Human_error's guide to USB IR receivers and media center remotes Hi everyone. I've come to write this thread as over the past few days i have had a nightmare trying to get a USB IR (infra-red) receiver for my HTPC. My problem is that i need a simple dongle or usb device which can be placed neatly under my TV which is in a room below my HTPC, so a front bay module or receiver integrated into a usb/pci/pci-e TV card wouldn't work. Now note that i am in the UK where etailer availability is non-existant for decent remotes/receivers. The situation in the US is slightly better as newegg does have some compatible remote/receiver sets which work fine (although you may want to read down to make sure you get a microsoft media center compatible one). The situation: You have a HTPC and want to be able to control it with a remote control (a decent remote comtrol at that). Maybe you have a logitech harmony remote or another all-in-one remote brand which you want to be able to use. All you need is a USB IR receiver - simple yes? The problem: Well no, it's not that simple unfortunately. There are a lot of USB IR receivers out there which either won't work at all without their specific remote, some which look like odd devices to vista/xp (eg keyboards or worse generic device types) and some which although receive IR signals don't actually work with remotes at all. What to be aware of/look out for: There are a lot of different problems you need to look out for when looking at IR receivers and remotes - these problems are different depending on if you want to use the remote that comes with the receiver or are planning on using a different remote. There is one issue i feel needs highlighting here - you will see some USB IR dongles sold on their own and think "brilliant, i've found what i need!" - these are usually IRDA receivers and will NOT work with any remote controls - IRDA is the protocol older mobile phones, laptops and PDAs used to send data through IR - these are designed to "pair" with another IRDA device for transferring files, not for changing channels and will not work with remote controls, so don't waste your money. You will ideally want a USB IR receiver which fully conforms to the microsoft media center standards. Stand alone receiver vs receiver and remote kit: The advantages of a receiver on its own is that it is usually cheaper and you don't waste money on getting a remote you may not want to use. The problem is knowing if the receiver is compatible - the receivers i found are usually taken from a remote/receiver kit and so lack any packaging/info on if they are microsoft media center compatible. The receiver/remote kits are often easier to identify as microsoft media center compatible as they will be labelled as MCE remotes and have MCE certification or vista certification on their packaging. The remote controls themselves usually have the green windows media center button on them as well - this signifies if the remote/receiver is media center compatible or not - if it has the button then it will be fully compatible, if it does not have the button then there's a very high chance that it will not be fully compatible and will only be partially compatible. Here is an example of the green windows media center button: Why does it need to conform to the microsoft standards? By having a receiver which conforms to the microsoft standards you know that it will work with any MCE certified remote control and will fully map to media center. It also means that if you have an all-in-one remote which has codes available to work with media center then they will work straight away without the need to carefully configure them one button at a time. How to tell if the remote/receiver is microsoft compatible As a rule of thumb if you are buying a remote/receiver kit then if the remote has a green windows media center logo button on it then it will be fully compatible as that indicates the remote is an MCE remote. Likewise if the kit is microsoft media center/vista certified then it should conform to the IR standards and not give you any grief. If you are buying a receiver on its own you will probably need to ask whoever is selling it for information on if it is microsoft compatible as the receivers themselves do not usually contain that information on their casing. A list of receiver model numbers is at the end of this article of known receivers which fully work with media center and media center remotes. Thanks to m4gicfour for the info on the transmitters MCE IR receivers have built-in as well: Another way of determining if a receiver is fully media center compatible is to check if the receiver has 3.5mm prots for transmitters. MCE/Vista Certified remotes come with a USB dongle (beanbag) which is not just a reciever; but a TRANSMITTER as well - these allow your computer to control a set top box and you will need one if you have I.E. Sattelite. Few if any non-MCE remotes (even if they call themselves Media Center remotes or Vista Remotes) have the transmitter.Microsoft-Certified Transmitter/recievers will have two 3.5mm ports on the back which usually read IR1 and IR2. You will need a transmitter (its an infrared diode on the end of a mono 3.5mm plug and wire) to actually control a STB with your MCE Beanbag. Here are a couple of pictures courtesy of m4gicfour which show the transmitters and their ports