Almost a year ago now, we built a new Home Theater PC (HTPC) that we’re using in our family room so that we can watch the content recorded by MythTV on the television.  When we built the new PC, we didn’t worry about getting a regular remote control working with it immediately … we figured it would be something we could add later on after we had the PC up and running in the family room.  So, for the last year or so, we’ve been using a wireless keyboard and mouse to control the HTPC rather than a remote control.  It’s worked out ok except that it means we have to have a keyboard and mouse out in the living room … and the wireless keyboard we have is exceptionally bad at transmitting key presses from the keyboard to the RF receiver when they’re further than about 4 feet apart, which is really frustrating.

We’d been talking for a while about what an improvement it would be to get a remote control, but just hadn’t done the research to know what would work with Linux and MythTV.  So, for one of Chad’s Christmas gifts, I decided to figure out what it would take to get a real remote control working with the HTPC and buy whatever components we needed.  When I started reading up on the options, I was really surprised by the number of different remotes that would work with Linux and MythTV.  The biggest thing for us, though, was that the HTPC we built is only a MythTV front end (the back end runs on a different PC), so it doesn’t have a tuner card in it, meaning that we didn’t have the IR receiver that would normally come with a tuner card (which is what we’d used in the past for setting up remote controls).  So, whatever we bought either needed to include a receiver or work with one that could be bought separately from a tuner card.  For our situation, it looked like one of the easiest solutions was to use a remote control that was intended for use with the Media Center Edition of Windows.  Most come with their own IR receivers and it sounds like most (if not all) will work with MythTV as documented on the MythTV wiki site.

StapStream Firefly PC Remote Control

StapStream Firefly PC Remote Control

One problem with using an IR remote control, though, is that the remote control needs to be used within line-of-sight with the receiver that is connected to the computer, but we prefer to keep the computer (and all of its wires) hidden in a cabinet so that no one knows it’s there.  We’ve solved this problem before with an IR repeater, but that means there still has to be a receiver set out in front of the TV for it to receive (and retransmit) the signal to inside the TV cabinet.  Once I thought more about that, I started looking for RF remote controls that would work with MythTV so that we wouldn’t have to maintain line-of-sight to the computer and also wouldn’t need a repeater sitting out on the TV cabinet.  What I found was the SnapStream Firefly remote.  It’s designed to be used with the BeyondTV DVR software sold by SnapStream, but can also be used with a variety of other applications, including MythTV.  Initially, I was a little concerned that we would have the same problem with an RF remote that we have with our RF keyboard where the range is really limited, but after reading reviews that said it had tremendous range through walls and floors, I was sold and I ordered one for Christmas.

Getting the Firefly remote to work with MythTV wasn’t all that complicated either.  There are step-by-step instructions on the MythTV wiki site that guide you through most of the process and provide the lircd.conf file that sets up the configuration for using this remote with MythTV.  The only snag we ran into with the installation was that we had initally compiled MythTV without Lirc support (since we weren’t using a remote control), so it took us a while to figure out that it needed to be recompiled with Lirc for everything to work correctly.  After that, the remote started working with MythTV and just needed a few adjustments to the repeat sensitivity in the lircrc file before it was working perfectly.



So far, we’re pretty happy with the Firefly remote.  The only minor complaint we have is that its shape makes it easy to pick up and start using upside down without realizing it, but I think that’s something we’ll get used to over time.  The next step is to set up the HTPC to sleep & wake on button pushes from the remote control so that we don’t have to keep booting it up and shutting it down.  For now, though, just having a real remote is improvement enough!

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2 thoughts on “A Real Remote Control for our HTPC!

  1. Darryl Gittins says:

    That sure sounds a lot better than the ATI Remote Wonder RF remote that I have. Like most any other ATI software products. the hardware remote is good but the ATI software is a total disaster. Would you belaive that if the installation goes wrong, as it can easily do, you are likely faced with a reinstall of the OS? I’ve actually never had to take that extreme, but I’ve read of many that have. Beware of ATI, I say. I’m good to look closely at the Snapstrream.

  2. Sarah says:

    Oh, that would be horrible! I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t decide to try that one first. We haven’t done anything with the software that came with the SnapStream remote, so it might have just as many problems … but for how we’re using it, it’s working out great so far.

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