If you want the ability to remotely control things like music, hard drives and cameras from any location in your house, you could always find some expensive solution that will work for you. Or, you could make use of the free version of Teamviewer and do it all at basically no cost.
The way this works is by hijacking a tool that for years has been used by IT experts to remotely manage computer systems of friends and colleagues, but instead we’ll use it to take over devices that are attached to the USB ports (or really any port) of that remote computer.
In this article I’m going to show you how you can use your laptop or your tablet to control a remote system’s devices. The remote and local systems can be Mac, Windows or Linux – it doesn’t matter.
TeamViewer has been long trusted by IT and other technical experts around the world. Most families have “that guy (or girl)” who is the computer “genius” in the family. A quick phone call and launching TeamViewer on both ends, and that genius was able to solve your problem, even if they’re located thousands of miles away.
So, first order of business is to download and install the free version of TeamViewer.
Go with the Basic installation, and make sure you select “Personal/Non-commercial use” since you’re using the free version of the software.
Choose the destination and any add-on features you’d like. You really don’t need any of the add-ons for the purposes of what we’re doing here.
The download and install is pretty fast – under 5 minutes – and when you’re done, you’ll see a screen that lets you allow remote control access to your own system using the panel on the left, using the given ID and password, or remotely access another computer using the panel on the right.
If you’re installing on something other than Windows – no worries, there’s Linux, Mac and mobile versions available as well. In my case I actually have TeamViewer installed on a remote Linux station in another building.
The computers are all connected between the two buildings via a wireless network. TeamViewer only needs to exist on computers that are on the same network (matching subnet). Once you’ve got TeamViewer installed on all of the remote systems you want to control, and the master station you want to control from, you’re good to go.
Controlling Remote Cameras
In the building, which serves as my main office, I have a camera mounted on top of a window sill, which provides a view of the kitchen area of my shop. Another camera directly across from it shows the other side of the office.
On the small Linux computer where the camera is connected via USB, I have software called Camorama running, which lets me view what the camera sees, and take pictures on command or on timed intervals.
Where TeamViewer enhances this setup is that I can sit inside my house, over 200 feet away, and with my laptop I can take a look at what’s going on in the office at any time. Here’s what the Teamviewer remote session looks like when I connect to the Linux station using my Windows 8.1 laptop from inside the house.
This could also be set up to work from anywhere in the world (not just your own network), by signing up for a TeamViewer account and using the cloud system offered that lets you remotely access all of your registered devices from any remote location. That’s outside the scope of this article – but it’s possible.
Accessing the remote system, you can use the TeamViewer menu to switch between monitors as well, if the remote system has more than one.
You can also remotely reboot that remote system as well, if the security options on the target system allows it.
An even cooler setup than this would be running any number of camera control applications on the remote system, which allow motion detection from the camera to send you an email. This would alert you that something is going on at that location that you may want to connect to and check out.
Why buy expensive wireless network security cameras that are on offer these days, when you could just hook up a mini-computer (they go as cheap as $70 to $150 off Ebay these days) with a cheap $20 USB webcam attached, and with TeamViewer you’ve got a ready-made security system at a fraction of the cost?
Controlling External CD/DVD Drives
Here’s another scenario: You are throwing a party, and the computer in the corner of the room that’s handling the playing of your musical playlist reaches the end. You’re sitting on the sofa with friends and in the middle of a really interesting conversation. The last thing you want to do is get up and leave just to launch the music CD that’s ready and waiting to play.
Have no fear – TeamViewer is here. You can just pull out your tablet, remote into that PC, connect to the external USB CD drive, and launch the CD.
In my example below, I have a Linux system with a USB external drive connected. In the File Manager, it’s already mounted and ready to go.
Connecting to the system remotely via TeamViewer would let me go in and launch it without getting up from the comfort of my chair.
In this case, I was showing my daughter where to go to launch the game that was sitting in the DVD drive. I kicked it off for her, and she was good to go.
You could do this to remotely launch a movie for your party guests, or whatever purpose you have that system set up for.
Once you launch the app, type in the ID and password of the system you want to connect to.
Here, I’ve connected to my remote Linux system running Audacious – a music player.
You could be in your bedroom relaxing on your bed, or in the laundry room folding clothes. When you’re ready to play some tunes, just pick up your tablet, remote in using TeamViewer, and play your CD using the music player software.
Remotely Launching Video
Of course, this concept isn’t limited to playing music from the other room. Maybe you have your computer set up as your media center, playing content right on your TV in the living room. Your kids are complaining about being bored to death.
Controlling devices doesn’t have to be limited to USB only. If you want to, you could pick up your tablet, remote in to that PC, and find an educational video on YouTube for your kids to watch.
Here’s what it looked like after I connected to my Linux station and launched the CNet channel on YouTube in full screen.
Over on the TV in the other room, the video launched, and my kids switched from complaining about being bored, to complaining about the boring stuff that was now playing on the TV screen.
Okay, maybe playing Spongebob Squarepants would have been smarter. Anyway, you get my point. Remote in. Launch whatever you want. Done.
Accessing Remote Storage
Another USB device that’s useful to access remotely are storage devices. I get really annoyed having to disconnect and reconnect external hard drives and memory sticks from one computer to another, so I simply dedicate one of my systems as the central storage hub in the house (you can also use a Raspberry Pi as a Network Attached Storage device).
No need to buy expensive wireless hard drives. Just plug in all of your hard drives into the one PC and install Teamviewer. One awesome feature of TeamViewer is that you can easily transfer files over from the remote system over to yours, or vice versa.
Here’s what it looks like when I remote into my “storage hub” from my laptop. These are all the contents of four of the USB hard drives and memory sticks, viewed via File Manager.
As you can see there’s a File Transfer option in the main menu. When you launch a file transfer, you’ll see a pop-up window that looks a bit like an FTP file transfer window.
The remote computer is on the right and the local system is on the left. You can select files or folders on either side and click either the Send or Receive buttons to transfer the files.
All file transfers are logged on the remote system, so if you ever want to monitor the file sharing activity taking place inside your house (maybe your kids are using up too much of the available storage with massive Torrent downloads?), all you have to do is check out the log to see what’s eating up all the storage and when those transfers took place.
As you can see, something seemingly as simple as a “remote support” application actually opens up a whole world of opportunity in your home filled with lots of USB gadgets and other devices. In fact, you could easily build your own webcam-based home security system using this setup with a bunch of small computer located around the house, connected to several webcams.
The possibilities are really limited only by the USB devices you may choose to connect to these systems. The ability to run TeamViewer from a laptop or a tablet opens up the option to control any of those devices no matter where you are in your house – and that’s a level of convenience that’s hard to describe. Once you get used to it, you’ll never want to give it up.
Do you like the idea of using TeamViewer in this way? Have you ever dreamed up other creative ways to control devices remotely? Share your experiences and tips in the comments section below!