This $25 gadget turns all of your old IR remote-controlled devices smart

Broadlink RM4 Mini sitting on desk
(Image credit: Broadlink)

One of the best universal remotes is handy for controlling everything in your home entertainment system, but what if you also want to control not just your smart home devices, but older, not-so-smart gadgets in your house? 

That's the issue I had in my home: In addition to my TV, I also have a ceiling fan and fireplace that can be controlled with a remote — but I didn't want a bunch of remotes cluttering my coffee table. 

The solution? An IR (infrared) blaster is a smart home device that sends out signals to control a variety of older home devices such as your TV or ceiling fan. If you have a bunch of remotes scattered around your home then you can use this device to copy the signal of each button's action and digitize your collection. Think of an IR blaster as a universal remote that also bridges these to your smart home. 

Broadlink RM4 Mini: was $25 now $20 @Amazon

Broadlink RM4 Mini: was $25 now $20 @Amazon
This IR universal remote lets you control thousands of devices, including everything from fireplaces and space heaters to your TV, blinds and lights. It also works with Alexa and Google Home.  

You can operate all of your devices using just a smartphone app or voice commands. This makes the devices you already own visible to your smart so that you can incorporate them into automations and control them from anywhere. For example, if a temperature sensor detects a room's temperature is too high, you can automatically have this blaster send a signal to turn on your ceiling fan. Below you'll find five clever ways to use this gadget to streamline your home.

Automatically turn on an electric fireplace or space heater when it gets cold

Electric fireplaces and the best space heaters are a must during the cold winter months. If yours came with a remote you can simply point it at the IR blaster, press down its buttons to capture the commands, and add them to your IR blaster's app. While you can bust out your phone to control these appliances you can create a slick automation to turn them on automatically when your room gets too cold. Add a temperature sensor to your room (there's one built into the latest Echo Dot and Apple HomePod) and create an automation. Set the trigger that when the room gets too cold (say less than 65 degrees) the IR blaster will send out a "Power on" command to the fireplace. (In the summer months, this also works well with one of the best smart air conditioners.)

Wake up to TV every morning

Amazon Fire TV 2-Series on table

(Image credit: Amazon)

You can wake up to the news, music videos, or your favorite TV channel automatically each morning. Just copy your TV remote's power button signal and work that into a scheduled automation for when you wake up. This could look as simple as "At 9 A.M. turn on TV using (TV power on)". Remember to keep your cable box or streaming app running while you sleep or your TV will open up to a blank menu or input instead. 

Lower or raise remote blinds or projector screen

Do you have a remote-powered set of roller blinds or a projector screen? You can have these raise or lower at certain times, like when you get up in the morning to let the sun in. Or when it gets dark out you can have your home theater screen roll down so you can jump into a movie marathon.  

Control your light bulbs and holiday string lights

A man controlling his smart lights with his smartphone

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If your light bulbs or string lights come with a remote then you can copy its functions into your IR blaster app. You can have your lights change colors at certain times of the day, automatically turn off when no activity has been detected in a room for a set period of time, or simply use voice commands to manually control their power without having to walk over to a switch.

Cool down your room with a fan and air conditioning

Much like with the fireplace in the winter, you can use a temperature sensor when a room gets too hot during the summer to turn on your cooling appliances. You can have your IR blaster kick on the fan to your preferred speed and pre-set your window or wall air conditioner's cooling settings to have it power on and effectively cool down the room without any input from your end. 

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg, as an IR blaster works across a wide range of electronics like old-school DVD players, home theater systems, and more. Just note that the IR blaster needs a clear line of sight to whatever it is you want to control, so depending on your home, you may need one in more than one room.

More from Tom's Guide

Hunter Fenollol
Senior Editor, Smart Home

Hunter Fenollol is a Senior Editor for Tom’s Guide. He specializes in smart home gadgets and appliances. Prior to joining the team, Hunter reviewed computers, wearables, and mixed reality gear for publications that include CNN Underscored, Popular Mechanics, and Laptop Magazine. When he’s not testing out the latest cooking gadgets, you can likely find him playing a round of golf or out with friends feeding his paycheck to a QuickHit slot machine.

Hunter started his career as an intern at Tom’s Guide back in 2019 while in college. He graduated from Long Island University Post with a degree in Communications and minor in Advertising. He has been vlogging ever since the iPhone 4 took front-facing cameras mainstream.

