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Gyration Media Center Remote and Keyboard Review

Highs

  • Long RF range
  • excellent keyboard
  • flat surface not needed for mouse.

Rating

Our Score 7
User Score 5

Lows

  • Remote lacking enough buttons
  • some buttons useless in some applications
Gyration's Media Center Remote and Keyboard allow you to access every aspect of your Media Center PC from up to 100 feet away.

Summary

Gyration’s Media Center Remote and Keyboard allow you to access every aspect of your Media Center PC from up to 100 feet away from the base unit. The keyboard works flawlessly and has some great multimedia features. The gyroscopic mouse was comfortable to use as well as easy to learn, however, the remote control functions and design could use some serious improvement.

Gyration has come up with some innovative ways to incorporate their Gyro technology into a Media Center remote, but we feel they still have a bit of work to do. Its main flaw is the lack of number buttons which are often used while watching TV, but there were several other issues we had with the remote.

The Media Center Remote and Keyboard certainly improve upon having to use a wired mouse or keyboard for a Media Center PC and the fact that you don’t need a flat surface – or any surface at all – to use the mouse earns it some points. But until Gyration adds some new buttons and functionality to the mouse/remote, we’ll only see it as a mouse that also happens to have some multimedia functionality instead of what they had hoped for – an all-in-one controller for your home theater PC.

We were on the fence about the final score for this product. It has some excellent unique features, but the flaws and missing features in the remote, plus the fact that the suite sells for around $170 makes it a nice-to-have product instead of a must-have.

Introduction

With home theater PCs and Media Center PCs becoming more mainstream, several companies have been developing accessories that make the convergence between computer and home entertainment much more useful and convenient. One such company is Gyration, a pioneer in the wireless input device marketplace.

Gyration has been around since 1989, but first burst on to the PC enthusiast market a few years ago with their original Gyro keyboard and mouse. Their Gyro technology is a unique radio frequency input solution that features an internal gyroscope that allows you to control the mouse with the motion of your hand. They’ve recently expanded their product lines to the home theater PC (HTPC) arena and specifically in support of Microsoft’s Media Center Edition operating system.

In this review we take a look at Gyration’s Media Center Remote and Keyboard combination – a wireless suite that features a Gyro mouse/remote control and a mini-keyboard and is designed for use with Microsoft’s Media Center version of Windows XP.

Features and Design

Included in the Media Center Remote and Compact Keyboard suite is, as you can imagine, a wireless remote control and keyboard. The devices are connected to your computer via a USB receiver that can handle up to eight different Gyration devices.

At about 7 ½-inches long and 2-inches wide, the Media Center Remote is roughly the same size as an average remote control, but it is quite different in many respects. For example, the number keys that you would find on a regular remote are missing. Instead, the Media Center Remote has two mouse buttons, a Media Center home button, two programmable buttons, a Swipes button (more on that later), and a guide button for viewing your TV schedule. Also on the remote is a mute button and a volume and channel controls.


The Gyration Media Center Remote and Keyboard and reciever (not to scale).

The underside of the remote features another mouse button, triggered by your index finger. When this button is pressed the mouse becomes active, allowing you to control the movements of the mouse by moving the remote and using your thumb to click the buttons on the top of the unit.

The Swipes button allows you to assign commands to hand motions, so you can control many options with the simple flick of your wrist while holding down the button. For instance, by default, a up swipe will change the channel on your TV. Hold down the swipes button and flick your wrist upwards and the tuner will change to the next channel. Hold the swipes button down and flick your wrist down and it will go to the previous channel.

Also included with Gyration’s Media Center suite is a compact keyboard. Measuring about 12 inches by 5 ½ inches, the keyboard is small enough to fit on your coffee table or the arm of your couch, yet large enough to be easy to type on. In fact, the main keys are roughly the same dimensions as a regular full-sized keyboard. Missing is a number keypad, although letter keys on the right side of the QWERTY setup can be used as a number keypad in conjunction with the function key. The only key that we found hard to find was the “Del” key. If you instinctively reach for the Delete key near the top right of your keyboard, where it is on most setups, you’ll have to adjust to finding the key near the bottom right on the Gyration.

The keyboard also features 15 multimedia and Internet hot keys for quick access to email, web searches and your browser bookmarks, as well as controlling your web browser and media applications. For media applications, there is a volume up and down, next and previous track, play/pause, stop, and mute button.

