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post #1 of 20 Old 06-03-2012, 11:13 AM - Thread Starter
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Greetings, all! I have a question on home theater / PC based control, that is slightly different than the "put everything into one box" approach. There's a bunch of stage setting up front in this post, but there are some good questions and a request for interface hardware recommendations at the bottom!

Background:

I built a living room system four or five years ago that's working great. It's based on a 52" Sharp Aquos display, a Genelec 6.1 powered speaker system, and sound control built into the room (including the entire front wall of sound absorbtion -- pretty spiffy!)

Because I use *one* display and *one* sound output system, but many sources (including a Mac Mini running Windows Media Center, an Xbox, a PS/3, an Oppo DVD player, a Samsung worldwide VCR, and a TiVo Series 3,) I funnel everything through a Sony STR-DA5200ES HDMI receiver, used only as pre/pro. Plus a no-name HDMI switcher to fit all the inputs, a gigabit Ethernet hub, a UPS, some temperature-controlled venting fans, and a small fortune of cabling... (no, not wasting money on Monster brand -- just the regular, high-quality kind you'd find in any recording studio, but lots of it!)

The family isn't particularly good at memorizing what sound and video inputs go with what device, and the gear is all hidden behind a curtain in the back, so right from the start, I've used an URC 950 programmable RF remote for control. Press "watch -> Xbox" and the right thing happens.

However, the wear and tear of this control system has finally ended up with a broken system. First, the RF receiver/flasher unit failed (probably due to my poor mounting and it being dislodged all the time) and we had to aim the remote at the curtain to "hit" the devices. Now, the remote itself is failing. I replaced the battery once before and it gave it new life, but this time, a fresh replacement battery doesn't work; 99% of the time the remote is just dead.

We have various WiFi connected devices in the house. iPad, Android, iPod touch, Kindle, laptops, etc. These would be ideal to use as remote controls -- in one of two ways:

1) Some combination of IR flashers and other hardware interfaces, protocols, and a set of apps exist that let you describe your system and build activities. Spin it up on the HTPC, and the controller devices connect over networking (WiFi, Ethernet.)

2) A web interface plus some IR flashers and serial ports, and anything with a web browser can control the system.

I've been looking around, and it seems like still, in 2012, we have neither flying cars nor something as simple and obvious as this set of software! DLNA is all about putting video streaming decoders in receivers, and AMX is still all about automating corporate board rooms, and WMC/MythTV/Girder/FrontRow/LinuxHTPC/AppleTV are all about "convergence" rather than "diversity." They solve a problem I don't have, and don't solve the problem I have.

Also: An iPod Touch for $199 is in most ways a better remote control interface than the fancy remote control units for two or three times the money from "remote control" companies. An iPad would be perfect for the high-end living room!

Questions:

So, what are my options? I'm not above spinning up a web server in Python/C#/Perl/node.js/whatever, and writing some software, if I need to. But if there exists software that already does what I need, well, that would be swell and save me a lot of time!
Also, what is a good, modern, robust solution for blinking IR and sending serial data at 8-or-so separate devices?

I can find USB-UIRT, which is kind-of low on outputs (but I can use many,) and CommandIR+Pro, which is kind-of expensive and mainly favors Linux. I already have WMC running, and would love to just spin this system up on that hardware, but if needed, I can buy a Raspberry Pi or ALIX or whatever power efficient hardware to run another system on.

Does nobody else have this problem? Am I just crazy for wanting to go about it this way?
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post #2 of 20 Old 06-05-2012, 12:43 AM - Thread Starter
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To paraphrase:
Help! What's a good multi-channel USB IR flasher that's supported well from Windows, and hopefully also from other OS-es?
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post #3 of 20 Old 06-05-2012, 06:21 AM
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Why not pick up a harmony one remote and a USB receiver on eBay?
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post #4 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 06:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jefejt View Post

Why not pick up a harmony one remote and a USB receiver on eBay?

Because he is asking for something more than a toy remote. Looks like he should consider iRule as a remote solution.

