OK, I've probably obsessed about this exact topic more than I should. And I've probably experimented with various devices, so I'm sure people can benefit from it here. Here goes...
After years of fiddling around with stuff, I realize the perfect pc remote would be an airmouse (i.e. gyroscopic mouse pointer control) with a few physical buttons, a wheel or slider, AND (this is the critical feature) a direction pad. This would be the best way to control a big HTPC from far away. I posted about this on the XBMC forums, with absolutely no replies because, as with most things I care about, nobody else seems to:
Hi everyone, I'm new here, but I've been researching the information here for several weeks now. I wanted to have an in-depth discussion about remotes. Currently, I am using the Logitech MX Air, and it's really great. The MX Air is the best airmouse on the market. There is only feature it is lacking: a directional pad. This is essential for programs like XBMC and any other frontend for HTPC's. Why is it essential? because a mouse is simply too accurate and freeform for something like navigating a huge screen with limited movement. it's great for precise movements that you need when you use a desktop pc, sitting 3 feet away and with tiny text and buttons everywhere. But for TV's, everything is better with a D-pad. That's why all dvd players and cable TV remotes have a D-pad at the heart of it's construction. There's always the up-down-left-right plus centered Enter button on every TV remote.
So, I'm looking for the perfect remote for use with XBMC. The only thing I could find was the Wii remote. It has the ability to be a mouse (with glovepie) but it also has the D-pad. The only problem with it is that I highly doubt it's mouse functionality is as nice as the MX Air. The MX Air is awesome in that it's very easy to control, and it has a really nice feature where it recenters itself when you go too far off screen or put the mouse down (something like that, I don't understand how the recentering works exactly, but it's very nice).
From what I've seen with the Wii remote, the movement is a little less pleasant. It's not as responsive as the MX Air, and it seems like you have to make larger physical arm motions to achieve small movements. I don't really know because I don't have one, so I'm asking you guys for advice on it if you've had experience with both.
Also, regarding Motion Plus:
1) Does it work on the PC with glovepie?
2) Does it help with controlling the wii remote on the PC? That is, does motion plus make the wii remote behave more like the MX Air?
Another bad thing about the wii remote is that it sounds like you must line of sight for it to work. THe MX Air doesn't need any line of sight and it doesn't even need to be pointing towards the receiver or TV. It's all relative motion, and it's awesome.
Finally, how about those universal remotes like the Logitech Harmony remotes? Do those have air-mouse features? That is, can you wave your arm around with those to control the mouse, or do you move the mouse using d-pad buttons? If it's the latter, that's no good. I was wondering if the Harmony remotes have the same technology inside is as the MX Air, but I can't tell from the stuff I've read online. I doubt it. Otherwise, it would be the perfect remote, because it has the airmouse ability, along with a D-pad, plus a bunch of other buttons.
The perfect remote in my opinion would be simply an MX Air with a D-pad. I bring all this up because I haven't seen good detailed discussions about remotes here yet.