Installation and Setup

Since the Media Center suite connects via a plug ‘n’ play USB receiver, the first install step is to simply plug the USB connection in. The receiver includes a five-foot long cord allowing you to place it on top of your entertainment center or out of the way. Since it is RF based the receiver doesn’t need not be in line of sight for the devices to communicate with it. Gyration states that wireless phones, computer components and other devices can interfere with the receiver, and they give you several tips for avoiding interference. The receiver also has a small antenna that can be extended to about 4-inches total. According to Gyration, the USB cable also acts as an antenna, maximizing the distance you can get out of your setup.

Once plugged in, the receiver is automatically recognized as a USB input device, but you still must configure the devices to talk to the receiver. This is accomplished simply by pushing a “learn” button on the receiver and a “teach” button on the remote and keyboard. Once you tie these devices in this way, Windows recognizes them as a USB keyboard and mouse and you can begin using them.

Setup also involves installing the GyroTools Media Center software – an application suite that allows you to customize your remote to work with a number of options on your Media Center computer. Installation of the GyroTools software is pretty straightforward, but setting it up beyond the default options can be quite time consuming.

Upon launching the GyroTools application, you are presented with a host of tabs and options, so many that it may seem a bit overwhelming to some users. The application allows you to change settings for the remote control and save them as profiles. The remote control configuration allows you to assign actions to any button combination or swipe combination you can think of. In fact, there are 81 different actions that can be assigned to a “swipe” or a “shake” – yes we counted them.

For instance, you can configure the remote to go to the next track by hitting the “Swipes” button and swiping your hand to the right. Or you can configure it to increase the volume by hitting the “Swipes” button and swiping your wrist upwards. The remote supports almost any combination of Swipes and Media Center OS commands you can think of. You can also hold down the mouse “activate” button (the button on the bottom of the remote) and the right mouse button at the same time instead of using the “Swipes” button.


The GyroTools application allows you to customize your “Swipes” and “Shakes”

Likes and Dislikes

As far as performance goes, there’s not much more we can ask of the keyboard. As the company claims, it works at up to about a 100 foot range and it works well. The multimedia keys are useful and well placed and the keyboard is comfortable to type on. It also includes a back panel cover which allows you to make the bottom of the keyboard more of a flat surface.  This gives you two options for the keyboard – add a little weight and a slight amount of extra bulk for a flat underside or reduce the weight and have to deal with the rounded battery compartment on the bottom. We found either setup to be fine and we had no issues at all with the battery compartment or design of the keyboard – prompting us to wonder why Gyration even bothered to include the bottom cover.

The Media Center Remote is another story though. While for the most part it works as intended, we think the remote suffers from some serious design flaws that greatly reduce its usefulness.


The Media Center Remote works well as a mouse, but lacks important features.

The idea of “Swipes” is a good one. The GyroTools software includes preset and user-definable profiles for each Media Center application – “MyTV”, “MyMusic”, “MyPictures”, “MyVideos” – and for what’s called “AdvancedUser”. This enables you to use the same “Swipe” for a different action in each application. You also have the option of setting up “Shakes” – up and down or left and right shaking motions that execute a command in conjunction with the Swipes button. GyroTools also includes the ability to program “Hotspots” – commands that are executed when you move the pointer to a corner or edge of the screen and hold for a set number of seconds. All of these commands are great, but they certainly take some time getting used to and remembering. Fortunately, holding the Swipes button for a few seconds will bring up your current Swipes settings to help you remember what command does what and help you execute the command.

But besides the innovative gyroscope and Swipes idea, we think the Remote has more negatives than positive features. First of all, we think it was a big mistake for Gyration to design their remote control without a number pad. In our experience, the number buttons are some of the most used buttons on a remote control while watching TV and their choice to not include these buttons was a terrible decision. A TV remote just isn’t a TV remote without number buttons for the channels. Changing channels can only be accomplished by using the channel up and down keys or by bringing up an on-screen number pad – which takes too long to appear and takes your TV out of full-screen mode. This is just unacceptable. You can also use the keyboard but wasn’t the whole point of the remote so that you didn’t need to use the keyboard? We understand that the mouse buttons and media center buttons take up valuable real-estate on the remote, but there must be a better way of designing this to allow for number buttons.