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post #5 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 07:09 AM
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The USB-UIRT can control as many devices/flashers as you want it to if you just connect the 1/8" IR output to an IR distribution block. You can also split out the 1/8" jack into two mono jacks, which give you two individually isolated IR buses (helpfully if you have several dish receivers in a stack it needs to control or such). So long as you only have one each of each kind of thing (i.e. no two devices respond to the same IR commands), a single IR bus is fine.
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post #6 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 07:43 AM
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I hardly think the harmony is a toy remote. He's asking for a combination of functionality and simplicity which is what the harmony is built for.

Get an IR extender (I like the Hot-Link lineup) and program the harmony. Done. If you want to control things with the iPad/Android etc, use dedicated apps for whatever you want to control (where available) or something like Splashtop remote for more general use with the PC.
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post #7 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 08:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ljo000 View Post

I hardly think the harmony is a toy remote. He's asking for a combination of functionality and simplicity which is what the harmony is built for.
Get an IR extender (I like the Hot-Link lineup) and program the harmony. Done. If you want to control things with the iPad/Android etc, use dedicated apps for whatever you want to control (where available) or something like Splashtop remote for more general use with the PC.

He had a URC 950, I doubt he would want a Harmony.

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post #8 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 08:19 AM
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Regardless of what he had, given his requirements I think he's proposing to seriously overcomplicate what could be a very robust system that the wife and kids would have no trouble using.
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post #9 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 08:32 AM
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Yeah I don't quite understand why a Logitech Harmony wouldn't work in this scenario. It seems like it will do exactly what you want it to and would be inexpensive and easy to set up.

I would check out the 900. The only problem I ever have with my Logitech Harmony is when someone walks in front of the remote while it's doing a series of commands or someone sets the remote down in front of something before it's done. For some reason, it is extremely hard to explain to family members that it takes a few seconds for the remote to send out a series of commands and the remote needs to be aimed at the TV the whole time (they just press the watch TV button and immediately set it down). The 900 doesn't require line of site so you don't have that issue.
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post #10 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 08:51 AM
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The ones with screens shows a message when the activity is being set up so I've just told the wife to keep it aimed while its working. Having a sensitive IR eye really helps (I use the Hot Link IR over Cat5e). With this setup I control a TV zone with 5.1 surround (sources are HTPC and BluRay) as well as 2 music zones using the HTPC as a source via Logitech Squeezebox server. For control I use the following:

- Logitech harmony: macros for all the inputs, audio/video options etc, can control everything but is cumbersome in windows when not using HTPC software like XBMC or WMC
- Cideko Air Conqueror USB gyromouse/keyboard/gamepad combo for gaming and controlling regular windows software. I extend this to the media closet using a monoprice USB over Cat5e extender
- Android tablet: using squeezebox app to control music. I could also set it up as a XBMC remote but I haven't really found the need.
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post #11 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 11:42 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ljo000 View Post

I hardly think the harmony is a toy remote. He's asking for a combination of functionality and simplicity which is what the harmony is built for.
Get an IR extender (I like the Hot-Link lineup) and program the harmony. Done. If you want to control things with the iPad/Android etc, use dedicated apps for whatever you want to control (where available) or something like Splashtop remote for more general use with the PC.

Thank you for the suggestion, but the Harmony does not solve a problem I have, and does not meet any of the requirements that I set out in the question.

The problem I have is *not* to get *to* the computer, whichever the computer is -- something running on the HTPC itself, or some separate Linux board explicitly for remote control. A USB receiver would be mostly useless for the case I'm describing.

Also, the Harmonys I've seen are all IR. As I stated in the beginning, my gear is behind a curtain in the back of the room -- I need RF of some sort (hence, why I used a narrow-band URC 950 with a receiver/6-channel flasher in the first place.)

Again, note: The HTPC is only 1/8th of the devices I want to control. A solution that focuses on controlling a HTPC is not a good solution. (In fact, I have a Microsoft Bluetooth 8000 keyboard that's great for that!)
Also, point solutions for a single device (squeezebox, or PS/3, or whatever) is not the point, because the family cannot be trained to select the right choice between a dozen available.

