Hack 16. Control Your Home Theater from Your Palm

You know that stack of infrared (IR) remotes that's always spilling onto the floor? Your Palm can take the place of all of them.

You need software to convert your Palm into an infrared (IR) remote. Two choices are OmniRemote (http://www.pacificneotek.com) and NoviiRemote (http://www.novii.tv). You should look at the home theater devices that these two programs support and pick the one that is compatible with your gear.

If neither program covers all of your devices, then you have a couple of choices. If you have the remotes for your devices, and you are looking at simplifying down to just your PDA, then you can switch the applications into learning mode. Line up the remote and your Palm device on a flat surface with the IR end of the remote pointed at the IR port on your PDA and run through all of the important buttons on the remote. Save the buttons for each device under a unique name.

If you are missing some of the remotes, then you can try to find an IR code library on the Web. One good source is RemoteCentral (http://www.remotecentral.com), which has IR files under the Files tab on the home page. The files for the Philips Pronto can be used with OmniRemote by using a converter from the OmniRemote web site. If you can't find your specific device, then try to find a similar device by the same manufacturer.

Once you have all the codes for the devices you want to control, it is time to create button layouts. There are a variety of interesting button layouts on the Web. The web sites for the IR software have some button layouts, as does RemoteCentral. You can look at these for inspiration.

You should keep in mind what you want to do with each button layout that you create. For example, a common layout is watching DVDs. To do this, you may need to turn on the TV, DVD, and home theater systems. You could combine these actions into a macro, then have a single Power button that turns everything on. You might also need volume, play, pause, stop, fast forward, rewind, menu, and arrow keys. A button layout for watching TV might include a number pad, and channel-up and channel-down buttons.

1.17.1. Hardware

One of the big problems with using a Palm as an IR remote is the limited range of the Palm's IR port.

Fortunately both companies also provide hardware versions of their products. Pacific Neo-Tek (http://www.pacificneotek.com) sells a Springboard module for the Handspring Visor and Handspring Prism. You will need to find a used Visor. The Visors have a Springboard slot in the top that can take plug-in modules. All you have to do is stick the OmniRemote module into the Visor. The software is pre-loaded on the module.

NoviiRemote makes a product called the NoviiRemote Blaster. This is an SD card that functions similarly to the OmniRemote product, except that it works with SD-compatible devices such as recent Palm-branded devices.

At the time of this writing, I was unable to locate a similar product for the Sony Clié.

1.17.2. Detailed Instructions

The first part of these instructions apply to using both OmniRemote and NoviiRemote:

  1. Make sure that the software (or hardware) that you want to use is compatible with your PDA. If not, consider buying a cheap Palm to use as a dedicated remote control.
  2. Even if you plan on buying a hardware device to install in your PDA, start by downloading the corresponding trial softwareyou need the software to check that it can control your device.

1.17.2.1. Using NoviiRemote.

NoviiRemote provides standard button layouts for a number of different devices, such as TVs, VCRs, etc. You can easily switch between different devices, as shown in Figure 1-49.

Figure 1-49. NoviiRemote

Here are some tips for using NoviiRemote:

  • Use the trial version of NoviiRemote to make sure that the controls work. Start with the default codebases (collections of remote control codes) that came with the software. For each device you want to control, try out the included codes to see if the functions you want to use work.
  • If the included codebases don't work, then check the company's web site for additional (sometimes user-supplied) codebases. Download these and try again.
  • If the downloaded codebases don't work, then you can try using OmniRemote instead, if it supports your PDA.
  • If none of that works and you have the remote controls for the devices that don't have codebases, then you can put the program into "learn" mode and teach it all of the buttons. If you are successful with this, then you can help other users by uploading the results back to the company's web site.

1.17.2.2. Using OmniRemote.

OmniRemote, shown in Figure 1-50, provides macros in addition to the standard buttons. A macro can combine multiple actions (e.g., turn on the TV and turn on the VCR). OmniRemote supports a different set of devices natively than NoviiRemote.

Figure 1-50. OmniRemote Pro

Here are some tips for getting the most out of OmniRemote:

  • Use the trial version of OmniRemote to make sure that it can control your devices. You need to either program all of the buttons yourself (if you have the corresponding remote controls), or you can try to find codes on the Web.
  • If you want to find codes on the Web, start by downloading CCFCnvt.zip from the OmniRemote web site, unzipping it, and installing it. This program is called CCF Converter, and it converts remote control libraries from .CCF format to the internal format that OmniRemote uses.
  • Go to RemoteCentral (http://www.remotecentral.com) and look under Files for code databases for the Philips Pronto device, a popular remote that can control just about anything. These databases are the .CCF files that you can convert. If you find files that seem to match your home theater devices, then download them. You will need to unzip the files as well.
  • Run CCFCnvt.exe. You will see a screen similar to Figure 1-51. In this program, you will click Read CCF to load each of the CCF files that you downloaded in the previous step. For each file, look for the device that you want (many of the CCFs are for a set of devices so you may need to experiment to figure out which file corresponds to the device you want).

When you find the appropriate device in CCF Converter:

  1. Use the arrow button to add it to your selected list. Repeat this for each device.
  2. When you have collected all of your devices, then select Create PDB File to generate a new database with your devices in it.

    Figure 1-51. CCF Converter

     
  3. Go to your Palm Desktop and press Install or Quick Install.
  4. Click Add and choose the PDB file that you created in the previous step.
  5. HotSync your PDA to download the configurations.
  6. Test to make sure that you can correctly control your devices now.

One of the nice features of OmniRemote is that you can create macros. For example, you might have a Watch DVD macro that turns on the TV, DVD, stereo, or home theater, and sets the volume to the correct level for a DVD. To create a macro, start by creating a new button and select Macro as the type of button. Then click on the Edit Macro button and hit Insert. You will be prompted to tap buttons to add them to the macro.

Either of these devices can simplify your remote controls. You will end up with a single Palm device instead of a stack of remotes. You also have the ability to create sophisticated macros to handle multiple common chores at once. You can see an example of creating a macro to turn on the TV, increase the volume, and switch to channel 25 in Figure 1-52.

Macros can give you a lot of power in a single button. With a few macro buttons on a single page, you can easily perform a number of functions.

Scott McHaffie

Figure 1-52. TV macro in OmniRemote



Bluetooth, Mobile Phones, and GPS

Network Discovery and Monitoring

Wireless Security

Hardware Hacks

Software Hacks

Do-It-Yourself Antennas

Wireless Network Design

Appendix A. Wireless Standards

Appendix B. Wireless Hardware Guide



Wireless Hacks
Wireless Hacks: Tips & Tools for Building, Extending, and Securing Your Network
ISBN: 0596101449
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 178

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