Home theater PCs, be they homemade or store-bought, are probably the most powerful and flexible means of enjoying a wide variety of video content in your living room. But for all that power and flexibility, you still occasionally have to deal with the operating system underneath –- and Windows 10 isn’t going to make it any easier. That means either using some kind of remote control software or keeping a keyboard and mouse handy.
So why not combine those two pieces of living room tech into one? Several accessory makers like Logitech and Microsoft now have keyboards with integrated touchpads, more or less like a laptop without the screen, specifically designed for home theater setups. Here are our picks for the best, along with a few non-traditional options for Mac users and those who want as small a remote as possible.
Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 Plus
Logitech is the go-to keyboard brand for many users, so you’ll be happy to know that the company makes one specifically for home theater PCs and other living room hardware. The layout on the Wireless Touch K400 Plus is similar to that of a full desktop keyboard with a full number and function row, and the trackpad includes physical buttons for left and right mouse clicks. Dedicated media keys are limited to volume up, volume down, and mute, though virtual function keys for pause, back, and forward are inset into the F-row.
Logitech claims an operating distance of 33 feet with the included USB adapter, and the keyboard is powered by two AA batteries. The retail price on the K400 Plus is $40, though it’s often sold for less. If you’d like something a little more stylish, the K830 model includes a backlight and can be recharged with a Micro-USB cable, but it’s much more expensive at $100.
Microsoft All-In-One Media Keyboard
Microsoft also has a lot of fans of its well-made keyboards. Its version of the combined keyboard and trackpad is mostly similar to the Logitech offering above, but its trackpad uses recessed left and right mouse keys that might be harder to identify in the dark. The All-In-One Media Keyboard has volume controls plus three customization buttons for media functions, and a dedicated mouse-click button on the left side of the board (to hit with your left thumb).
The All-In-One Media Keyboard also operates on a wireless USB dongle rated for a 30 foot range, and it runs on two included AAA batteries. While it’s not completely waterproof, the keyboard is designed to withstand minor spills — handy for parents or clumsy TV diners. Microsoft’s keyboard is the only one on this list with a water resistance feature. It costs $40 at retail.
Lenovo ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth Keyboard with Trackpoint
Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of laptops is legendary for its quality keyboards and unique Trackpoint mouse devices, and this Compact Bluetooth Keyboard incorporates both of them into a small case meant primarily for desktop and mobile users. This keyboard really isn’t designed as a home theater accessory, but the integrated Trackpoint (the little red nub in the center) makes it an ideal choice for this purpose. Since it doesn’t have to dedicate space to a full trackpad, it’s also considerably smaller than the Microsoft and Logitech options above. The battery is rechargeable via a MicroUSB cable.
There are a few drawbacks to this design. There are no dedicated media keys — you’ll need to use a function modifier for volume control or pausing. The Bluetooth connection may not be ideal, since you’ll need to supply a Bluetooth USB adapter if your home theater PC doesn’t already have the feature integrated. And at $80 retail, this is the most expensive option with a standard keyboard design. But for those who intend to do a lot of typing on the couch, for example in online games with chat functions, this is an excellent choice.
Twelve South MagicWand (plus Apple Bluetooth Keyboard and Magic Trackpad)
The Mac Mini is a popular alternative to Windows HTPCs. With this add-on accessory you can turn the Apple Bluetooth keyboard you probably already own into a fancy all-in-one. Slide this metal bracket onto the curved end of the keyboard, slide an Apple Magic Trackpad into the other, and voila, you’ve got yourself a media keyboard made for OS X.
The MagicWand is a reasonable $30 from the Apple Store, but that doesn’t include the cost of the keyboard and Magic Trackpad. Those are $70 each, bringing the total cost of this setup to $170 if you don’t have both Apple gadgets. Luckily the rest of the products on this list should work with the Mac Mini if you’re hoping to save some money.
Lenovo Multimedia Remote Keyboard
For the home theater buff who wants something closer to a conventional remote control, Lenovo’s Multimedia Remote Keyboard is the way to go. This gadget crams a full QWERTY keyboard, a tiny trackpad sensor, and left and right mouse buttons into a case about the size of a video game controller. Dedicated media keys make controlling video or audio easy, though you do give up the function row.
Various versions of this gadget have been produced, all of which use a USB adapter and two AA batteries for power. The standard model sells for as little as $20 at the time of writing, but the version with a built-in backlight for the keys is harder to find and currently goes for around $70.
If you want to control your HTPC without adding any extra hardware or spending any more money, check out this guide to PC remote control apps for your smartphone or tablet.