I’ve spent the last two months migrating towards home theater personal computers (HTPCs) in my house. It’s an effort to simplify my home audio/visual system, play high definition content, and allow for some quick Internet access. Along the way I’ve learned some interesting things, like how important keyboards and on-screen zoom are when you try to control a computer from across the room.
I have a pair of Xbox 360s in my house, and I was hoping to use the Microsoft Xbox 360 multimedia remote to control my HTPCs. The problem was I didn’t have an infra-red receiver on my computers. After searching around on the Internet, the best advice was to buy a cheap USB remote control and steal the “dongle” that allowed the remote to talk with the computer.
I sprang for two remotes by HDE, sold by Amazon.com. They were about $16 each and were eligible for free Amazon Prime shipping. I learned a few more things after they arrived, including that you shouldn’t be cheap with your remote controllers.
The first thing I thought when I opened the box from Amazon was “this is some cheap shit.” The remotes came in plastic bags. They feel very lightweight and fragile. The instructions, predictably, were in poorly translated English. The remotes did not come with batteries, but I guess for $16 what can you expect.
I hoped to use my Xbox 360 remote with Windows 7 Windows Media Center. I plugged the IR receiver dongle into the back of my computer and Windows 7 recognized it immediately and without the need for additional drivers. I eagerly grabbed my 360 multimedia remote and hit the power button.
The computer stayed off, and my 360 turned on. Hrm. I pushed the PC’s power button, and then held down the 360 remote power button. The 360 turned off.
Herein lies the problem with what I tried to accomplish: I couldn’t use the same remote to control either the PC or the 360. This sounds like a no-brainer now, but I had read so many reports online of people using the 360 remote to control their HTPCs it didn’t occur to me the systems couldn’t be in the same room.
Well, at least I had these flimsy-ass remotes, right?
There are entirely too many buttons on the HDE remotes for typical HTPC use. There are TV remote-like buttons (such as the red, blue, green and yellow buttons) are useless to me.
There are buttons for email, Web, etc but again these aren’t particularly useful to me in an HTPC set up. Furthermore, since I use Gmail, launching Outlook or whatever is even less useful.
The buttons I do need, however, are fairly well situated on the HDE remote. The directional pad is a nice, big button right in the middle of the control. A+ for usability on that one. The left and right mouse buttons are also easy to get to, which I appreciated.
The problem with the directional pad is that it doesn’t send a steady communication stream from the remote to the PC. Meaning, when I held down the directional pad the mouse might move smoothly at first, then stop, then jerky towards my target in fits and spurts. One of my remotes “moused” left a lot better than it did to the right.
The behavior of the alphanumeric toggle button was quirky at best. You could hit the “alt” button to change from your typical 10-key layout to the “abc” alphabet layout on mobile phones. The number “2” key becomes “abc,” and so on. Except that the alt button didn’t consistently toggle between numeric, lowercase alphabet, and uppercase alphabet. Sometimes I would push the alt key and it wouldn’t do anything; other times it would skip right from lowercase to numeric and bypass uppercase. It was frustrating.
Unfortunately, the HDE USB to infrared remote control for my Windows HTPC was a double disappointment. I wanted to use my 360 multimedia remote but that did not work out as I’d hoped. When I was forced to use the actual HDE remote I found it to have too many buttons I didn’t need, and the buttons I did need didn’t work reliably.