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Got a media center? Ever tire of fumbling around with a full sized keyboard and mouse while trying to watch Hulu or Netflix? Not only can some controls dispense with the nasty tangle of cables, they also transform the HTPC experience.
Available controls range from free software that converts gamepads and smartphones into mice to expensive, bulky, multifunction “super-controllers”. The seven controls presented in this article provide an alternative means of interacting with your home theater PC, but are by no means the only solutions. They are, however, totally awesome and you need to read about them. Right now.
What is an Air Mouse?
The Air Mouse introduces a very recent innovation in wireless mouse technology, based on the same accelerometers found in your smartphone. Simply put, it can receive input information from the motion of your hand. Controlling the cursor simply involves waving the air mouse through the air. For example, the Measy RC11 Air Mouse provides a perfect complementary device to a stick-PC media center.
About half a dozen models of Air Mouse populate the Amazon and eBay marketplace, starting at around $20, with some going for well over $300. The more expensive devices tend to offer the same features as the cheaper models though. I can personally attest to the awesomeness of the cheapest model, which offered plug-and-play compatibility with Android stick-PCs as well as Windows 7 (and probably a great deal of other models). Amazingly, the Air Mouse also incorporates a keyboard – and some models even include a touchpad, in addition to accelerometer based control.
In my opinion the biggest advantage of accelerometer operated devices is their reliability – trackballs tend to become fouled over time and laser mice require a flat surface for operation.
Heard of the Power Glove? Try the Air Glove!
For those of you who (as I did) got fooled into buying a Nintendo Power Glove in the 1980s, I’ve got great news for you: someone finally made a Power Glove that actually works: The ION Wireless Air Mouse Glove.
On the downside, the air mouse gloves lack a dedicated keyboard as well as an alternative means of control, such as a touchpad. They can also run on the pricey side, starting at $80.
Wireless Media Center Controller
For the technophobes among us keyboard-mice combinations do exist. While cheap, compact and highly useful, these do not feel as awesome as the Air Mouse variants. For example, the Rii Mini Keyboard comes in at the size of a small television remote control, in both Bluetooth and RF variants. It also includes a laser pointer.
There’s a huge number of these devices available from manufacturers such as the Lenovo N5901 and Logitech DiNovo Mini. These devices generally support all major operating systems and functional almost exactly like a desktop mouse-keyboard would.
Touchpad variants, with full keyboards, also show up in various marketplaces. Personally, I advise against anything with a trackball, as they quickly become fouled and tend to lack user serviceable access.
Use Your Gamepad as a Wireless or Wired Mouse
Did you know it’s possible to control your media center (or any PC) using only your gamepad as the controller? It’s simple to setup. Softpedia wrote about two applications that can turn your gamepad into a mouse: Jmouse and Joystick 2 Mouse. Jmouse requires very little effort to get working, just install and deploy. On the other hand, Joystick 2 Mouse requires a great deal more configuration on the user’s part, but includes a much more feature-rich experience.
Ultimately, though, both apps turn the motion of your gamepad’s D-pad, or analog sticks, into mouse movement. If you’re anything like me, and you love analog sticks, these apps were designed just for you.
Wireless Gamepad Media Center Air Controller
For gamers who love their keyboards and remotes, a small number of devices can satiate their desires. The Cideko Conqueror Wireless Air Keyboard combines a huge number of functions into one not-so-small device. The Conqueror can provide both Air Mouse functions combined with gamepad and HTPC controls. However, it costs a great deal of money ($150) and looks quite large. The Conqueror can be found on eBay for around $80.
Cheaper and smaller devices do populate Amazon. For example, the Cideko Air Keyboard provides similar function as the Conqueror, except without the gamepad support.
Universal PC-TV Wireless Remote Controls
A number of universal remote controls can also double as HTPC controllers for your media center. These types of remote controls have modes of operation – you simply set the mode, TV or PC.
On the downside, these tend to be extremely expensive – especially relative to the competition. However, you get the added benefit of being able to control your television and HTPC with a single remote control.
Use Your Phone as a Controller
Did you know your phone can function as a remote control device? A variety of apps turn a smartphone’s capacitive screen into a touchpad remote. It simply requires installing an app on your phone in addition to your computer. The desktop software exists on all major operating systems, including Linux:
- Meteor for Windows Phone.
- Plex Constellation for iOS.
- SoulMote for iOS and Android.
- XMBC Commander for the iPad on Windows and Mac computers.
- Gmote for Android.
- Air Display for Windows and Mac.
- And many others!
Simply install the app on both your smartphone and PC.
For those of us seeking more intuitive controls for media centers, having a dedicated remote control is awesome. Out of the available products, the Air Mouse technology represents a quantum leap toward this end. However, if new technologies aren’t your thing, a variety of traditional alternatives exist, as well as some oddball devices – if you’re into the weird stuff, that is.
One of the best media center software that I strongly recommend booting directly into is XBMC, available for all major operating systems. Justin wrote a great manual and Christian also wrote a great article about some of the possibilities that XBMC offers users – if you haven’t heard of it, give it a try. XBMC can work on any number of platforms, from Windows to the Raspberry Pi.
Does anyone else love specialized HTPC controllers? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credits: Remote Control (Shutterstock)