Now, since that post, there have popped up a few options. Let's go over them:Using a playstation controller:
Years ago, when the playstation-to-USB controllers came out, I got one and started using it to control my htpc. The bad thing is that there's a long cable, ideally it would be wireless. The other bad thing is the mouse control: using a d-pad or joystick to control the mouse is way less convenient than a gyroscopic airmouse. But overall, this is a decent solution. You'd want to use one of those joystick-to-pc software. I forgot which one I use, I can check when I go home.Logitech MX Air:
This is the one I'm currently using. It's wireless, has very good battery life and a convenient charging dock. It has a great gyroscopic motion control. It has a very nifty feature which recenters the pointer if you go outside the bounds of the monitor with your motion. it's hard to explain, but the idea of it is similar to relative paths and absolute paths...it doesn't matter where the thing is pointed, it just matters where you are on the monitor. The ONLY beef I have with this is that it doesn't have a D-pad. So, let's say you have a file selected in a big list of files. Now you want to choose a file two files below it. A D-pad would make it very convenient and easy to just click two down, and get there. Without it, you have to carefully select it with the mouse pointer, which is not as easy. That's the difference between using a desktop and an HTPC: on the desktop, precision control with the mouse is super easy. But when you are far away, it's not as easy, so a D-pad is very useful in those kinds of movements.Nintendo Wii-mote bluetoothed to PC:
I had high hopes for this one. I got a bluetooth reciever and a wiimote. Ideally, the wiimote is perfect: it has great gyroscopic control AND a D-pad AND a great selection of buttons. It's physically the perfect device. But getting it to work with a pc is a huge pain in the ass. First of all, installing bluetooth drivers on a Windows machine is a nightmare. It's a very "heavy" installation and messes with your system a lot. it's difficult to troubleshoot. The connection between the remote and windows is very unstable...you're going to spend a lot of time getting disconnected and reconnect and stuff like that. It's hard to choose the "right" bluetooth receiver, because it varies with each computer's hardware...and the documentation out there is poor and difficult to understand, and outdated. SO bluetooth was a terrible experience for me, I'd avoid it if possible.
next is the software you would use to control the wii. it's called glovepie. And, as you can expect, it's a very hardcore, scripting program. Pain in the butt. If you google around, people will make it sound like it's easy to sue and people have made all sorts of nifty scripts for it. But I spent hours researching the forums and stuff, and nothing was all that easy. i tried to find or create a script to make the mouse act like the feature I described above for the Logitech MX air. But I have no idea how to do it, and nobody else probably going to do it.
So the wiimote is perfect, but trying to get it to work is way too hard for me. It would be great if someone here can help streamline this, either with an application or a tutorial, or a script that can be copied/pasted easily.ipod/ipad/android device to PC:
Now this is the newest option I'm playing around with, and I like it a lot. The only really bad thing about this one is that there are no physical, tactile controls...it's all touchscreen. Which is fine, but I love tactile controls (which is why I really wanted the wiimote to work). Anyway, there are several apps out there that will connect the mobile device to the pc so it can be controlled. Usually this involves installing a "server" component on the computer and an app on the device. The connection works through wifi, so you don't need line of sight or anything. They have those kind also, but they don't appeal to me at all really (they seem antiquated). Now, what's fantastic about this option is that all sorts of cool things can be done with the touchscreen. You can pull up a keyboard, you can use multi-gesture commands (I love the two-finger swipe for volume control), you can launch application shortcuts from the mobile device. The Android devices are ok, but the ipad/iphone/ipod is the best. Apple has absolutely the best touchscreen responsiveness and control, and that's what you really want for something like this. I've been using my ipad, but I'd like to try it with an ipod to use the gyroscope features (the ipad doesn't have that). The ipod has all that stuff. Now that ios5 is jailbroken, I'd like to try it with the new ipod touch.
The app I like best for the Apple devices is Mobile Mouse.
For Android, the best app is Unified Remote. If there was an Android device the size of the ipod touch that had gyroscope control, this would be the way to go. but there is nothing right now. I thought the Samsung Galaxy player would have it, but no. And even if it does, the touchscreen controls don't compare to Apple. You really want good touchscreen responsiveness, any latency and lagging will be annoying.
So there you go. That's been my search so far. The best of the "easy" options is the Logitech MX Air, you won't be disappointed. But it doesn't have a keyboard. All the ones that are small little keyboard controls, have awful mouse control...they normally have a small touchpad-like area (like a laptop) and that's the worst way to control the mouse pointer. So there's no easy and perfect device out there right now. but if the ipod touch works out, that might be the way to go. I'll report back later on that.
I also would not recommend any of the old-school "universal remotes". That's old technology, and klunky. You have to program all the tv codes in there, they have awful mouse pointer control features. Switching devices with the input buttons are always klunky and stupid. They're relatively expensive for what they offer. I don't recommend the harmony remotes at all, just old bullshit at this point.