This week I got a new Mini Keyboard for my Raspberry Pi media centre (currently using OpenELEC) after years of using the ‘Yatse’ Android XBMC app to control my Raspberry Pi, so I thought I’d write something to share the different remote control options I have found since owning a Pi.
I’ve always had the opinion that ‘less is more’ when it comes to remote controls. I’m sure during the 90’s having 4/5/6 remotes on your coffee table was almost a sign of power and affluence, however it’s 2015 and the Ikea minimalist generation have taken over – and that just isn’t cool any more!
This is why I’ve always used Yatse to date – it removes the need for another physical remote, and has that kind of modern ‘MTV Cribs’ house control vibe to it, as you smugly flick through movies using your phone.
Despite my views on physical controls, I recently picked up an iPazzport wireless (2.4Ghz) mini keyboard after seeing them being used a lot by other people in the Pi community. They’re cheap enough to buy as a bit of an impulse purchase, and do have a bit of that geek-shic gadget look to them over a standard TV remote.
I’m still on the fence a bit though, and there are lots of other remote solutions available. Let’s take a look at the main options…
Yatse (Android App Remote)
Why I Like Yatse
Using your Android phone/tablet to control a smart looking media centre, powered by a tiny PC that your mates haven’t even heard of, is pretty damn cool! It’s like a little party piece when you have friends round for a film.
Not only that, it’s also very easy to use – simply tap the icon on your phone, and the app opens up to the main control screen. It works using your home WiFi network, so as long as your devices are on the same network (and ideally you’ve set your Pi to a static IP address) it will work instantly.
It also has a lot of cool features that are really only available on a control with a screen – like the ability flick through your media libraries on the phone and even see the DVD covers/fanart, enquire on the actors and much more.
Some Things To Consider
Yatse is fine of your phone/tablet is charged – if not, you need a backup. It can also be a bit fiddly if you need to use your phone for something else.
For those using their Pi to control music at an event/party, there’s a different issue altogether. We all like a bit of privacy with our phones/tablets, after all, your whole life is on there. Giving other people your phone to flick through your media gives them full access to your unlocked device – notifications and all! Gone are the days of flicking through CDs…
So whilst Yatse is a slick option, it’s by no means perfect.
Mini Keyboard (2.4Ghz Wireless)
Why I Like The Mini Keyboard
Having a dedicated physical control for your Pi Media Centre is an obvious choice, and avoids the kind of conflicts you get with app control as I mentioned above.
Yes it’s not quite as impressive as using your tablet/phone, but it’s by no means a normal remote control. The small size and layout definitely has that geeky appeal we all love, and is still sure to impress friends.
In terms of set-up – I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to get going. It comes with a USB receiver that plugs into your Pi, which I expected would need some packages or code. Wrong – you just plug it in, turn on the remote, and it works out of the box. How? No idea, must be built into Raspbian/OpenELEC etc.
Using it is dead easy, the buttons give you good feedback (unlike the Yatse app being on a touch screen – you cant look away easily) and it’s very responsive – no lag or delay at all. There’s also a mouse pad which works well, with left/right mouse buttons.
Unlike some other similar devices, it has an on/off switch (rather than auto) which I prefer as you know for sure when you have turned it off (although this does mean you can leave it on accidentally). I also found that you can turn it on/off whenever you like – the Pi picks it up instantly at all times (unlike things like Bluetooth that can take a while).
Some Things To Consider
A bit like the Yatse app option – I have to charge it. Not often, but it’s still something to consider. It does come with a USB cable for charging, but it’s not micro-USB which was a little disappointing as everything else I own uses that generic format.
Another gripe – probably more to do with the Media Centre software, is that not all of the buttons/short cuts on the keyboard work with OpenELEC. That’s just one of those silly little things though, and maybe you can map these somehow? I’ll be looking in to that.
There’s also the fact that it is technically another remote in your Lounge. That will be a personal preference thing.
TV Remote (HDMI-CEC)
Why I Like HDMI-CEC
Using your existing TV remote with your Pi is probably the easiest option of them all. It requires no additional hardware, costs nothing, and works (usually) straight away as long as your Pi is connected via HDMI.
Functionality depends a lot on your remote – but the basic functions of navigation, select and back/exit should be there for most people.
This is also probably the minimalist’s control of choice – with no extra devices or clutter, it’s a clean and simple solution.
Some Things To Consider
Currently, with my new Pi 2 and using OpenELEC rather than RaspBMC (which I used to use on the original Pi) – HDMI-CEC isn’t working. I’ve tried the various troubleshooting options, but with no success. So that makes this option pretty redundant for me right now. I’ve called it a ‘stupid thing’ many times this week.
Also the lack of functionality in terms of limited buttons can be an issue too – for example, I don’t have that ‘right-click’ option on my remote which would normally allow me to go into context menus and select options.
Lastly, it’s just not as cool as some of the other options here.
FLIRC has been around for a while, and is a bit of a niche halfway-house of some of the other options here. If you want to use your existing remote (or any other remote for that matter), and maybe if HDMI-CEC isn’t working for you – this could be a good choice.
My dad is looking at one of these for his motorhome Pi, simply because he has no network to use Yatse with, and his little Motorhome TV doesn’t seem to have HDMI-CEC. This will allow him to program his existing remote however he likes.
Back to the old school! Yes you can just simply plug a keyboard and mouse into your Pi (even easier with the extra ports on the Pi 2 now). Lots of wires, and you’ll need to be near your screen, but it’s a very simple option to get started with (maybe while you wait for your other remote option to be delivered?)
Did you know you can enter your Pi’s IP address into your browser, and an on-screen remote will appear?
It’s a standard XBMC thing, so should work with any XBMC device. The menus aren’t all that pretty, but if you’re the kind of person that is likely to have your laptop on anyway – maybe this is a cheap and easy option for you?
Bluetooth and the Pi, Hmm. I’ve not come across many forum topics that start “I’ve had great success with Bluetooth on my Raspberry Pi”. It probably works just fine (just never for me), and maybe things have moved on a bit, but this option seems a little dated now that we have 2.4Ghz keyboards like the one I mention above.
I guess if you already have a spare bluetooth keyboard then you might want to choose this option, but I’m going to avoid any bluetoothery with my Pi.
Decisions decisions! All needs, preferences and wallets are catered for when it comes to controlling your Pi Media Centre.
Personally, I’m going to continue with two options – Yatse and the 2.4Ghz mini keyboard. That might sound excessive, but it gives me the best of both worlds. When I’m too comfy in my chair to get up, I can use the Android app. When my phone is dead or I’m using it for something else, I can use the keyboard.
Lastly, and most importantly, when my wife wants to use the media centre when I’m out – no more moaning that she doesn’t have the app!
Until next time…