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What’d You Use For A Remote Control?

The HTPC / Windows 7 Chronicles: You Asked, We Answer!

This one came from reader barrychuck, who was curious about our remote control situation. Actually, barry recommended that we check out Ricavision’s much-hyped Vave 100 remote control based on Windows SideShow technology. However, emails to Ricavision went unanswered and, given a disconnected main phone line, we think it’s safe to say that the Vave died before a unit was ever even shipped. Too bad—looked like a cool product.

The Maui platform, as shipped from AMD, included a USB IR transceiver and a standard media center remote control with the same boring look as the units that’ve been around since 2005. Functional, but hardly flashy. Additionally, maintaining line of sight might be a problem for users with equipment tucked away in a rack.

On the same feedback page, heltoupee mentioned using an iPod Touch as a remote. So, I went out and bought a Touch in order to test the concept.

An App Store title called Mobile Air Mouse looked like the most promising solution for turning Apple’s audio/video player into a touch-screen remote. The software’s most notorious feature is tapping the accelerometer functionality built into both the iPhone and iPod Touch, letting you mimic a mouse in much the same way Gyration’s Air Mice have for years. More interesting to us, though, was that the software doubled as a track pad with four separate layouts: function keys, Web browser control, a standard keyboard, and a media-oriented layout. Right now the software works over WiFi, but we're hoping that it'll soon take advantage of the recently-enabled Bluetooth functionality on the Touch as well. 

Why does the Air Mouse trump a standard media center remote? The touchpad functionality means you don’t need a mouse, and the built-in keyboard means you can do away with that peripheral, too.

Granted, a $200+ iPod Touch makes for an expensive remote control, as does a $200+ iPhone with a monthly plan. For the folks who already own one or the other, though, $6 for the software through the App Store is ridiculously inexpensive coming from a world of $250 Harmony remotes.

We originally ran into issues using Mobile Air Mouse with our HTPC, but the problems turned out to be related to the integration of PowerDVD 8 and Windows Media Center. Upgrading to PowerDVD 9 or using ArcSoft’s TotalMedia Theatre instead fixed those initial speed bumps. For use with video playback, Mobile Air Mouse works well. We had a bit more trouble with the software playing back music. While it behaved well in Windows Media Player proper, it didn’t want to follow directions in Windows Media Center. Not perfect, but certainly a step in the right direction.

One other downside to going this route is the lack of universality enabled by a device like the Harmony One. In other words, you’ll still need to turn on your TV, pick the right source, turn on your receiver, pick the right input, and turn on your PC. But as a replacement for the boring (and functionally-limited) Media Center Remote with which our Maui box shipped, the iPod is a suitable substitute. Kudos to heltoupee for the suggestion—this one turned out to be a real winner in the face of Ricavision’s dead Vave.

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