In this shootout, I will compare 7 XBMC remote controls to see which one is the most ideal way to control your XBMC powered HTPC.
XBMC Remote Shootout Contenders
I have been using all of the following 7 controlling devices over the past few months and years, so the comparison is based on real life media center use. The comparison and testing was done with the following two HTPCs: an Intel Core i3 system with Windows 8 and an AMD A6-3500 with OpenELEC OS.
The contenders are as follows:
- HDMI CEC Adapter
- Flirc USB IR Receiver
- XBMC Constellation app for iPhone and iPad
- Infrared PC Remote Control
- Keyboard Remote
- Air Mouse
Let’s start by reviewing each contender separately and then summarize the comparison at the end of this article.
HDMI CEC Adapter
HDMI CEC adapter is a new technology that allows your devices such as TV and HTPC to talk with each other over the HDMI cable. In practice this means that you can use your TV’s remote to send key presses to XBMC or any other application that supports libCEC on your home theater computer.
My Samsung Smart TV works out of the box with the HDMI CEC adapter. The key buttons in TV’s remote are mapped with XBMC and it is enough for the basic use. However, you are not able to map additional buttons, so the customizability is not so good with the HDMI CEC adapter.
There are nice additional features that no other remote control can provide. For example, the adapter allows you to turn off the TV when the screensaver is activated and turn it back on when any key is pressed. You can also turn off the TV when shutting down the XBMC and automatically turn it on when you boot up your HTPC.
- Allows you to turn the TV together with the HTPC on and off
- Screen saver can turn off the television
- Any TV remote can be used as a remote control
- Requires a HDMI CEC compatible TV
- May require a bit of configuration, so it is suitable for more advanced users
Flirc USB IR Receiver
The Flirc USB IR receiver is a very interesting adapter that turns IR signals of any remote into keyboard commands.
You can buy the adapter and download a free application from flirc.tv. You can use the automated GUI to setup any remote control with your media PC. After completing the automated installation procedure, you are ready to start controlling the XBMC or any other media center software with the IR remote.
Another great benefit of Flirc is that you can configure the adapter with one computer and then plug Flirc into another computer and your previously paired remote just works without additional software or drivers needed.
I have been very positively surprised with the Flirc (get it here) and would recommend it to anyone who want to use an existing remote control with HTPC.
- Very easy to set up
- Works with any remote control
- Affordable price
- Requires a line of sight to the adapter
- The usability depends on the remote controls you have at home
XBMC Constellation for iPad
Based on my experience, the most versatile and useful iOS app (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) for controlling your media center is the XBMC Constellation app. I´ve been using it with my iPad to control Raspbmc on Raspberry Pi and it´s very easy to locate media files with this app.
There are some unique features such as live TV EPG support for the PVR edition of the media center. Basic controlling functionality include navigation, playback, volume control, keyboard and other special buttons.
The movie and browser fan-art is displayed beautifully on the screen and the app can display all the meta data, too.
- Low cost if you already own an iOS device
- WiFi connectivity allows you to control from virtually anywhere
- All media browsing can be done inside the app
- Live TV EPG support
- You need to look at the device to find the right buttons
- Turning on the device always requires unlocking the screen lock
Infrared PC Remote Control
I’ve been using an IR remote control that came with the Anysee USB TV tuner.
The challenge with many IR remotes is that not all keys work out of the box, so you need to customize keyboard.xml to get all the buttons working. Secondly, you need to have line of sight to the computer in order to get good reception.
While the traditional IR controlling is still the most popular method, in my own opinion RF or Bluetooth connection allows you to have much more responsive navigation that is needed when controlling a home theater computer.
- Easy controlling method for anyone
- IR receiver is compatible with other universal remotes
- Requires line-of-sight to the receiver
- Slow responsiveness of the key presses
- May require quite a bit of configuration
I´ve been using Microsoft Arc keyboard for quite some time now and I really like its compact size and shape. Other good choices include IOGear, Logitech and Apple keyboards.
A keyboard isn´t necessarily needed when running an operating system like OpenELEC, but in a Windows environment it´s needed every now and then.
A wireless keyboard allows you to have responsive navigation and keyboard shortcuts at your finger tips. Once you remember most of the keyboard shortcuts, you can very efficiently find your way around the user interface.
The downside of the keyboard is obviously that it does not fit into one hand like a remote and it can easily look “out of the place” in the living room.
- Quick responsiveness on the key presses
- Long wireless range
- All the keyboard shortcuts at your finger tips
- Does not fit into one hand
- Easily looks “out of the place” in the living room
- Many shortcuts need to be remembered
The Logitech Air Mouse has always been my favorite control device, at least until I started to use skins like Aeon Nox which do not support the mouse.
The benefits include fast browsing and scrolling speed in the menus and simple usability. The downside is that many XBMC skins don´t support mouse controlling, so you have a limited number of skins to choose from.
A mouse is not really needed with OpenELEC, but again in Windows it´s a must have.
- Fast scrolling and navigation in menus
- Can be used to control other Windows applications, too
- Supports air gestures such as volume control
- Requires a bit of learning before it can be used efficiently
- Not many skins have mouse support
All you need to do is to activate the xbmc-wiimote service add-on from the OpenELEC addons menu and pair the Wiimote by pressing the connect button in the remote.
I’m positively surprised how well the Wiimote works with the XBMC. The remote is very responsive and easy to use. It has all the main buttons including navigation keys, enter, back, home and volume buttons. On the other hand, you do not have any additional buttons that you might used to have in other remote controls.
If you already have a Wii game console, then you should definitely try how well the Wiimote works with your HTPC. You can also buy it separately as an accessory.
- Bluetooth connection works without line of sight
- Very responsive and easy to use
- Affordable price
- Very limited number of buttons
Comparison of Features
Here is a comparison table of the features based on real life test scenarios:
|Connection||Wake on USB?||IR Learning?|
Connection refers to the technology regarding how the key presses are transmitted to the receiver and to the computer. Infrared transmission is the most traditional way, but it requires a direct line of sight to the devices.
The RF (radio frequency) transmission is commonly used in wireless keyboards and mouses, but now it is available in some of the more advanced controlling devices such as the NYXBoard. Bluetooth connection works in a similar way as the RF, but has even longer range.
The advantage of a WiFi connection is that you can control the device from a huge distance.
Wake on USB
Wake on USB means that you can turn the computer on from a hibernation mode or turned off state. For example when using a HDMI CEC adapter, you can turn both HTPC and TV on and off with one single key press.
IR learning means that you can teach commands from other remote controls that operate other home theater equipments such as TV and A/V receiver. The advantage is that you will only need one controlling device to send signals to all other devices in your living room.
Currently, the only device that supports both RF and IR commands is the Motorola NYXBoard Hybrid.
After testing each XBMC remote control in the past months, I can say that the clear winner of this shootout is … the Flirc USB IR receiver
I wanted something completely flexible and usable with any hardware device such as HTPC, Raspberry Pi and Ouya, I use Flirc and Logitech Harmony Remote. Nothing can beat using a Flirc from a flexibility and customizability point of view.
If you want a simple XBMC solution and have a modern TV, then HDMI-CEC could be enough for you if you are fine with the limitations.
If you want to know more about the XBMC remote control alternatives such as mini keyboards, continue reading about the recommended HTPC accessories.