Fine Tuning Media Center 7 – Remote Control Interaction

We have used an HTPC for nearly 4 years now – and yes this includes using Vista Media Center. There have been a few revisions – completely open setup to test, ClearQAM\Analog tuners, different video card, ATI DCTs…The biggest, and probably best feature is the ’10 foot’ interface – controlling everything with a remote control. I chose the Antec Veris Fusion silver for the case – it has an iMon VFD\remote eye built in to the front of the case.

It includes a non-standard MCE remote in conjunction with the iMon hardware. What’s nice about the iMon hardware is:

  • Showing what’s playing – media details, or PC specs (or news, email, 10 other different things) on the VFD front panel via a USB\Serial connection
  • No extra remote control sensor – it’s built in right next to the VFD
  • Ability to power on the PC via remote control **

**The last one was a bit tricky, and has been until now. First there’s the issue of a single 2-pin interface for the power button control…but 2 possible power buttons – the physical button on the front of the case, or the connection from the VFD that works on the remote signal. Well I wanted to be able to use both, so I spliced them together. Next is the remote that comes with the iMon:

The center pad doubles between a standard D-pad and a mouse controller – the input is via the same USB\serial plug. The iMon software is “OK”…it took them a while to get things perfect. There were several bugs – the mute did not work right for the longest time; it also takes quite a bit of customizing to get the software the way you want it – who really wants a stupid icon on the desktop that changes everytime a remote input is detected….and who wants to hear that stupid “IR Signal” sound every time a remote signal is detected?? All told, once configured, it’s quite nice – the mouse is not bad either once you are used to it. The real problem shows itself when your Wife complains about having too many remote controls.

This is where the Logitech Harmony remote comes into play. I had an older 880 model for some time and I knew this had to be the solution. When I first programmed the HTPC and TV in not everything worked well. The common functions worked OK, but then when you went to turn everything off, the TV would go off, but the PC would stay on. I never figured out the root cause of this, but my guess is that the iMon command to turn off the computer was being sent too close to the TV power signal. As it turns out, people trying to use the Harmony Remote with an iMon system have been struggling for some time. Aparently, the iMon remote controller signals are overly complex – thus leading to the above issue as well as a general “choppy-ness” when scrolling – and just delays in general.

The solution to this is to set the iMon manager software to use a standard MCE remote, and configure the Harmony this way as well – in fact, this is given as a warning in the Harmony software when you first configure the remote…I failed to heed that warning…..Once this is done, the Harmony works 500 times better – scrolling is VERY smooth, there are no random delays, and the system is still able to shutdown with the remote. I could not ask for more.

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