Remote Control Computer

A while back I was trying to convert an old Powerbook to a digital picture frame. After I burned a delicate cable, I pretty much gave up. Plus the price of thin monitors was coming way down, to the point that I could get a 17-inch monitor supporting millions of colors (vs. the Powerbook’s 12-inch screen supporting thousands of colors) for only $150. The other part of that was that when I bought my desktop computer I had gotten a card that supported dual monitors, so I could also use it for that if I wanted. (I have two monitors at work and love it, but I tried two monitors at home and just didn’t feel like it was all that beneficial. I have more applications open at once at work.)

To make a slide show, the first thing I had to do was convert a bunch of pictures to the correct dimensions. The bad part was that if I wanted to use the full screen I couldn’t use vertical pictures. My idea with the picture frame was that I would set up two folders, one with landscape pictures and one with portrait pictures. Then I could rotate the picture frame when I wanted to switch between the two.

The monitor I bought had speakers built in which brought up the possibility of running iTunes on the computer that would support the monitor and having music accompany the slide show (really just a screensaver that automatically starts after a minute of no activity). I would want to hide the computer, keyboard and mouse someplace (very close by since my cables are only six feet long) but maybe I could control the computer via a remote control.

I found several remotes that would do this. Some were meant to control slideshow presentations and were very expensive. I also wanted to use infra-red so that I could have my universal remote operate it. Really I didn’t even want the remote itself, just the IR pickup and software, but I couldn’t find that anywhere.

I hid the computer behind my TV and put the monitor on my DVD player for now. I ran sound to the monitor, but, as expected, it sounded horrible over the tiny cheap speakers built in to the cheap monitor. Since I have a receiver for the surround sound system, it made sense that I would use that instead and it sounded a lot better over some normal speakers.

I had to download an upgrade for my remote that would emulate the Streamzap remote. And that meant downloading all the latest JP1 programs so that I could transfer the upgrade to the remote (I hadn’t messed around with that since I got my computer last year). Even though Streamzap required a new protocol to be put on the remote as well as its own settings, I got it to work on the first try.

I love my remote. Unfortunately they don’t make them anymore and Walmart doesn’t sell the latest models. Now they have a much fancier remote that has an LCD screen to walk you through setting up the remote (for learning commands, setting up macros, etc.) and it can download upgrades by holding the remote up to the phone when technical support tells you to. I’m still amazed that a $20 remote can do that (but it is even bigger than the already huge remote I have now, plus it takes six AAA batteries). Today I saw a universal remote advertised for $350. I don’t know why anyone would pay that much.

Anyway, it worked great. I have a button on the remote that can be used to start iTunes and then I can change the volume, skip songs, etc. from the couch. I can actually navigate iTunes as well, but not easily and I can’t read the screen from the couch anyway. I have it play random songs from the 4,000+ song libarary and skipping songs via the remote doesn’t cause the screensaver to stop.

Eventually I’d like to put this monitor on the wall in a frame like I originally intended. Then I could run power and a monitor cable through the wall so that it would appear cordless. Computers are kind of noisy so I might put the computer itself in the kitchen (attic is probably too hot) so the monitor could play without hearing a fan and hard drive.

Eventually I hope Apple will make all of this a lot easier, but clearly I’m not there yet.

3 thoughts on “Remote Control Computer

  1. I got worn out reading all that stuff. No wonder you don’t have time to work on your yard. You could have made a real beneficial dent in your yard in the time you spent on whatever it was that you did.

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