The Mac Media Centre Guide: Part 3 – Remote Control

Today we’re concluding our three part media centre series by taking a look at the different remote control options available. Possibilities explored will include hardware remotes, iPhone/iPod touch applications, and the option of using VLC to interact with your Mac desktop directly.

There’s no fun in getting up from the couch every time you’d like to change the channel, so choosing a good remote control is absolutely vital! Before getting started, you may like to take a look at the other articles in our three part series:

Hardware Remotes

Logitech vs. Apple

Logitech vs. Apple

Despite the fact we live in an age of software and touchscreen devices, hardware remotes still have a great deal to offer. Here are two that you’ll likely consider as an option for controlling your Mac media centre:

Apple Remote

Apple’s Remote Control is a delightfully minimalist affair, and comes bundled with the Apple TV. You may need to purchase one for use with a Mac Mini or MacBook, though the price is only $19.

I’m always surprised just how much functionality you can illicit from such a simple device, particularly when coupled with an application such as Remote Buddy.

Logitech Harmony Remote

The Logitech Harmony comes in a range of different options, and is one of the most advanced and expensive remotes available. It plays nicely with a Mac, and is certainly an option worth considering if you have the budget (upwards of a few hundred dollars).

It can be programmed to work not only with your Mac, but also with all range of other electronic devices. This makes it considerably more versatile than the Apple Remote, but also far more cumbersome.

iPhone/iPod touch Remotes

If you’re the proud owner of an iPhone or iPod touch, you already have one of the most advanced remote control solutions available. A wide range of applications have been designed to allow the tiny touch screen to control all manner of Mac functions. We have previously covered a range of these apps, but I’ll reiterate a few of my favorites here:

Apple Remote

Apple Remote

Apple Remote

Available completely free from Apple, the Remote app allows you to control an impressive range of iTunes features. Navigate between songs and videos, view artwork on your device, and alter settings – all from the palm of your hand. It plays great with AirTunes too.

This is particularly useful if you’ve chosen to simply run OS X (rather than a dedicated media centre application) on your machine. All it requires is to be on the same Wi-Fi network.

Price: Free
Developer: Apple

Air Mouse Pro

Air Mouse Pro

Air Mouse Pro

Definitely one of the slickest remote control apps, Air Mouse Pro is both a fully-functioning trackpad, “air mouse”, keyboard, and remote control for media playback. It offers a really innovative use of the iPhone’s accelerometer to move your cursor around the screen.

Price: $5.99
Developer: Mobile Air Mouse

Rowmote

Rowmote

Rowmote

Finally, Rowmote is an alternative to going out and spending $19 on an Apple Remote. It functions in exactly the same way, and is an excellent solution to couple with Front Row or any other media centre application.

If you use an Apple TV, simple instructions are available on how to get it connected.

Price: $0.99
Developer: Evan Schoenberg

If you would like to see a few more suitable applications, be sure to take a look at the full roundup.

Virtual Network Computing (VNC)

screensharing

For the best possible remote control experience it is worth exploring the options for a VNC connection. This allows you to view and interact with your Mac’s desktop directly from another computer – running either OS X or Windows.

This is a particularly useful option if you’d like to use a Mac Mini as a media centre but don’t want to purchase a new keyboard and mouse – simply use an old laptop to connect to the machine!

We’ve covered how easy this is to set up in a simple tutorial, which is certainly worth reading if you’d like to set up screen sharing. If you use an older version of OS X, software such as Chicken of the VNC can offer an equally straight-forward setup process.

Get Talking

speech

If you use Front Row, a final (futuristic) remote control option could be to interact with your Mac via your voice. Head into System Preferences > Speech, and enable Speakable Items.

Then proceed to create a keyboard command that maps to Front Row by speaking “Define a keyboard command”. You can then activate and exit Front Row by speaking that keyboard command, and create others to control navigating through the Front Row interface.

A little long-winded, maybe, but certainly a fun way to astound your friends. Being able to verbally instruct your media centre to pause a film is remarkably impressive.

Conclusion

And that brings the series to a close! We’ve looked at the different hardware and software on offer for turning your Mac into a fully-fledged media machine, and you should now also have a few ideas of how to control everything from the comfort of your sofa.