I have a solution for the RF problem: Simply use WiFi devices. I have the devices. I'm OK with that part. If I didn't have the devices, I might look at RF based control sticks for the ergonomics, but for now, that's not what I'm asking about.
I have a solution for the "user interface" problem: simply code up an interactive web page, or a simple GUI, using one of a zillion available frameworks (I'm familiar and productive with at least two per platform, from work -- GUI is easy when you have a specific target to hit.)
Literally, I estimate building the GUI would be faster than the time it took me to learn and configure the URC programming software.
I have the problem of going from a PC to 8 different devices. The USB-UIRT might be what i need, if I can split the busses in at least two. The reason is that the HTPC responds to the same IR as the Xbox. I've tried setting the WMC to the "alternative" remote setting that doesn't collide with the Xbox, but can't get it to actually work.
I'll also google for "iRule" as I've never heard of that.

PS: As an aside, I've pretty much always been disappointed with Logitech hardware. Anything from a trackball where you can't press right-and-left mouse buttons at the same time, to a diNovo Edge keyboard that can't connect to a PC 5 feet away, to the death spiral of SlimDevices after they were acquired by Logitech all point at a company only interested in pre-sales design. But, even without the brand problem, the Harmony simply is the wrong product for the problem I'm trying to solve.
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post #12 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 12:05 PM
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Just to be clear I was not suggesting the Harmony was good for PC control with the exception of apps specifically designed for use with a remote (XBMC and WMC). Also, a couple of points:

1. I still don't know what your requirements are that forgo the use of a Harmony. It uses macros based on a simple button (watch TV, listen to music etc) to set up all the devices correctly. This is ideal for non-technical users. You are proposing a solution where you are programming interfaces that will result in a complicated, difficult to use and probably less reliable system. For example, it would be great to control everything over the wifi network but do you really see a need to change the TV channel / vol from another room? This is why IR control for the viewing area works well.

2. You don't necessarily need to use a RF remote control. As I mentioned, you can use IR extenders (IR receiver eye wired to individual device blasters). This is very reliable and easy to implement and gives you greater choice of remotes. I use the Hot-Link XL (IR over Cat5e) for this but there are many options. You may have to run a short in-wall cable for this but I think the upside outweights the small inconvenience.

3. There is no single control option that will do everything. For example, in my setup, the Harmony activity "Listen to Music", wakes the HTPC which has the music server running, but then I use the android tablet for browsing the music collection and setting the zone and volume. This then uses the wifi network so I can wander around the house. Likewise if you use the harmony to do a "Play Xbox" command, you then have to switch to a game controller. This is not a big deal.

4. Regarding the problem with the xbox and HTPC responding to the same commands - are you using Xbox media center extender capabilities? If so why, when the HTPC can do all the same stuff and more.
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post #13 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 12:30 PM
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As ljo000 has suggested, you really haven't explained why a Harmony won't work for your setup. In fact, the more you explain your situation, the more a Logitech Harmony makes sense. I use an IR extender with my Harmony to control all my devices stored away in a closet with no problem at all. You can also use a Logitech Harmony 900 which does use RF but is more expensive.

Secondly, to avoid the Xbox 360 and HTPC interacting with each other, turn on your Xbox 360 and go to System Settings -> Console Settings -> Remote Control -> and then select 'Xbox 360 Media Remote' instead of 'Both'.
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post #14 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 12:39 PM
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iRule info: http://www.avsforum.com/t/1351981/irule

Harmony does have RF remotes (890, 900, 1000, 1100) and a WiFi solution (Link), but you should not consider them. For your case you should stick with RF and/or WiFi solutions. Pairing your tablets/smartphones with iRule running iTach WiFi to IR/RS-232 units will probably take care of your controlling needs. I'm not sure if iRule can handle everything you describe that you are willing to code, but it is much more capable than Harmony's "Wizard" software. Also, with something like a Harmony 900 you only get Activity macros and no per button macros (which they call sequences). To get macros/sequences on a RF Harmony you have to jump back to the discontinued 890/1000.

There are also WiFi URC solutions, but you would need to learn how to program them once you obtain the required software. You could look into something like Homeseer as well.

