The networked home: remote control

Newsweek international, October 4, 2004 

You love what your computer can do. Until now, there’s been only one significant drawback: you had to sit in front of the machine to operate it. Now that’s changing. Digital media and wireless connectivity make it possible to enjoy what your computer can do without being anywhere near it. Here are some remote controls that let you access your computer’s capabilities from just about wherever you are.


Convergence at last

SnapStream Media aims to integrate the TV and the PC with two products. The Firefly PC Remote lets you control your PC — and all the digital media an applications on it — with a hand-held device just like the one you use for your television or stereo: this means an end to running across the room to click the mouse or tap the keyboard to launch that next MP3 playlist. The company’s Beyond TV 3 software was known as the Personal Video Server, which is what it turns any PC into: record, store and play back TV shows recorded from cable, home satellite or off-air through a video tuner card. Run Beyond TV3 and use the Firefly remote, and you could conceivably use your computer to replace your television and your VCR.


Remote control for the home

AMX offers networking that will put everything in your home at your command: the temperature, the lights, your home theater, security system and more. You can run the system remotely through an Internet connection. As you leave your office at the end of the day, you could edge up the thermostat at home, turn on the lights and have some jazz playing when you walk through the door. Once you’re home, AMX’s Modero ViewPoint Touch Panel serves as a remote control for your house. The ViewPoint MVP 8400 offers a 21-cm touch-sensitive screen that will let you run everything as well as access the Web and read and respond to e-mail wirelessly, using both infrared and Wi-Fi connections. You can use a built-in stand, or rest it on a tabletop or wall-mounted docking station — especially useful for those of us frequently searching for our remote controls.


In stereo

The Roku SoundBridge Network Music player plays music from your computer on your stereo. Its stock version uses an Ethernet card to connect to the computer, but there’s also a Wi-Fi option for working wirelessly. The SoundBridge is compatible with Apple’s iTunes jukebox software for both Macs and PCs, making it easy to set up and run. Also consider the Roku HD1000 Digital Media Player, which lets you use media from your computer, such as digital photos, video clips and music, on your television, using either your home network or memory cards.


Taking it all with you

Consolidating all your movies and music on your PC is great. But you probably don’t want to sit at a desk to match a movie. Likewise, listening to music while hunched forward in a swivel chair is fine for recording engineers, but is not very relaxing. Enter the MobiNote DVX-POD 7010, a sleek 17-cm screen in a compact housing that weighs just over half a kilogram. Its simple design gives no clue as to its capacity or versatility. With a built-in 20GB hard drive, the MobiNote can hold approximately 30 MPEG-4 movies, or about 5,000 MP3 tunes, or about 20,000 JPG, BMP or GIF photos. A simple cable  connection lets it record and store television shows, and it’s an audio recorder, too. The self-contained unit plays back everything it records and stores. Plugged into a PC, it can also serve as a portable 20GB backup hard drive. You could go on a two-week vacation and take all of your entertainment with you, stored in the device that plays it.