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




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)


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


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.


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!