A remote for your PC? Although not a new concept, with the growing popularity of Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) and Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition, it’s one idea that is rapidly becoming accepted by mainstream manufacturers. The PC remote control is a logical extension – as computers become increasingly audio and video enabled, it’s natural for people to feel more comfortable using the tools customarily associated with those tasks. Who wants to sit on the couch and fight with a mouse and keyboard when you could simply press the “play” button?
An emerging market.
Initially PC remote controls could only be found bundled with high-end sound cards and video cards, and would essentially only work with the software the manufacturer intended them to. Today, as companies try to exploit the budding HTPC market, computer users have had their remote control options expanded exponentially, thanks in part to the broad definition of what comprises a “Home Theater PC”.
The HTPC label really covers two completely different ideas. First, there’s the “home theater accessory” – a PC that will be hooked up to other standard audio/video components and act as an enhancement device. Tasks might include playing DVD movies, recording television programs, browsing the web and playing games on a bigscreen. Then there’s the “computer theater”, where a standalone PC, monitor and speakers will serve as work, play and visual entertainment centers. Tasks would cover everything a regular PC and audio/video system could do.
The capabilities of the various PC remote controls on the market today vary widely. Some are radio frequency (RF) based, others use infrared (IR). Some are designed to control many different aspects of a PC, while others concentrate solely on multimedia functions. Some remotes place heavy importance on accurate cursor control, while others make direct-function ease-of-use the primary goal.
One good remote deserves another.
The original ATI Remote Wonder (read our review) first shipped with the ATI All-In-Wonder 8500DV, a PC video card which integrates a TV tuner along with other extended video capabilities. As part of a package, the Remote Wonder was designed to primarily integrate with ATI’s multimedia software, concentrating on providing intuitive control for those applications. It didn’t play particularly well with other computer programs, and its mouse cursor control capabilities were crude at best. The Remote Wonder has since been bundled with other All-In-Wonder and add-in TV Wonder models, and can also be bought in a standalone package.
So along comes the new and improved sequel, the ATI Remote Wonder II. This remote bears absolutely no physical resemblance to that first model – in fact not one thing is familiar, from the key shapes and layout to the RF receiver. A quick glance is enough to tell you that the Remote Wonder II not only has more buttons, but also a very different mouse cursor control system.
Although the original Remote Wonder was completely unique to ATI, the actual remote was manufactured by X-10 Inc. (yes, that X-10) and looked similar to several other products on the market. The Remote Wonder II, on the other hand, looks nothing like an X-10 product. Curiosity piqued, I started digging and soon came up with the answer: it’s made by Philips Electronics.
The cliché may say that “change is for the better”, but the original Remote Wonder had plenty of good points to build upon. Just how have all of those plusses fared on this new model, and have the negatives finally been overcome?