Smart Replacement Remotes for Windows Media Center

MX Air, Continued

In the middle of the button strip, marked by a small ridge so you can find it without looking, is the Select button (it’s the same as the left mouse button but that’s a bit of a stretch unless you have a long thumb). Wave the mouse to point at icons and scroll through menus and click with the Select button and you can drive Media Center as if you were using a desktop mouse. But the other buttons give you the key features directly, combined with simple gestures that you make with the mouse.

It’s not enabled by default but you can set Media Center to start when you pick up the mouse and shake it slightly. Tilt the MX Air up and down and it scrolls through the main Media Center menu; turn it sideways to scroll through the recent selections and alternatives Media Center gives you for each option. This works particularly well with Media Center in Vista which is designed for wide screens and puts a lot of options on the sideways list; in the music player you can scroll through thumbnails of album covers like flicking through a stack of CDs.

You need a back button to navigate the menu system in Media Center; you’ll use it almost as much as Select so it’s handy to have it just above it. If you have a menu that’s too long to comfortably scroll through by waving you can use the two big scroll buttons, although you’re still clicking through one item at a time - some kind of fast scroll would be more useful instead. The right mouse button gives you the Info menu of handy commands - the Media Center equivalent of a context menu.

The Play/pause button also provides previous and next functionality; hold it down and move the MX Air in a clockwise circle to jump forward or anti-clockwise to jump back. It takes a few attempts to get the movement right and you can’t adjust the speed or the angle but once you get the hang of it it’s a very natural way to change the TV channel, control a playlist, a photo slideshow or anything else you’d normally click through. Pressing the Volume button mutes the sound; hold it down and flick the MX Air right to turn the volume up or left to turn it down - again, it’s a much more natural way to control the sound than finding the right buttons to press on a crowded remote control.

One frequent annoyance in Media Center is when the on-screen controls popping up if you accidentally knock your mouse while you’re watching a TV channel or video. Press and hold the back button on the MX Air to lock the cursor to stop that; you can also turn the mouse off completely with the switch on the back but then you have to remember to turn it back on rather than just clicking the button again.

Like the volume and playlist gestures, this is very useful with Media Centre and with these options the MX Air does almost everything you’d want for basic controls. There are many more buttons on a standard Media Center remote that you’ll seldom use - most of them duplicate options easily available from the on-screen menus. The main control that’s missing from the MX Air is replay and skip or fast forward and rewind - you have to use the on-screen controls for that and it’s fiddly and intrusive especially when watching videos and TV. And while you can start the Media Center interface you can’t turn the PC on remotely in the first place.

You can use the MX Air to control any PC remotely. If you don’t want all the features of Media Center, the Menucast option lets you create a custom menu of programs you want to start and control. So, for example, you and define what happens when you shake the mouse and thus create your own custom media center using iTunes, a DiVX player and your favourite photo viewing application on any PC. MX Air also has a function called "HyperScroll" that keeps scrolling through long documents even after you’ve stopped moving your finger. Finally, the forward and back gestures work just fine in PowerPoint.

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