OS X is a versatile platform, and there’s no reason that an Apple gadget – whether an Apple TV, Mac Mini or MacBook – shouldn’t have pride of place in your lounge.

Have fun experimenting with setting up a media centre, and please feel free to comment with any suggestions or questions you may have!


  • Matthias

    Any chance to access a mac from a Windows Mobile device?

    • http://www.martinjuhasz.de choise

      shure via VNC

    • Rob Frye

      A good free piece of software to do this is CoRD. (http://cord.sourceforge.net/)

      • Rob Frye

        Sorry. Read your request totally wrong. CoRD is used to access a Windows box from a Mac.

  • http://www.dreamscapesoftware.com/ Derek Bump

    WalMart sells a Universal “learning” remote for $20 that you can custom program to take the place of the Apple Remove, or any other RF Signal device.

    This way you can have 1 remote that controls your TV, Surround Sound and my Mac mini running Plex.

  • Ken

    There is also a Remote Control Software called Salling Clicker which i use very often, it allows total control of the Mac via your mobile phone and bluetooth. Its great for presentations and for Front Row, Quicktime… etc..

    You should check it out, maybe update the post to include it…

    http://www.salling.com/Clicker/mac/

  • Matt

    I use a Logitech’s MX Air Rechargeable Cordless Air Mouse for my Mac mini setup. Works great!

  • Steve

    I have an old PPC g4 powerbook that I would love to set up as a media center. I use Air Mouse Pro to control my iMac right now and would most likely use that as my main control however sometimes I dont like dealing with the lag time from when I unlock my phone to when AMP connects to my machine, like when I want to pause something, and like the always-on-ness of the apple remote. My PB doesn’t have an RF sensor in it, so how can I get around that so that I can use the Apple Remote?

    • ixxx69

      a google search turned up a product called Mantra TR1 (twistedmelon). i don’t know anything about the product other than it says it does what you seem to be looking for.

      btw, the apple remote uses IR (infrared), not RF.

  • Jason Stints

    I can’t believe no mention was made of Apple TV’s BUILT IN ABILITY TO USE ANY UNIVERSAL REMOTE you have laying around… come on guys, you gotta get with the program on this stuff. If you’re going to talk about options, please give ALL the options.

    I say again: AppleTV can learn ANY universal remote for use with it’s own FrontRow interface, or Boxee/NitoTV installed on an AppleTV. You don’t need an iPhone, or a tiny white easily-lost Apple Remote, or a $250 Logitech rip-off.

    Please amend your article to include this information…

  • ixxx69

    I liked the first two parts in this series, but this third part feels a little rushed in my opinion.

    Regarding the Logitech Harmony remotes, a couple things. First, you don’t have to spend “upwards of a few hundred dollars”. You can still get the very excellent 880 (which I’m an owner of) for ~$160, and less feature rich models are well below that. Second, while it’s a bit “cumbersome” to setup compared to an apple remote, it’s not cumbersome to use.

    If all you have is an apple device, then the apple remote is likely a better choice. However, if you have multiple devices, then I’d argue that it’s rather “cumbersome” to juggle several remotes no matter how simple the apple remote is.

  • CaliAlly

    I got a refurbished Logitech Harmony 720 for less than $70, which I found advertised on antirebate.com. It works fabulously! I have it hooked up to my HDTV, Yamaha sound system, XBox 360, and Apple TV. Just a reminder that you don’t have to spend $250 to get a great remote– just watch for the bargains!

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  • Graeme

    Agree with the Salling Clicker for us none iPhone users. As you can use WiFi you don’t need to rely on IR or Bluetooth.

    I control my Mac Mini from anywhere in the house with Clicker as You get the iTunes tracklist on the phone display.

  • bart

    I would really really add Remote Buddy [http://www.iospirit.com/products/remotebuddy/] to your list of solutions. It wonderfully combines step 2 (software) with step 3 (remote)

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  • http://artesanos-caminito.com.ar/nosotros.html eric

    Them I’d argue that it’s rather “cumbersome” to juggle several remotes no matter how simple the apple remote is…

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