  • dsrtdweller
    There are many devices around the home this will NOT work for. Just a few inclide many ceiling fans and motorized blinds - typically these use RF signls to control them. This only works when the device uses infared signals. Yes that is stated but the article makes it seem like everything with a remote is IR controlled. Its not.
    Reply
  • hawndude
    dsrtdweller said:
    There are many devices around the home this will NOT work for. Just a few inclide many ceiling fans and motorized blinds - typically these use RF signls to control them. This only works when the device uses infared signals. Yes that is stated but the article makes it seem like everything with a remote is IR controlled. Its not.
    I don’t think the article made it seem that way at all. The author clearly used the term “IR blaster” which directly implies that the device is compatible with IR remotes; not RF. The device isn’t capable of cooking you dinner or feeding your cat either. Should the author have mentioned that?
    Reply
  • willyhoops
    Its a good point-I was about to buy one and looking for an Amazon link in the comments- but after reading your warning I realised it would not work for me. Is there another one available for RF devices? I have remote control mains plugs that use RF instead of IR, I could throw them all out and but smart switches but a device like this would be much cheaper. Perhaps it is impossible however?

    Looking on amazon I saw this device “IR/RF” device for $45:

    https://www.amazon.com/BroadLink-Automation-Controller-RM4-pro/dp/B086VBXSDH?th=1
    But setting up devices looks quite complicated. Amazon warns “Frequently returned item”. The 2.4Gz restriction is a bit lame, I personally only enable 5Gz in my home to keep connections as fast as possible.
    Reply
  • Masterkeys
    willyhoops said:
    Its a good point-I was about to buy one and looking for an Amazon link in the comments- but after reading your warning I realised it would not work for me. Is there another one available for RF devices? I have remote control mains plugs that use RF instead of IR, I could throw them all out and but smart switches but a device like this would be much cheaper. Perhaps it is impossible however?

    Looking on amazon I saw this device “IR/RF” device for $45:

    https://www.amazon.com/BroadLink-Automation-Controller-RM4-pro/dp/B086VBXSDH?th=1
    But setting up devices looks quite complicated. Amazon warns “Frequently returned item”. The 2.4Gz restriction is a bit lame, I personally only enable 5Gz in my home to keep connections as fast as possible.
    The RM 4 Pro does IR & RF, though will only work on 2.4GHz WiFi (as does a lot of SmartHome tech for the extended range vs 5GHz).
    However depending on where you get your devices, you wish to control, from you are better ordering it from Aliexpress. The broadlink store there offers devices that work in both 433MHz and 315MHz. Just ensure you check descriptions to make sure you get one that covers both, as you can find both types. The ones on Amazon only cover the former. If not too worried about it being specifically BroadLink store, shop around as some come with just a Micro USB Cable to charge, but others come as a bundle with the temperature/humidity sensor USB charging cable too at similar prices.
    Also the way Aliexpress runs ensure it's the RM4 Pro selected, not the RM Mini in the catalogue options, so while you might see price at ~$9 or equivalent that's the Mini, and until you go to item selection you won't get actual price ~$35 or equivalent.
    Reply
  • Masterkeys
    dsrtdweller said:
    There are many devices around the home this will NOT work for. Just a few inclide many ceiling fans and motorized blinds - typically these use RF signls to control them. This only works when the device uses infared signals. Yes that is stated but the article makes it seem like everything with a remote is IR controlled. Its not.
    The RM4 Pro does IR and RF. The Amazon one only does 433MHz but Aliexpress has ones that also cover the 315MHz range too. Depending on your RF device that may be better.
    Reply
  • techdoggo
    I've tried a number of these ir devices over the years and have yet to see one that just works how you might want it to.

    The simple function to create custom commands by pointing your remote at the device has never been implemented in a single ir blaster I've seen.

    The last one I tried promised smart home integration and had wifi built in... But the software packaged with it was so outdated that it didn't even have many models of TV to control, and of course, despite having an ir receiver on the device, could not learn new commands.
    I would love to see a polished version someday, but honestly these things are obsolete nowadays.
    The scope of infrared remotes is just highly limited these days, with more and more things controlled using RF or just wifi.
    Reply