which is controlled by an IR remote and you already have a harmony activity to watch cable television, another harmony activity to watch Netflix on Roku, and another harmony activity to watch a DVD.

You'll notice that as you switch between those activities some of your other devices turn off, which is OK. You don't need the DVD player on when you are watching the Roku. But if you try to make up an activity to "turn on the fan" then when you Switch to the fan activity, the TV or the Roku or the DVD would turn off. That's not what we want.

Instead, you make two versions of each of your existing activities, one that has the fan turned on, and one that doesn't have the fan at all. So now you have six activities:

Cable plus fan

Cable without fan

Netflix plus fan

Netflix without fan

Roku plus fan

Roku without fan

Plus one more just to turn on the fan when nothing else is running.

Now you are watching a DVD and you decide you want to turn on the fan. You choose the activity DVD plus fan. If you want to turn the fan off while leaving the DVD on, you switch to the activity DVD without fan and the. Fan will automatically turn off because it isn't needed in that next activity.

If you use the fan only activity to turn on the fan first and then you want to watch Roku, you would switch to the "Roku plus fan" activity.

This works just fine, but the more IR devices you add, the more versions you have to have of every activity. You can end up needing a spreadsheet to keep track of everything.

But you can make it work, it's just a total pain to do the initial activity set up.

3. Remotec Zwave to IR Bridge. ZXT310. $90 purchase, no license fee. One time set up can be tedious, but otherwise about the same as adding most device type handlers if it's just an on/off device. US or U.K.

Remotec makes a device specifically for controlling air-conditioners. That's not this one. They also make one, the ZXT310, that can control any IR device, but you have to load the IR codes into your device type handler manually, and it's a pain to get set up. Once you get it set up, it should work fine with SmartThings. The device typically costs around $90, but you won't need anything else to make it work besides SmartThings. No license fees. It is available on both the US and EU Zwave frequencies.

There is also a nice smartapp for it that uses virtual switches to keep everything in sync.

Community-created DTH and Smartapp

If you have more than one IR device, set up with the remotec may even be easier than set up with the harmony because you don't have all that nonsense about activities. I definitely think this option is worth considering. The smart app can handle up to six IR devices.

Amazon listing

4. Zmote. $35 WiFi to IR Bridge. Complex setup, limited features, but it's cheap. US-only

Zmote is another WiFi to IR device, but this one is designed to be as inexpensive as possible. There is a community member who has created a device type handler for it. It's a lot of work to get this set up the way you want it to be, but it's a one time fee of $35. This is the newest device on this list, and there aren't a lot of reviews of it yet.

Zmote Official Site

Community-created DTH

5. Broadlink RM Pro. IR and 433 MHz Bridge device. $40. Requires an additional android device to act as a server, which makes set up more complicated and may add cost. US or UK.

Broadlink has been around for awhile as a cheap alternative to a universal TV remote. It can also bridge devices that use a 433 MHz remote, such as some fans. I think it's a little easier to set up the IR codes themselves than zmote, but there are a number of different pieces that have to be set up, including an android device to act as the go-between for SmartThings.

There are a number of community members using this, so you could ask in that thread if you have more questions. I think it's a good solution for some people Who have a strong technical background, or who want the additional protocols. The remote itself is only $40, but then you also need the android device.

https://www.amazon.com/Broadlink-Automation-Universal-Compatible-Smartphones/dp/B01GIXZDKO

And here is a long and somewhat confusing thread about how different people have got it set up to work with SmartThings.

Community discussion thread

6. KuKuHarmony: Logitech Harmony without activities. Requires an additional device to act as a server

About this time everybody starts saying why can't I just have the harmony send an IR command? Why do I have to use the stupid activities?

Well, there is a way around it, but you will need another device, like a raspberry pi, to act as a man in the middle and the set up is pretty technical. One community member has written a very detailed project report on how to do this:

kukuharmony project report

This is really slick and if you have a strong technical background, and you already own a Logitech Harmony, I highly recommend looking into it. But if you don't have any programming background, this may be over your head.

7. Global Cache ($115) with HAMBridge ($30) on a Mac. Full granular Control, but you do have to write your own automation scripts. A good choice for programmers.

If you have a Mac available to act as a server, you can buy your own global cache device for about $115. But then you need software to operate it. One community member has created a really nice $30 server package that will run on a Mac. You will need to know how to program in order to write your scripts for it, but it will let you use the global cache and integrate it with SmartThings very nicely.

You buy the global cache device for about $115

Amazon listing for Global Cache WiFi to IR

UK Distributor

And a Hambridge license for $30

HAMBridge site

I've listed this near last in terms of complexity because you will need to write your own scripts as well as set up the server and the global cache. But if you are already programming on a Mac, you may in fact find this method easier then the Broadlink one, as well as easier to use integrate with other automation scripts.

HAMBridge Discussion thread

8. For Makers: ESP8266 Board-Controllable IR Blaster

For people who are comfortable programming Arduinos and similar maker projects, one community member has a project report on integrating an ESP 8266 board controllable IR blaster with SmartThings. This will have to be mains powered, because the Wi-Fi option runs through batteries too quickly. For details, see the [Make a Dumb Fan Smart Project Report

Summary

The method most like using other devices with SmartThings is to get the Z wave to IR bridge from remotec and use the custom device type handler and smartapp for it. But you will be limited to a total of six devices if you use the custom app. And loading the codes in can be tedious.

The easiest method with the most support is probably to use Simple Control, but it's only available for iOS devices, and you will have to buy their $100 IR Bridge and pay a $50/year ongoing license fee as well as some additional start up costs.

If you already have a Logitech Harmony, it's easy to add an IR device to it, but you have to create duplicates of your existing activities so you can turn the IR IOT device on without turning your entertainment devices off. That can get to be a lot of set up work.

The other methods are all worth considering if you have a preference for one of the other bridge devices and/or a limited budget and are comfortable with the degree of technical skill required to make it work.