The Perfect Mac Mini HTPC Remote Control

A giant part of any HTPC set-up is the remote control. People’s choices in this area span every possible option. You have some folks that use the hardware that came with their respective components, regardless of how many remotes end up cluttering their coffee table. The advantage to this is obviously little to no set-up time. The downside? The word clutter should be a tip-off.

Which leads us to the other end of the spectrum: one remote controlling everything. The undisputed leader of this category is Logitech’s Harmony series of remotes. Using software, you can control pretty much anything with an IR port. For a while, I used a Harmony 880 but eventually tired of the complexity.

“Complexity”, you ask? Wouldn’t one remote be the simplest option? Yes and No. While I needed a one remote solution, the vast majority of buttons on the 880 were of no use to me. Like so many, I navigate TV nowadays through an in-app guide – meaning I didn’t need any of the numerical keys, for example. Look at the remote you’re using – that keypad takes up a giant amount of space, no? I only have one TV, one receiver, and a Mac Mini. That’s all I’m trying to control.

So I started looking for something minimal that would fit the bill. Ironically, the Apple Remote is almost perfect – I just needed something that would learn power and volume codes for my TV and receiver. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible with the Apple Remote so I actually began looking for a universal learning remote that I could physically mod the Apple Remote into. Which always felt like it wasn’t going to yield a satisfying end product.

Which is why I immediately fell in love with the remote I’m currently using: Acoustic Research’s ARi3G. Apparently designed with my specifically in mind, it had everything I wanted: learning capability, Apple Remote codes pre-programmed, and the ability to turn my TV and receiver off with one button. A bonus is the backlit buttons, which are really useful in the dark. And it’s footprint is minuscule compared to everything else out there.

This was the Holy Grail for me and I would have paid a lot of money. But the best part of this story? The cost. The remote sells at Amazon for $9.99.

Making it the perfect Mac HTPC Remote – at least for my HTPC.


6 comments

  1. Christopher

    Where the heck have you been? I have been following you for quite a while and was wondering up til today if you just dropped off the face of the Earth or something.

    Glad to see you posting here again; please do so more often. You are my inspiration for cutting the cord.

    Other than that, I like this remote idea; and its cheap too to boot! :) I think I will get it based solely on your recommendation.

  2. Thanks for the note and encouragement, Christopher. I’ve been so satisfied with my system that there hasn’t been much to write about! But I have a couple of other new posts in the pipeline.

    I think you’ll like the remote. And, if not, Amazon’s return policy is excellent. ;-)

  3. Christopher

    Hi again :) Just wanted to do 3 things here — 1. give a followup to my last response to you on the remote; 2. Offer a suggestion that you may want to look into for a future post and, most important, 3. Refer to your expertise on something I am encountering with my set-up, if at all possible.

    First, I took your advice and purchased the remote — well ahead of my plans to convert my Mac to an HTPC, so even if I had a problem with it now, I can’t return it :). I used it for the first time yesterday and have to say that I like it very much; cosmetically, it works since it looks like a TV remote and thus fits in the whole scope of things better than using an Apple remote. I do worry about the drain on the battery and was wondering if you have come across any problems in that area.

    Next, a suggestion for a future topic. Have you looked into options one can try to get more than one TV hooked up to receive EyeTV recordings (not programming, although that would not seem hard to do either)? One thing I am trying out on my second is the new WD Live Streaming Player. It is pretty nice, if a bit laggy, but the greatest thing is that it does play EyeTV recordings. I think a good post might for you for the future might be to look into this device or perhaps other options to make your whole house easily accessible to recordings — a sort of whole home DVR set-up (without the pausing live TV capabilities, that is).

    Third, and truly most critical that I get your input on. As I kind of alluded to above, I spent yesterday doing a full roll-out of my Mac as HTPC set-up, pretty much according to your guidelines, but I am running into problems and hope you can help. To set the scene — I am using a 2007 white Macbook, 2.16 GHz Core 2 Duo with 2GB RAM. I have the newest version of HDHomerun with EyeTV and have an internal antenna hooked up to it. This is my second attempt at getting everything to work but I can’t seem to iron out all the kinks. Initial test runs came out very well, but I now notice that, when I set a program to record — whether via programming ahead of time or on-the-spot recording — the show stutters, pixelates somewhat and freezes, thus making it impossible to record. EyeTV works perfectly when everything is Live, but as soon as I push record, it all goes downhill. I also notice that, when the first tuner is recording, the second tuner stutters on HD channels (or so it seems; I couldn’t detect such stuttering on SD channels). This is the same problem I had on my first attempt last year, which led me to abandon the project and regroup. I thought the problems were initially related to setting everything up wirelessly problem but I solved that (or so I thought) by using powerline adapters (200 Mbps ones) to connect everything now.

    What am I doing wrong? Do you think it is a hardware issue? Or maybe a powerline issue (should I use 500Mbps rather than the 200?)? I know EyeTV’s potential and everyone seems to love how it works, but this new, yet old, setback is getting me really frustrated.

    Any help would be extremely appreciated, if you can. Sorry both for the length of this post and, especially, if I am being a burden by asking for advice; I just respect your opinion and expertise on this subject and thought I would ask.

    Thanks :)

  4. Hi Christopher,

    1. I haven’t come across any problems with battery life but I did turn the option off that automatically illuminated the remote when it sensed movement. Now it only lights up when I press a button so that’s gotta help with battery life.

    2. If I understand your question correctly (and I’m not sure I do), you’re interested in EyeTV recordings being available on multiple TVs? I’m not sure how you could successfully do that without having Macs attached to each one with EyeTV installed (suing the Sharing feature). I suppose you might be able to do it with a jailbroken AppleTV (Plex can be installed then and can play back EyeTV recordings) but I’m just not sure because I haven’t tried it myself. I watch TV on one TV that’s hooked up to a Mini or on my iMac, Macbook Air, or iPad. Sorry I can’t offer more counsel but it sounds like you already found a potential solution from WD.

    3. I have no idea why you’d be getting stuttering but it does sound like your system must be red-lining when you’re running EyeTV – that would be evidenced by the live TV stuttering when you begin recording. I’m in the same boat to an extent because my Mini’s a few years old too and I try to mitigate anything like this by *only* running EyeTV and Remote Buddy. This allows both the CPU and RAM to focus exclusively on the task at hand. Are you killing all processes via Activity Monitor and still seeing these issues? That’d be the best (and, frankly, only) course of action I could recommend. I’m lucky enough not to have had that issue much since I began militantly controlling how many apps are open when EyeTV’s at work.

    Hope that helps at least a bit – good luck!

  5. Christopher

    Hi again :)

    Thanks for the advice :) I am looking into looking into killing off some processes in Activity Monitor now to see if that works. Sometimes I get the free memory up to over 1 GB, but most times it is around 700-800; we’ll see :)

  6. Hi Mr.O

    Nice site you have about MacMini media center & everything else.
    I also have a MacMini as mediaserver in use, but I’m looking for some time now for a some bigger remote with a little more possibility’s.
    Then i found your site and the article about Acoustic Research ARi3G 3 3 Device Universal Remote Control Compatible with Apple Products (Black) .
    I wanted to order it on the site of Amazon, but they don’t send to Belgium.
    I was thinking if i pay you in advance to buy this remote, would you buy this remote for me, and send it to me in Belgium ?

    Regards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>