Locked-in Syndrome

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Together with my computer my television is my companion to help combat boredom. The fact that I
understand Italian perfectly (my mother was Italian) surely helps (here we receive a lot of Italian channels). But we had a major problem : I can't use a remote control, which meant either watching always the same channel (which I did but was quite boring) or to call someone every time I want to change channel (unpractical). A way of me selecting channel (and volume) had to be found.

There are two ways of tackling the problem : one way is by fitting an infra-red USB dongle to my computer and then writing a program to send the correct codes to it and I would have on-screen virtual remote control. This has the big problem that the computer has to be left on all the time and I have to find someone to do it for me. The other method (that I chose) is by using the laser mounted on my specs to control the television. This method can be used with any television that has P+,P-,V+ and V- buttons (most sets do).

Four Light Dependent Resistors (LDR's) are fitted in an enclosure and they use a simple relay driver and these 4 relays control the TV buttons. This was built for me by a friend called Peter Cini and he added some of his own ideas to it : he added an LDR to measure ambient light (that was causing problems in our early computer interface) and the signal from the other LDR's is compared to this signal (therefore almost eliminating ambient light problems). Also he examined how the buttons work on the TV and these send different voltages to a microprocessor, so he made the LDR's output different voltages directly to the microprocessor, therefore eliminating the relays completely.

Obviously a proper remote control offers more functions but with this I have the basic functions (channel and volume) and it allows me to do some serious channel-hopping and I can adjust the volume to my hearing comfort.

Unfortunately St. Vincent de Paule residence (where I now live) is not covered by cable TV, so I rely fully on a traditional aerial. On the 1st. July 2005 a local operator started offering Digital Terrestrial TV, known as DTTV. This system allows transmission of high-quality digital video signal and it is picked up by an ordinary aerial........ideal for me. Also, this system allows multiple channels to be transmitted on what is normally a single analogue channel, therefore I have quite a few channels that I did not have before. Unfortunately the problem that I cannot use a remote control surfaced again........I needed a system similar to what I have on my TV - operation via laser. After a few problems, my friend Steve Hall built a device and fitted it to the DTTV box (known as Set-Top-Box or STB). A small board was fitted inside the STB and a small "target board" was made to house the light sensors.

At the end of 2007 my TV control using light sensors and a laser beam was not working reliably. If somebody walked in front of a sensor it would change channel and to get it back to the channel I was watching. I had to go through all the channels as it was not responding to my laser. Naturally something had to be done and the obvious way to go is by using my computer to send infra-red codes like a remote control. Since now I have a computer on my wheelchair, it sounded like a good idea. Also, when I first made the LDR setup, certain components were not available. Many computers today (2008) have an infrared port and if they don't have one a USB IR dongle can be bought cheaply.

After a search on Internet I found out that infrared ports on computers and infrared on remote controls are very different. I knew that it was possible to send IR codes from a computer as many devices were available but they were also quite expensive. After a long-ish search I found what I wanted : the USB-UIRT.....they were originally for the Home Theatre PC market (HTPC) applications but it fits exactly my requirements and is also very well priced.

The unit itself is a small plastic box (60mm X 38mm X 18mm) with a lead coming out and terminated in a USB plug. The name stands for Universal Infrared Receiver/Transmitter. In our case it has to be a transmitter but the receiver is also essential and later I will explain why. The unit is Plug &Play meaning that Windows (XP or above) will detect it and install the necessary drivers (available from UIRT site). Then siutable software (described below) controls the unit just as if you had a remote control.

The unit can be used with anything that has an infrared remote control - I use it for my AV (Audio Visual...TV, DVD etc...) but it can be used for anything.....for example an air-conditioner. With suitable software (described below) it is very easy to use and in "learn" mode it's receiver can be used to "train" the software to send the correct IR codes.

In the self-contained box is all the circuitery and the firmware can be upgraded easily.

Now for this to be of any use it needs siutable software and I use IRCommand2 and with a siutable IR device you can control anything that uses an infrared remote control - TV, VCR, DVD...etc, but also an airconditioner and IR controlled switches, dimmers etc.

The software can be tried for free for 60 days (with many features disabled) and then, if it fits your needs, it is a very reasonable $34.95. It is available from their site www.wdpsoftware.com together with support, registration info, FAQ and a lot more. When I had a suggestion, I emailed them and got promptly answered and probably they would answer similarly quickly if I had a problem.

After the usual installation procedure the program is started and you are faced with a blank form and to begin customizing to your requirements it is put in "learn" mode. You can choose from a selection of buttons or just select a ready-made device. Once this is done the buttons have to learn what IR code has to be sent. This is done very simply by a few keystrokes and then your remote itself is used to "teach" the software what each button does. Naturally you can change each button's size, shape, colour and text or you can group them and you can program what each button does - it can send a command or a macro (a group of commands).

Once you have decided what buttons you need and what they do, you can move them around to the layout you want. Then (if you have the registered version) you can add a device and begin all over again and add as many devices with as many buttons as you want.

So far I programmed it for my TV, VCR and digital TV decoder, but I know that whatever other equipment I get that has an IR remote control, I can control.

It is also capable of doing other things called "key triggers" that means that you can assign each button to a key of your keyboard - which means that whatever you use as a keyboard becomes your remote control.

My application is nothing new : there are already systems that allow IR enviornment control but they are specifically made for disabled people and are consequently very expensive - this software and the USB-UIRT cost less than $100 and perform very well.

Naturally this setup is useful for anybody who cannot use a remote control (for example Spinal Injury patients).

Once it was all running smoothly, I bought another USB-UIRT and mounted it on the Tablet PC I have on my wheelchair so when I am out of bed I still can control my equipment.

In early 2012, after more than 12 years of service and running at least 15 hours a day, my TV stopped working. It didn't actually stop but after switching on, the sound was fine but the picture was a horizontal white line that disappeared after about an hour.......it was time to change it and a flat-panel LCD Toshiba was purchased.

When the new TV arrived, I noticed that it had many input sockets and one was a USB socket. With this you can put a movie on a USB pendrive, plug it in TV and watch the movie on the TV. This set me thinking....if could connect it to my network, any video or movie kept on my NAS (Network Attached Storage) can be watched on TV.

This was actually more complicated than I had originally thought but then a credit-card size computer (Raspberry Pi) was set up as a HTPC and everyting is working fine. Here is not the place for details, but if you are interested, just drop me a message.

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