on a TRES-IR01 transmitter/receiver: Non-compatible receivers which "kind of" work: If the receiver is NOT microsoft compliant/compatible (the remote does not have a green media center button) then it means it has been designed to work with other media software such as TV tuner card software or dvd playback software. These usually work O.K. with media center however some controls such as skip forward/backward do not work in media center. It also means that the USB device is often not seen as a remote control but usually as a keyboard or generic device - this can limit what commands it can give to media center and means that you'll need to either use the remote which came with the kit or have an all-in-one remote which can "learn" the commands from the remote which came with the kit one at a time (this can be tedious). ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The following section is if you want or are planning to use an all-in-one remote such as a logitech harmony or other all-in-one remote So you have an all-in-one remote, or are planning on getting one - great! Your media centric life will be a lot easier being able to control all your devices with a single remote, the only thing in your way is that no all-in-one remotes come with usb dongles (they are not even available as accessories). You will need to buy an IR receiver which is compatible with your remote. Unfortunately the information given with most receiver/remote kits is very limited, if you find out the model number of the receiver you can check if it's known to be compatible at the end of this article. You have 2 types of receiver you can buy - i suggest you buy a fully microsoft compatible receiver as that will make your job a lot easier if your remote already has the IR codes stored for microsoft media center. You can also buy a remote/dongle kit which is not microsoft compatible and as long as your all-in-one remote can learn ir codes from other remotes you can use the remote which came with the receiver to teach the all-in-one remote the different codes. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The following section is if you want or are planning to use a media center remote but do not have the receiver it came with If you fit into this category you HAVE to buy a receiver which meets the microsoft standards. Your remote will not be able to "learn" commands from other remotes so if you get a non-microsoft compatible receiver your remote will not be able to communicate with the receiver. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The following section is if you are happy using the remote that comes with the receiver and will not want to use an all-in-one remote in the future Well you have the easiest job of all - just buy any IR receiver/remote pack without needing to worry too much if the kit is fully media center compatible but beware: if you do not get a fully compatible kit some buttons will not properly map to media center controls as it is unlikely the device will be seen as a remote control. You will need to check via user reviews to see how much functionality works in media center. You will also want to check that you have direction pad buttons and an "ok"/"select" button to be able to navigate media center properly. Also note that if you get a non-microsoft compatible remote you can't launch media center with it as it lacks the media center button the microsoft remotes have - once media center is running this won't be a problem, but you'd need access to a mouse/keyboard to launch media center first. Of course you should still buy a microsoft compatible receiver/remote as that will guarantee the best experience and means you can get a new remote in the future if you change your mind and still be able to use the same receiver. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ What about wireless/bluetooth remotes? I wish there were good wireless remotes out there which just plug and play as the line-of-sight issues with IR would not interfere and it would make work a lot easier. There are some wireless mice such as the logitech air mouse which can be decent subtitutes to remotes and some protable laptop mice have pause/play buttons on their underside but these are hard to find and not as good as a properly designed media center or all-in-one remote control. Unfortunately there are no official/unofficial media center remotes which are wireless/bluetooth available at the moment, however Darknova has provided some excellent information on how to get a bluetooth ps3 remote to work fully with your pc with a couple of pieces of software, a bluetooth dongle and a PS3 remote: List of fully compatible usb IR receivers Here is a list of the model numbers for fully MCE compatible receivers (which use the correct codes and are recognised as remote controls by windows): - ovu4003/00 - TRES-IR01 - i'll be adding more models when i can confirm they are fully compatible, i'll also post those which are not fully compatible in a seperate list. If you know of any more which do work please tell me and i will add them to the list. Please note this guide is my first guide and a work-in-progress - i will update it, re-write parts that don't read correctly and re-proof read it tomorrow and as more information is posted by other users, if you do spot a mistake please post/PM me and i will correct it.