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Controlling your HTPC: Pt 2 – Smart devices, voice, and gesture control

Posted on January 15, 2013 by | No Comments

Yesterday in Part 1 I looked at controlling your HTPC with a good old keyboard and mouse as well as with a remote control. Today I’m going to share some of the more exotic and fun ways to control your HTPC

Smart phones and tablets

If you have a smart phone or tablet (namely an Android, Windows or other type of smart phone or tablet) then there is an app or two, or there or more for that will let you control your HTPC. Remote control apps are usually either free or inexpensive, i.e. cheaper than a dedicated remote control or a wireless keyboard and mouse.

Two highly recommended remote apps are Unified Remote and Ceton’s Companion app which will let you control WMC from your smart device. However there are smart phone apps for other media centre software solutions like XBMC and Media Portal, just run a search in your platforms app store for “ remote”.

The advantage of using smart phone/tablet apps to control your HTPC is that they let you use something you already have to control your media centre, they are relatively cheap or free, and are easy to use.

Smart phone apps are akin to single device remotes in that they only let you control one device, i.e. your HTPC or an application on your HTPC. There are solutions like ThinkFlood’s RedEye remote, iRule’s iRule hardware and software solutions, and AMAC’s plugin module for smart phones and tablets that can turn your smart device into a universal remote. Although the disadvantage is that you will have to purchase extra hardware which isn’t cheap, but then neither are some universal remote controls.

Voice control

One of the more exotic ways of controlling your HTPC is with your voice. There are a few ways to control Windows Media Centre with your voice, you may be able to control other media centre software with your voice, just ask your favourite search engine “how to control with your voice”.

If you have Windows 7 you can use it’s built in voice recognition and a mic to set up voice commands to emulate shortcuts. For example you could use a voice command “go to guide” to emulate the “CTRL+G” short cut to take you to the TV guide. This option is the cheapest option, only requiring a mic if you don’t already have one, but will take some time and a little effort to set up. If you don’t have Windows 7 then you may need to purchase voice control software like Dragon Dictate naturally Speaking to enable you to control your HTPC with your voice.

Alternatively Amulet Devices have a remote with a built in mic that can be used to issue voice commands to Windows Media Centre. If you are looking at purchasing a remote and want voice control the Amulet Voice Remote is worth a look.

Another option is Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows which supports voice and gesture input. However at $299 the Kinect is a prohibitively expensive input device for controlling your HTPC. If you want to control your HTPC with gestures there are other cheaper options.

Motion control

Probably the most exotic and the newest way to control a HTPC is with gestures. Gesture based input is still relatively new and is still developing. There are a handful of hardware and software solutions which are at different stages of development. Some companies like GestureTek, eyeSight, and PointGrab have chosen to tray and crack the device manufacturer market by selling technology licenses to manufacturers who can then integrate their solutions into their products. Other solutions like Flutter, Neuro Technologys Npointer, and HandVu all offer software solutions with the only additional hardware needed is a web cam.

Then there are hardware solutions like Microsoft’s Kinect and the Leap Motion Controller. Kinect for Media Centre is an inexpensive a software solution software that allows you to use Microsofts Kinect to control Windows Media Centre with gestures. While this might be a great way to interact with and control your HTPC it’s not the cheapest option, the Kinect for Media Centre software only sells for $6.99 but at $299 the cost of Kinect hardware excludes it as a viable solution.

Unfortunately only Microsoft’s Kinect is available right now, however there may be another much cheaper, and better by all accounts, alternative soon. Leap Motions motion controller is similar to Microsofts Kinect except better, apparently and from what I have seen I’d be inclined to agree. The Leap motion hardware is said to be “200 times more accurate than anything else on the market” and can track individual finger movements to 1/100th of a millimetre. At $70 it’s an inexpense way to control your HTPC with gestures from the couch. I have pre ordered a controller and will experiment with using it to control Windows Media Centre when I get my hands on it. It certainly looks like a promising bit of kit.

Mind control isn’t an option… yet, maybe it will be one day but for now I think that there are enough ways to control your HTPC from the comfort of the couch.

Have I missed any other ways of controlling a HTPC? Share your favourite method(s) for controlling your HTPC by leaving a comment below.


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