Air mouse rf remote

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Airmouseremote.jpg

This combination of a remote control, keyboard and pointing device is an unbranded product made by someone in China and sold under many names. Amazon has had it under Aerb, Rii, Ideapro, X-Strong, Lynec and others. NewEgg has had it under TomTop and other names. It can be recognized by its rectangular shape, the large, blue “OK” button and the row of four colored buttons at the bottom of the numeric pad. It sells in the $12 to $20 range. It is a hand held device which has a good set of remote control buttons on one side and a small QWERTY keyboard on the other side. It also incorporates a gyro mouse which allows the mouse cursor to be moved by waving the unit around. It connects to the computer by a microwave (2.4 GHz) radio link to a tiny receiver which plugs directly into a USB port and sticks out only about 1/2”. It does not have to be pointed at the receiver and the signal should go through non-metallic barriers at least up to a point. The range is about 30 feet/10 meters. The Linux kernel recognizes it as a keyboard and a mouse when the receiver is connected and no system configuration or extra software is required. The keyboard and pointer work immediately but MythTV will need to be configured to use most of the remote keys.

As a bonus, the unit also has an Infra-red (IR) interface with a learning function which can emulate many proprietary remote controls for other appliances. Note that this is a computer peripheral, not a universal remote. The power button and the four colored buttons at the bottom are the only ones which can generate IR outputs. It may be possible to turn a TV set or sound system on and off and control a few functions such as volume levels with the buttons. It works with many appliances but not all. The “TV” button is used to program this function.

If the unit is held with the remote side up, the keyboard shuts off to prevent buttons from being pressed accidentally. If the keyboard side is upwards, the mouse function shuts off so that the cursor position is not affected by moving the unit around while using it as a keyboard.

The unit has a quirk in that it shuts down if a button is not pressed for a minute or so. This obviously saves the battery but it is necessary to press any key to get it started again. In practice, this means that a key is pressed and, if nothing happens, it is pressed again. On some units (probably older ones), the mouse function comes back on when it wakes up, even if it had been turned off earlier. This is annoying if button control is preferred. Pressing and holding the mouse control button for about 5 seconds (until the LED stops flashing rapidly) seems to fix this temporarily but it comes back on at some point. Buying from a fairly high-volume dealer such as Aerb may increase the chances of getting a current unit. There seems to be some ongoing development.

There is a new version which features a back-light but it has other minor refinements and it is nicer looking as well. It is worth paying a few dollars more for this unit.

There is a magic trick to opening the battery compartment which should be in the instructions. Hold the keyboard side up and put a thumbnail into the center of the gap in the case next to the "Enter" and "Backspace" keys. The cover will pop back slightly and can then be lifted up and off. To replace it, set it in just slightly back from its closed position and make sure it is all the way down on both sides. Push it towards the keyboard to engage the latch.

There is a minor problem with controlling MythTV using a keyboard device in that the program must have the desktop focus to receive keyboard input. Input from LIRC is independent of the desktop focus which can be handy if a dual monitor system is used as both a workstation and a media player. Unfortunately, the LIRC package is becoming increasingly difficult to set up with the newer kernels and SELinux configurations. The fact that this control includes the pointing device makes it easy to establish the focus without having to use the workstation mouse.

Configuring MythTV

The keyboard and some of the remote control keys work immediately. The numeric keypad works and the “DEL” key generates a backspace. The ring key around the “OK” button generates the keyboard arrow keys and they have done something clever with the “OK” button. If the mouse function is active, “OK” generates the left mouse button. If the mouse is off, “OK” generates the Return/Enter key. The mouse is toggled on and off by the red-marked key which shows a cursor arrow and on/off symbol. The Mute key (red “X” over a speaker symbol) should work and whether the volume control keys will work depends on the way the system audio is set up. The “PG+” and “PG-” keys generate the “Page Up” and “Page Down” keys which may be useful or can be reconfigured.