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post #15 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 12:50 PM - Thread Starter
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I've now googled, and while iRule solves the GUI problem (which I don't particularly have,) it led me to the iTach devices, which are what I'm looking for!
Too bad that each enclosure only has room for two modules -- Ethernet in, and IR or serial out. Ideally, I'd like Ethernet in, IR out, and serial out, in one enclosure.
Anyway, it seems as if iRule + 2xiTach is going to run me less than $300 total, which might be worth it just to save the hassle of building the GUI and integrating the IR controls myself.
It's still slightly the wrong software architecture for me -- the remote talks to many output gateways, rather than the remote talks to a single gateway that talks to many devices -- but I'm not too fussy on that part by now :-)
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post #16 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 01:08 PM - Thread Starter
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I don't have line-of-sight to the gear of the media closet, and I don't want to open the walls to run wiring in them. They are nice walls, and there's a hallway passing behind the couch between the couch and the media closet, making any connectivity that's not already there trouble I don't want to deal with.
Specifically, I do not have a free wire from the "front" to the "back" that I could run IR listeners/extenders on.
It looks like iRule and iTach is the best compromise for me right now; I'm giving that a try, and will report back.
Regarding: "There is nothing that does everything" -- that is false. I had that working on the URC solution.
Regarding: Xbox vs HTPC control -- the problem I have is that the Xbox turns on when switching to the HTPC. I do use the remote integration for watching Netflix, but not the media center integration for media playback. I still need the remote to be recognized to control the Netflix.
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post #17 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 01:16 PM
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Well look at the Global Cache GC-100 products instead of iTachs. Those have more outputs.

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post #18 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 01:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jwatte View Post

I don't have line-of-sight to the gear of the media closet, and I don't want to open the walls to run wiring in them. They are nice walls, and there's a hallway passing behind the couch between the couch and the media closet, making any connectivity that's not already there trouble I don't want to deal with.
Specifically, I do not have a free wire from the "front" to the "back" that I could run IR listeners/extenders on.
It looks like iRule and iTach is the best compromise for me right now; I'm giving that a try, and will report back.
Regarding: "There is nothing that does everything" -- that is false. I had that working on the URC solution.
Regarding: Xbox vs HTPC control -- the problem I have is that the Xbox turns on when switching to the HTPC. I do use the remote integration for watching Netflix, but not the media center integration for media playback. I still need the remote to be recognized to control the Netflix.

If you do as I suggest, the Xbox 360 will only respond to Xbox 360 commands. It shouldn't detect any commands (including power on/off) sent to the HTPC. If you still want to control your Xbox 360, you need to use the Xbox 360 specific IR commands.
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post #19 of 20 Old 06-06-2012, 02:50 PM
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The combination of a USB-UIRT IR controller, EventGhost, and TouchControl (iOS application/PC server) does wonders for controlling entire home automation systems with a fully customizeable interface. I have a full-fledged home automation remote that I've created remote interfaces for on the iPad.
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post #20 of 20 Old 06-07-2012, 03:59 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
GC-100 instead of iTach
More outputs, I agree, but they only do a single control connection at a time. If the architecture was controllers -> computer -> gateway, this would be a fine option. With the current iRule architecture, it doesn't work out that way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lockdown571 View Post

If you still want to control your Xbox 360, you need to use the Xbox 360 specific IR commands.

I believe that that's what I tried, and I could not find a combination of settings/codes that let me:
1) Control WMC for ripped DVD playback and MP3
2) Power on/off the Xbox, and control the Xbox for Netflix playback
3) Not cross-talk between the two if they see the same IR commands -- specifically, the Xbox would turn on randomly no matter what I tried

Using separate flasher channels, this problem is solved and works.

Quote:
EventGhost + TouchControl
If the iRule stuff becomes a disappointment, that'll be my next check! Would be nice if it supported Android, though, because we have more Android than iOS devices in the household.


Honestly, I've felt for a LONG TIME that this home remote business could be a lot better solved if someone just put some effort into thinking and designing and standardizing the wole eco-system. But there's too much money in trying for lock-in for the existing vendors to just come together, and there's too little money in it for someone like Microsoft or Google or Intel to just lay down the law.
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