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Human_error's guide to USB IR receivers and media centre remotes

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#1
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:
Firstly, you need This FREE 3rd Party Application, without it the Remote will pair, but will be totally unusable as the buttons have no assignments at all, and so it won't do a thing.

Also check Here for more information on the application.

Second, you need a bluetooth stack that actually supports remote controls. Blue Soleil does, it's what I use, but it's NOT free. It is definitely worth the money though if you use a lot of bluetooth peripherals, or have Bluetooth Advanced Audio compatible headsets. I can't comment on other BT stacks.

Third, you need to put a lot of work into customizing the buttons. At stock I could use MCE without an issue, However, I was not able to start and leave MCE at will. This took me a lot of googling to find the correct key combination so that I could assign a button to the job. However this is not a problem if after setting up the HTPC you make it so MCE starts on boot up and you never quit.

The PS3 button is not able to be reassigned, it turns on the remote, and turns it off with an extended hold of the button.
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.
 
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#2
So you have your receiver, now what?

Well you can now use your remote of choice (either the remote which came with the receiver, a different MCE remote or even an all-in-one remote. You can configure your computer to do a lot more things with the remote (adding functionality) with the following software:

Intelliremote - this software allows you to add more advanced and complex actions to be mapped to remote control buttons. This is highly reccomended as it enables controlling of more than media center - vlc, winamp, media player classis are examples of other software which can be run with intelliremote.

If you don't need a usb IR receiver dongle then your choices are a LOT better, 2wicked has listed some receivers which plug into 5.25" bays on the front of your pc as well as some HTPC cases which come with the receivers built in:

IMON front bay receiver modules
Silverstone cases with the receiver built-in
Antec cases with the receiver built-in
 
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#3
nice post! thanks!
 

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#4
Nice info man.:)
 
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#5
Don't forget: 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. Again; look for the green Media Center Button. Another good way is to look at the USB dongle; 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.





EDIT

Yeah, go ahead and it add to OP human_error.

oh, and the model number on my beanbag is TRES-IR01. It's a Microsoft brand beanbag from an MCE remote kit. These are excellent if you can find them; does not require drivers, plug & play. Works fully with mediacenter (it should, its microsoft product :D )

also; if you want more customisability for your remote control, IntelliRemote is a good choice. Supports lots of devices and very powerful AutoIt scripting function included; make your PC do almost anything from a remote control!
 
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#6
Don't forget: 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. Again; look for the green Media Center Button. Another good way is to look at the USB dongle; 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.

I'll post pics when they get to my email from my phone :p
Oh yeah, i'd forgotten about the transmitters :p - i'll add that section tomorrow, for now i must sleep. I'll include the pics you put up in the OP if that's ok? (i'll give credit for the extra content).
 
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#7
Here is something I can add.
If you don't need the media extender part, any of the IMON receivers are great and fully support mce and mce remotes.
http://www.soundgraph.com/Eng_/Products/imon25.aspx
They're also available from Antec and Silverstone and built into some of their HTPC cases.
http://www.silverstonetek.com/products/p_contents.php?pno=mfp51&area=usa
http://www.antec.com/Believe_it/product.php?Series=MjE=
If you need just a cheap mce compatable remote the Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote is nice.
"Windows® XP Media Center Edition Button and Media Center Edition functionality are included"
http://www.xbox.com/en-US/hardware/x/xbox360universalremote/
 

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#8
i actually covered some of this when i did a mini article/review when i made my media PC a while back. theres a program called Intelliremote which can rebind any supported remote to the standard MS stuff - i have a remote from my audigy 4, and it works as a media center remote with the software.
 

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#9
Mussels! Join the TPU Peripherals Club! Share your wisdom :D Added this guide to the TPU-PC front page. Thanks Human_error
 
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#10
Thought I'd post a bit about the PS3 Bluetooth remote as I actually have it working.

Firstly, you need This FREE 3rd Party Application, without it the Remote will pair, but will be totally unusable as the buttons have no assignments at all, and so it won't do a thing.

Also check Here for more information on the application.

Second, you need a bluetooth stack that actually supports remote controls. Blue Soleil does, it's what I use, but it's NOT free. It is definitely worth the money though if you use a lot of bluetooth peripherals, or have Bluetooth Advanced Audio compatible headsets. I can't comment on other BT stacks.

Third, you need to put a lot of work into customizing the buttons. At stock I could use MCE without an issue, However, I was not able to start and leave MCE at will. This took me a lot of googling to find the correct key combination so that I could assign a button to the job. However this is not a problem if after setting up the HTPC you make it so MCE starts on boot up and you never quit.

The PS3 button is not able to be reassigned, it turns on the remote, and turns it off with an extended hold of the button.

I do like using the PS3 remote, bluetooth > IR, but it's quite a bit of set up to get it working.
 
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#11
Thanks for the extra info and pics m4gicfour - i've added the information to the OP :toast:

Here is something I can add.
*snip*
Thanks for the tips there - i had written this as a guide to people having trouble getting a USB IR receiver as they are a lot harder to find then the front modules, however having the information and links available to people will still be useful so i've added those links to the guide, thanks :)

i actually covered some of this when i did a mini article/review when i made my media PC a while back. theres a program called Intelliremote which can rebind any supported remote to the standard MS stuff - i have a remote from my audigy 4, and it works as a media center remote with the software.
Oops - i hadn't seen your post nor found it in a search of the forums - i'll go check it out :)

Thought I'd post a bit about the PS3 Bluetooth remote as I actually have it working.
*snip*
Fantastic information there, i thought there had to be a way to get the ps3 remote to work properly, shame it needs software which isn't free but then again it does do a good job of enabling bluetooth controls. I;ve added this info to the OP as it is a very good alternative to using IR remotes.
 

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#12
Oops - i hadn't seen your post nor found it in a search of the forums - i'll go check it out :)
it was something of an addendum to a guide on how i made my media PC. everything from undervolting, codecs and remotes. intelliremote is a godsend, it has default profiles - all you gotta do is remove all of em except the main one, and then it makes the remote work like the media keys on a keyboard - and whaddya know, thats compatible with media center, winamp, media player classic and VLC :D
 
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#13
theres a program called Intelliremote which can rebind any supported remote to the standard MS stuff - i have a remote from my audigy 4, and it works as a media center remote with the software.
Agreed. Good program; and purchase is for lifetime upgrades. It's $24 now, used to be $5 then $10 in the earlier days when it was still Creative remotes only. Its definitely worth it whether you want to just control MCE from any old generic remote and a compatible reciever or whether you want to replace your mouse and keyboard for most tasks, it can do it.

Links below
also; if you want more customisability for your remote control, IntelliRemote is a good choice. Supports lots of devices and very powerful AutoIt scripting function included; make your PC do almost anything from a remote control!
EDIT --

just noticed IntelliRemote supports RF remotes now too! (bluetooth, etc)
including the PS3 remote and Wiimote! (with a compatible BT dongle of course)
 

Mussels

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#14
yep intelliremote rocks, i paired my wiimote to a regular $10 bluetooth adaptor and used it as a media remote - without an IR receiver i still cant use it as a pointer, but the buttons worked :D
 
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#15
Wish this had been out when i did my htpc... Nice job
 
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