Of the three blue-marked keys above the “OK” button, the leftmost generates the Menu key found on many modern keyboards. It makes sense to configure MythTV to use this to enter the menu system but some desktop environments may trap this key to bring up an internal menu. It may be necessary to disable this feature in the desktop settings to use it with MythTV. The rightmost key (with the “U-turn” arrow) generates the right mouse button whether the mouse is on or off and probably can't be used for other purposes. The center key with the upward pointing arrow is not assigned and works well for the Escape/Exit function in MythTV.

Of the four keys above the blue-marked keys, the leftmost (magnifying glass) generates the “F3” key which MythTV defaults as a jump to the Program Guide display. This is likely to be useful as is but can be reassigned if desired. The Pause/Play key to its right is arbitrary and can obviously be assigned to the “Pause” and “Play” functions in several places in MythTV. The remaining two buttons, intended as “Zoom In” and “Zoom Out”, generate off-the-wall key codes (418 and 419) which are unlikely to be implemented in current Linux systems but may be usable in some systems. Making them work in Linux is complicated and messing with the keymaps can easily make the system unbootable.

The top row of transport keys are arbitrary and can be assigned as desired. Some systems may use these keys to control a default playback system of some sort and this may need to be disabled to use the keys with MythTV. It may be desirable to leave them as is, in which case the Pause/Play key will also have to be left as is.

Of the four keys to the right of the numeric keys, the one marked with four little squares generates the “F2” key which MythTV defaults to a jump point which may or may not be useful. This key is used to control the back-light on the new units and is not available for MythTV functions. The other keys are arbitrary and can be assigned as desired. The Clapperboard key works well for the “Record” mode in the Program Guide (TOGGLERECORD in the “TV Frontend” context) while the Exclamation Point key can be used for the global DELETE function. The others can be jumps to commonly used functions.

The global INFO function (defaults to "I") is required to access certain secondary menus such as the one for editing the settings associated with video files and the video gallery display. If rarely needed, the keyboard "I" can be used or it can be assigned to an arbitrary key on the remote side.

Using the “Edit Keys” Function

The keys can be set up in MythTV by going to the “Setup” system and selecting the “Edit Keys” function. A function can be selected and associated with a key by simply pressing the desired key. The interface is a bit awkward from the keyboard; the right and left arrow keys, along with Return/Enter, have to be used in the correct sequence. Navigation is more natural with the mouse but certain options do not work properly. The control keys are organized into different “contexts”, some of which are global and some of which are specific to an internal function. Start by selecting the “Global” context with the up and down arrow keys and then use the right-arrow to move to the function list. Use down-arrow to find a needed function, such as “DELETE”. The field below the list will show the currently assigned key, a “D” by default. Press the right-arrow to enter this display field and press Return/Enter. If a key is already assigned, a dialog box appears giving the options to set or remove the binding. If a conflict exists, the “remove” option can be used to clear it. Otherwise, select “Set Binding”. A dialog displaying “Press a Key” will appear. This dialog can also be produced by a left-click on the display field but the Set/Clear dialog is not offered. Now press the key to be assigned to this function. The box will display the symbolic name assigned to this key by the system. To accept this, press right arrow twice to select the “OK” button and press Return/Enter or left-click the “OK” button. To enter a another key, press Return/Enter. “Press a Key” will return and another key (up to four) may be entered. To retain the original default value, use the keyboard to set the “D” key as an option. It is important to retain the original keyboard options so that the program can be run from a regular keyboard if the remote control is not available. The “Set Binding” option clears the existing bindings. There does not appear to be an option to append additional keys. When all of the desired keys have been entered, press the left arrow key or the keyboard Esc key to return to the function list. When all functions for this context have been entered, press the keyboard Esc key and a dialog will come up asking to save the entries. Select and Enter or left-click the “Save” button. The left arrow key can also be used to return to the context list and choose another context.