I built my first HTPC in 2001. At the time, there was no good all-in-one HTPC remote available. The best you could do was get a wireless keyboard with a built-in pointing device, and use that along with a generic PC remote which would hopefully
work with whatever software you were using.
Eight years later, the best you can do is get a DiNovo Mini and a Harmony universal remote, and try to get it to work with your software. Essentially the pinnacle of HTPC remote control evolution is a slightly fancier (and much
more expensive) version of the two-device kludge we used nearly a decade ago. That is totally unacceptable.
Designing a single remote to control everything is not that hard. I've had a few designs bouncing around my head for a while now, and I'm putting them down here so I can stop thinking about them. Please bear in mind that I am no graphic artist. These were thrown together quickly to give a general idea of the device layouts. I didn't do any market research into the ideal button shape or label font. These are just rough templates for how all the necessary features of a HTPC remote could fit together. I am under no delusion that somebody from Logitech is going to see this and finally make a decent HTPC remote, but hey, you never know.
The following features are mandatory
for all designs:
- Have both IR and RF transmitters
- Support IR learning
- PC programmable, including basic macros
- Allow key-combo assignment to any button (ctrl-z, alt-s, etc)
- RF dongle supports generic (driverless) mouse and keyboard emulation.
- Extended drivers (if necessary) and PC config software are multi-platform and open-source.
This design is not exactly pretty, but it is functional. Nothing fancy or complicated, just a normal remote layout with a few modifications. Buttons are double-labeled so the device can be held vertically (for regular remote functions) or horizontally (for qwerty). The red thingie in the middle can either be either a j-mouse or blackberry-style micro trackball. I know I didn't bother filling out all the button labels. You get the general idea. Since there is no complicated engineering involved in the design and it contains no particularly expensive components, there is no reason this remote could not be sold for $40 or less.
OK, I cheated a bit on this one. I started with a picture of the qwerty slider remote
from Visio because it was very close to ideal. They've been making slider cell phones for at least 5 years. Why not a remote? Unfortunately Visio's remote is not universal and doesn't have mouse controls, hence the redesign. A small touchscreen allows for custom commands and macros. Like the previous design, mouse control is provided by either a j-mouse of micro trackball. Also like the previous design, I got sick of labeling buttons before I got them all. The four buttons on the left side of the qwerty section could possibly be replaced with a real pivoted d-pad, so the remote would double as a basic game controller.
When I first saw a Samsung Alias 2
with it's e-ink buttons, I figured someone would use that technology in a universal remote right away. It's been nearly a year, and still nothing. Seems like the perfect technology for a high-end remote. You could even get really fancy and use a tilt sensor to have the buttons auto-relabel when you turn the device on it's side. The best thing is that this design allows for completely customized layouts, while still giving you physical buttons to press. Anyone who has owned a fully touchscreen remote knows what a pain in the ass the lack of tactile feedback is. The display in the center is a capacitive touchscreen (320x240 res or higher), which doubles as a trackpad for mouse control. Since this would likely be an expensive device anyway, why not stick a halfway decent ARM SoC in it and run a legitimate OS like Android? It would allow for easy app creation, which would allow the remote to do things like on-the-fly playlist creation and editing, bringing up movie metadata without interrupting the film, display local TV listings, and even light web browsing. Windows Mobile or even WebOS would be options as well, but Android is free and easy to develop.