We also found the “Swipes” button to be in a tough location. To get your thumb to press that button, you may often end up hitting the mouse buttons and other buttons by mistake. We found this to happen quite frequently. Females or people with smaller hands will have an even harder time as this remote seems to only be comfortable for larger hands.

Our Media Center Remote also suffered from transmission and interference issues. It seemed that whenever our Media Center computer went into suspend mode, the remote wouldn’t properly work once we “woke” the computer back up. We found ourselves rebooting way too much. And while the keyboard never experienced any interference issues, the mouse would at times track slowly, inaccurately and choppy, presumably due to some kind of interference. Changing channels on the Remote improved the problem – there are eight available channels – but we still experienced interference at times.

Another annoyance with the use of the remote was that since it is seen by Windows as a mouse, most actions such as using Swipes bring up the mouse control bars – something that a regular remote or the keyboard does not do. This can get annoying when you every movement you make brings a control bar over top of your application.

Also, as you may assume, the gyroscope mouse is a power-hungry device. Both the keyboard and the remote require four AAA batteries each and we found the remote to go through the batteries quicker than the keyboard. We suggest you invest in some rechargeable batteries if you decide to purchase this suite.

Room For Improvement

We tested the Gyration Media Center Remote and compact keyboard on two different Gateway Media Center PCs and a custom-built home-theater PC using Snapstream’s Beyond TV 3 HTPC front end. While the remote is pre-configured to work with Windows Media Center Edition only, it can be used – with less options – with regular Windows XP. Unfortunately, the Media Center Home button can’t be programmed for any other command so it becomes useless if you don’t have Media Center. Of course, the target audience for these devices are owners of Media Center PCs, but being the curious type, we wanted to see how useful they were without Media Center. We would have really liked the ability to customize all of the buttons because the remote could have been very useful with Beyond TV 3, an application that in our opinion is much better than Microsoft’s Media Center.

As stated, the remote really could use some improvement. We hope Gyration is working on a replacement for the Media Center Remote and can incorporate some suggestions that we think might be useful.

The remote really could use some more buttons. For comparison, the Media Center Remote has only 15 buttons on the face of it, two of them being mouse buttons. A remote for Time Warner digital cable has 49 buttons and is virtually the same size as the Gyration remote.

If they shrink the size of the mouse buttons and slightly increase the overall size of the remote, we think Gyration can fit the 10 channel buttons on the Remote. The design of the trigger on the underside of the remote is clever, but it just takes up too much room and makes it awkward to press the other buttons. We think a simple push button flush with the back of the remote, or slightly indented would be a much better design.

There are four navigation buttons near the top of the remote – Record, Back, Forward and Play/Pause. They work fine for watching TV on your Media Center PC and when watching a DVD you can fast-forward and rewind, but there is no Stop button and there is no Next or Previous button – common buttons that are very useful when watching DVDs or listening to music. What’s worse, the four buttons aren’t even completely useable for music. Only the Play/Pause button works while listening to music. The Forward and Back buttons do not have any effect while playing music. This we found to be totally unacceptable. The only usable buttons while listening to music are the volume and play/pause buttons. This forces the user to use the keyboard or mouse to skip tracks, change tracks, and rewind or fast forward a recording. The keyboard has all of the media controls you could want – but users probably would prefer to use the remote if they could.

Conclusion

Gyration’s Media Center Remote and Keyboard allow you to access every aspect of your Media Center PC from up to 100 feet away from the base unit. The keyboard works flawlessly and has some great multimedia features. The gyroscopic mouse was comfortable to use as well as easy to learn, however, the remote control functions and design could use some serious improvement.

Gyration has come up with some innovative ways to incorporate their Gyro technology into a Media Center remote, but we feel they still have a bit of work to do. Its main flaw is the lack of number buttons which are often used while watching TV, but there were several other issues we had with the remote.

The Media Center Remote and Keyboard certainly improve upon having to use a wired mouse or keyboard for a Media Center PC and the fact that you don’t need a flat surface – or any surface at all – to use the mouse earns it some points. But until Gyration adds some new buttons and functionality to the mouse/remote, we’ll only see it as a mouse that also happens to have some multimedia functionality instead of what they had hoped for – an all-in-one controller for your home theater PC.

We were on the fence about the final score for this product. It has some excellent unique features, but the flaws and missing features in the remote, plus the fact that the suite sells for around $170 makes it simply a nice-to-have product instead of a must-have.