My den coffee table
Here is my small coffee table in the den. (I bought a couple of these probably twenty years ago from a furniture warehouse that used to be a bowling alley, Harvard Lanes.)
Harvard Lanes souvenir
I can do quite a lot with those two devices.
First, the X10 Universal 5-in-1 Learning Remote ($15):
It has 5 main buttons: TV, VCR, CBL, SAT, and X10. If you push TV, then the rest of the buttons will control your TV. If you push VCR, you have the VCR controls, etc.
I wouldn’t inflict the following system on my wife or anyone else, but here is how I set it up for myself:
5-in-1 X10 learning remote
TV button: Selects controls for our 36″ flat tube TV. But there were enough buttons left over to teach them the Roku box’ controls as well:
REW/FF/PAUSE/PLAY do what you would expect.
A/B/C/D became Up/Right/Left/Down buttons for the Roku screen (tricky, since the built-in directional buttons are for the TV).
ENT became the Roku Select button.
REC was repurposed as the Roku Home button.
VCR and SAT buttons: Allows control of the VCR/DVD combo player (rarely used now). The VCR and DVD functions are effectively two separate devices, so the VCR button selects the VCR controls, and the SAT button selects the DVD controls.
Again, repurposing two unused buttons under SAT, I added control of a remote A|B switch for the indoor and outdoor antennas. (During bad weather, the indoor one sometimes performs better).
The CBL button now selects the controls for the TiVo Roamio OTA. The TiVo’s own remote is mostly used by my wife, and is RF (radio frequency) based. But the TiVo can also recognize IR (infrared), so that’s how the 5-in-1 is able to control it.
The X10 button lets you control X10 home automation modules around the house. The 5-in-1 remote uses radio frequency (RF) for X10. The other four main buttons of the 5-in-1 are infrared (IR) only. None of the X10 buttons can be taught different functions, probably due to being tied to the RF mode.
Since I squeezed in control of 7 different devices, it’s now a 7-in-1 remote!
Sure, I have to remember a lot of stuff, but I did document it all in the 5-in-1’s manual. I use it often enough that I rarely refer to my notes anymore. Now that’s a kludge! (Clumsy and inelegant, but effective.)
Now the phone, a rooted, wifi-only Motorola Electrify smartphone ($0):
Of the top row of apps, the first three are diagnostics for the Raspberry Pi media computer in the theater room.
The fourth one, Remote Ripple, is the app version of TightVNC. With TightVNC software running on the Windows computers, I can use the app to take over their desktops and update software, move files around, etc. Very useful!
Home theater apps on smartphone
The X10 Commander app allows me to control devices around the house over wifi on the home network. I have an X10 ActiveHome Pro Computer Interface Module USB-attached to the office computer and plugged into the AC wall socket. The computer runs the X10 Commander software, which interprets wifi signals from the app and converts them in to the control pulses sent over house wiring to X10 modules for the lights, fans and coffee maker.
The TiVo app can serve as a remote control for the TiVo. More importantly, it shows you a program guide and lets you set up recordings.
(The My Media Center app does the same function for Windows Media Center, but that is for the theater room, not the den. Yatse is a remote control for the Raspberry Pi, also in the theater room.)
The Roku app is a second remote for any of the three Roku boxes in the house.
Puffin is a browser that will play Flash-based video. This was a great discovery for me.
One thing I missed after cutting the cable TV cord was the “Morning Joe” show on msnbc (also the Saturday/Sunday morning “Up with Steve Kornacki”). Free 24/7 feeds of both CNN International and msnbc International are available on the web, but both are Flash-based. With Puffin, I can play either on the smartphone, and better yet, the Nexus 7 tablet.
(Drop me an email for the URLs if you can’t find them. I know of no equivalent web feed for Fox News. Rupert Murdoch is tight-fisted with his cable content.)
I have the TV Listings app set up to show shows a program guide for cable in Tulsa. I only use it for CNN/msnbc, and not much for them, but if you are still on cable or satellite, it could be more useful to you.
There is a Roku Highlights document link on the smartphone. This is my own Google Doc created to remind me and my wife some of all the specific shows we like that are available through various Roku channels.
These channels include Plex (all movies and TV shows on computers in our house), Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Sky News International in HD, Crackle, Shout Factory, iTunes Podcasts, Nowhere TV. I note the shows that either of us might want to watch, but that slip our mind when trying to think of something good to watch.
I am able to update this doc on the smartphone or on the computer. We don’t use this as much as I thought we would, but I still like to have it available as a comprehensive memory jog.
Under the table is a clipboard with a printout of the Roku highlights list. I add items as I think of them for future updates. Low tech is sometimes the appropriate tech.
Anyway, these two devices do it all for me in the den.