Remote Controls Aren’t Just for Televisions Anymore

When someone mentions remote controls, the image that may pop into your head is that of a single device with a bunch of buttons on it that controls your TV, VCR, DVD Player, Blu-Ray, or even your set top box. But, as more people are plugging full-fledged PCs into their living room televisions, the need for more advanced controls is clear. In many cases, users rely on a wireless keyboard and mouse to interact with a multimedia PC. This allows them the freedom to browse the Web, check email, and control the various media playback functions of the system.

But, did you know that there are handheld remote controls that come complete with a keyboard and mouse built right in? These devices which include the N5902, a recent offering from Lenovo, can fit in the palm of your hand and give you complete control of your multimedia PC, PS3, Xbox, or Wii. In fact, it even includes a scroll bar and touch-sensitive cursor control that acts like a two-button mouse.

Devices like these have created a whole new set of opportunities for users in the professional and home market. Below are five examples of how multimedia remotes with keyboards can make life easier.

In the Board Room

Conference rooms haven’t changed much over the past ten years. A projector attached to a PC that sits in the far corner of the room may be used by the office to present charts and other data during meetings. The problem with this solution is one person is often sat next to this dedicated PC, unable to stand up and point out various points as they are made.

With a handheld device, you can control the presentation from anywhere in the room, giving the speaker the freedom to move about and even hand control over to anyone without the hassle of dealing with cables or bulky input devices.

At the Conference

Giving a keynote speech these days usually requires a PC or Mac connected to a projector system. Like the conference room, this can be limiting. What if you were able to take the keyboard and mouse with you while you walked across the stage, demonstrating a detailed technical process that requires some level of control over the PC? Being stuck in one position behind a laptop lid doesn’t make for a very personal keynote.

Smaller, more pointed wireless input devices can also provide mobility to the speaker by giving them an easily concealed controller with simple forward, backward, and play functions.

In the Living Room

Multimedia PCs have become more of a commonplace sight in the living room as services such as Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube have become centerpieces of entertainment as the frugal seek out cheaper alternatives to traditional cable TV. For years, I didn’t even turn my television on until I discovered Hulu. Before long, I had an old PC connected by way of a series of cables and adapters to the television and I was on my way.

Being able to play back video from my iTunes purchases, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and a number of other services made connecting the PC to my television an obvious choice for entertainment, sans cable.

Today, gaming consoles such as the PS3, Wii, and Xbox have become multimedia hubs in their own right. The PS3 is arguably a leading factor in the success of Blu-ray over HD-DVD as it was considered a relatively cost-efficient Blu-ray player, even to people that may never use the PS3 for gaming.

Handheld remotes that connect by way of USB often work with these systems right out of the box. The N5902, mentioned previously, is a primarily Windows-based keyboard and mouse solution that is designed to work natively with the three major console systems, as well.

The problem with traditional wired or wireless keyboard and mouse options is that a mouse just doesn’t always work on the arm rest on your couch. Either the refraction of light isn’t correct for one reason or another, or it just doesn’t work at the distance between the PC and the couch.

Alternatively, there are even iPhone apps that will allow your iPhone to work as a Universal Remote control. Kyle Brown, a member of the Gnomies community, shared his experience, “I’ve used Mobile Mouse to control my PC from across the room. It’s very easy to set up and use.”

Around the House

Not everything you do with your multimedia PC takes place on the couch or at your desk. Having music playing while you’re cleaning the house is a great way to motivate you to keep going, even when the going gets tough. Having a remote you can fit in your pocket and control your iPhone dock, PC, or other electronic system can make a big difference in how you control and experience the music.

My wife loves to play oldies while cleaning, and I’m a bit partial to rock. Our main music playback machine is a Mac Mini plugged into the television and a set of quality speakers. With a bluetooth-enabled remote, we can control iTunes and switch between playlists with ease. This allows us to keep trekking along and get the job done without having to stop what we’re doing to make adjustments.

This usefulness doesn’t just exist in the entertainment realm. Remote controlled alarm systems, thermostats, and even security cameras can be accessed from smartphones and other devices both within and outside of the local network. Last year, Chris Pirillo did a video about his remote controlled thermostat.

In the Game Room

One thing I absolutely can not stand about console games is inputting text. Having to drag the cursor around a virtual keyboard to select letters one-at-a-time is tedious and kills the entertainment value for me. Thankfully, the three major console manufacturers out there have thought to put native drivers in that support standard USB keyboards. A multimedia remote with keyboard that connects by way of USB makes this task a lot easier.

Some tablets, including the Sony Tablet S, can actually work as a universal remote right out of the box. I discovered this past weekend while visiting at friend that it actually works with the PS3, allowing you additional control without having to use a dedicated keyboard at all.

Final Thoughts

Whether we’re heading in a direction where our own body motion becomes the controller, or we’re moving more towards small handheld universal solutions via smartphones, it’s clear that technology is headed in a direction that includes less wires and more control. Being able to control your television is just the start of what is possible today. Your lights, computer, game console, oven, fireplace, and even your car can be started and/or operated by way of remote control these days.

I, for one, look forward to seeing more of this functionality find its way to my smartphone. Where Android and iOS have gained ground, it’s up to the product manufactures to catch up.