Introduction

 

The cord-cutting trend has made streaming STBs (set-top boxes) and HTPCs (home theater PCs) popular. Remotes are bundled with all OTT (over-the-top) boxes and Android media streamers, and Media Center remotes are common for HTPCs. However, as media consumption becomes more interactive (for example, consumers explicitly searching for a movie to play on Netflix), the use of remotes with limited functionality becomes cumbersome.

Last  year, we visited some vendors at CES to look at the options on display for interacting with HTPCs. Our criteria for paying attention to a device included the following:

  • The device should be wireless and optimally sized (neither the mini- varieties which make typing with large fingers difficult, nor the full-sized combos which come with separate keyboard and mouse units)
  • The device should come with either an integrated touchpad or a trackball
  • Ergonomics and ease of use with a layout as similar as possible to a traditional keyboard while also allowing for short-term single handed operation common in HTPC scenarios
  • Be adaptable for the occasional prolonged typing / computer interaction task with properly sized keys

Some of the other desirable features include prolongation of battery life by going into sleep mode (either automatically, or through an explicit toggle switch), 5 GHz communication frequency (to avoid the crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum) and an integrated rechargeable battery with a charging dock. It would also be nice to have ease of use with Windows 8.x (in terms of replicating touchscreen functionality on a touchpad). Obviously, features have to be traded off to hit an acceptable price point. So, the options we want to look at might not hit any of the desirable features too.

I have been using a Logitech K400 for more than a year, and it has managed to become the mainstay in my HTPC setup. Frequently available for less than $30, its feature-to-price ratio is simply unparalleled. Unfortunately, the keyboard does have a few drawbacks with respect to ergonomics and key placement, making it challenging to use it for extended typing duties. With a better budget, would it be possible to improve the HTPC interaction experience? That is what we hope to answer with our 'Interacting with HTPCs' series.

In today's piece we will be looking at three different wireless HTPC interaction solutions with MSRPs ranging from $50 to $70:

  1. IOGEAR GKM561R 2.4GHz Multimedia Keyboard with Laser Trackball and Scroll Wheel
  2. SIIG JK-WR0412-S1 Wireless Mini Multimedia Trackball Keyboard
  3. SIIG JK-WR0312-S1 Wireless Multi-Touchpad Mini Keyboard

We will first take a look at the features offered by each of these keyboards in detail along with some usage impressions. This will be followed by the comparison of the pros and cons of each of these units on a single page. Note that most of the aspects presented in keyboard reviews are subjective and dependent on test environment. For example, even the wireless range may vary from one test location to another because the 2.4 GHz channel being used might exhibit interference issues under certain conditions. This could result in improper functioning and range issues. All the three units we are covering today operate in the 2.4 GHz band and have an advertised range of 33 ft (under ideal conditions). We will not be covering the range factor any further in this review.

IOGEAR GKM561R - Features & Usage Impressions
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  • rygaroo - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    So I keep my HTPC in my bedroom closet (the wall behind my TV) and run an HDMI cable through a wall plate, and my current wireless keyboard cuts out if I'm too far away from the TV. Are there any keyboard/mouse combos that would get me better signal for my particular setup? Reply
  • wlossw - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    Too bad there's no option with MAC keyboard layout... oh wait... apple keyboard + magic trackpad + 12 south magic wand. done. Reply
  • Spazzy - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    My current favorite;
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9S...

    The track pad on this unit is simply stellar. It even mimics standard laptop functionality like tap to click. Lets be honest, you use the mouse functions far more often then you use the keyboard on a media center. Which is a good thing as the keyboard, while perfectly functional, is not the easiest to type on. This is mostly due to size, but also due to the odd placement of non numerical/alphabetic keys. You have to use the function key to get to any of those symbols.

    This unit works great for one handed operation of the mouse and allows quick word searches without having to drag out a full sized keyboard. It contains a rechargeable battery that typically last me two weeks between charges. It does have a side mounted on/off switch, but I rarely use it.

    If they added a scroll wheel, another row of keys (so they could put non alpha keys in their normal place), and included a keyboard back light, this would be the perfect media center keyboard. As it is, it is pretty close!
    Reply
  • acme64 - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I wish i could find that original Boxee remote. If I can get that working on windows i'd be set. Reply
  • Rhoshambo - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    Am I the only one who cares about the keyboard being backlight? I used mine in a HTPC environment with a theatre projector and blackout blinds, and for me the killer app is being able to see the keys in the dark. Reply
  • KITH - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I personally have the lenovo mini remote and the SIIG JK-WR0312-S1
    For any typing the lenovo is a joke but the SIIG has excellent feedback on the keys and is a very sturdy build.
    Reply
  • RemoteControlAxe - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    Or there's the dark horse option: Unified remote! http://www.unifiedremote.com/
    Basically, you run a server application on your Windows PC and an app on your Android/Windows phone, and it turns your phone into a trackpad with your phone keyboard collapsible. I've used it for a while to great success with my PC in the living room. Also, it's free (yes there's a paid version of the app, but I don't need it). There are also some fancy media player specific remotes in it if you're into that, but I've generally found the default trackpad to be the way to go.
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - link

    I used a similar solution to that called HippoRemote (www.hipporemote.com). It worked by installing a branded VLC server on my PC, and I was able to connect to it using the app (free or paid). The secondary benefit of installing a VLC server for it? I had a VLC server to connect to. =P Although, now I just use Splashtop for remote administrating. Reply
  • Offperception - Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - link

    Weird, I have a K400 and it does have the distance stuttering problem. This article at least tells me why this is happening. And just as I read this article this morning, Logitech added a new variant of the K400, paired with its Harmony tech. http://www.logitech.com/en-us/product/harmony-smar...

    Since it's not clear when this will be in Europe, as it appears very US oriented (it's not even on the Dutch Logitech site), how soon will this be reviewed here, I wonder?
    Reply
  • fourpobs - Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - link

    I bought an IOGEAR GKM561R 4-5 years ago (this is not a new device) to control my HTPC from the couch. At the time there were fewer options but it worked for me and I quickly adjusted to the 2-handed mousing.

    About a year a go wine got spilled all over it and it quit working except for a few keys. I took a long hard look around for a replacement thinking "there must be something better for my needs by now" and had a budget of <$150. I like something I can actually type on and that is durable and slick looking. I am not cheap but I really didn't find anything I thought would be better in that price range. In the end, I ended up buying another one and am content.
    Reply

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