Controlling Your Media Centre PC

Controlling your computer from the couch is half the challenge when building a media centre PC.

Last month we looked at setting up a media centre PC, but there’s still work to be done. The key to a great media centre is the ability to control it from your couch as easily as you control your other home entertainment gear.

The first thing you’ll want to do is set your media centre to automatically log in to Windows when it boots up. You might also want to configure the media centre interface to launch automatically, so you’re ready to go.

As for controlling the computer from afar, there’s more than one way to skin this cat. The obvious solution is to opt for a wireless keyboard and mouse, but these can be rather cumbersome to use while reclining on the couch. A wireless trackball makes life slightly easier, but you might be better served by a lounge room-friendly keyboard with a built-in pointing device. There are a few to choose from, such as Logitech’s Wireless Touch Keyboard K400. You’ll find also smaller keyboards which fit in the palm of your hand, such as Logitech’s diNovo Mini and Kogan’s Android Wireless Keyboard and Trackpad. As an added bonus, these tiny keyboards work with both a PC and a PlayStation 3.

Once your media centre is up and running smoothly you shouldn’t need to rely on a keyboard and mouse very often (unless you’re watching online video in a browser). Rather than invest in a physical keyboard to keep in the lounge room, a better option might be to install a remote control app on a smartphone or tablet.

Take a look at Hipporemote for iOS or mkRemote for Android, two apps which let you use your touchscreen device as a keyboard and mouse for your computer. These apps are much faster and less cumbersome than full desktop sharing. For the times when you do need to see the desktop remotely, it might be easier to control your media centre from a notebook using a service such as Logmein. You’ll also find a Logmein Ignition app for Android and iOS, offering desktop sharing from handheld devices.

Like I said, once everything is running smoothly, you should be able to drive the Media Centre interface using a standard remote control rather than a keyboard and mouse. You’ll pick up an MCE remote kit for around $50. The remote control might be cheap and nasty, but don’t worry because we’re more interested in the USB RF receiver that comes with it.

Plug the RF receiver into your media centre and you can now drive the MCE interface with the supplied remote or a universal remote control. Look for a universal remote which lets you execute multiple commands with one button press. For example you might want to fire up the media centre, turn on the television, change the channel and power up your surround sound with a single button press.