How-to: Use an arcade controller in your chair to trigger voice control

Difficulty: 2

Picture 253I am very confident that voice control is the way to go when it comes to controlling my home theatre setup into the future, because I am currently using it and benefiting from the huge advantages it offers. I believe a reliable voice control system will be the best way to control any electrical appliance, and that voice control is likely to be in our lives indefinitely. There are huge cultural and environmental problems which need to be addressed for it to work reliably, but the technology that interprets what we say works very well.

After setting up voice control on my home theatre PC, I realised that there needed to be an instant way to trigger the voice control so it would start listening to me. I needed a way to avoid using a traditional Universal remote, or my gadget. I needed a button that is ultra convenient. This means installing a button right next to my hand that will trigger the voice control. The only way of achieving this is by installing a button into my lounge. This may seem a bit excessive, but once it is done, the benefits we receive from it will last us well into the future. I believe all home theatre seating or lounge suites will eventually have the option to add a button into the arm.

There are many different types of buttons on the market, but I have only seen one that I know will be able to last the lifetime of the lounge. It’s going to take a beating, so I needed a button that was strong and reliable. Arcade machine buttons have proven themselves over the years as being ultra reliable. Fortunately for me, they are also cheap.

The end result is a button sitting immediately next to my hand which can activate and control my whole entertainment system using my voice. It’s not going to get much better than this. I expect this configuration to last the life of the couch, and it is likely to be considerably cheaper than having these factory installed. The only DIY work needed to be done for most lounges will be to drill a hole to install the button, and to click the pieces together. My scripts are not perfect yet, but I hope you will agree that it is pretty exciting stuff.

This article will show you how to install an arcade controller board, and a button into your lounge to trigger voice control of your entertainment.

There are probably many ways to achieve the same result, but this solution is cheap enough for me to run with. I purchased a set of 20 buttons for $20 and a BYO arcade encoder board for $50 from X-Arcade. Soon after I received them and started testing them out, it was clear I had made a wise choice. I quickly purchased another two upgrade boards, so that I could install one in each chair. I am going to use them elsewhere in the house now as I have figured out that it would be easy to daisy chain the chairs by running wires from the one board.

This kit comes with almost everything required to install a button in up to 20 seats so long as you are willing to solder some wires to reach from chair to chair, and possibly some plug sockets of some type, to tidy up the wire connections. If you are not comfortable with soldering, you could use an additional separate USB PCB Upgrade kit in each chair at an additional cost of $30 per chair. There may well be cheaper ways of achieving the same result, but a starting cost of around $70 if you are willing to solder from the one controller board, I am not fussed about searching for a cheaper option. The only other costs are a USB hub and possibly an active USB cable used to connect the controller boards to the computer.

This arcade controller board simulates a computer keyboard, so it’s just a case of either connecting the correct wires to a button so that the 0 or [ are the active buttons, or by wiring up your own selected button and changing the AutoHotkey script to respond to that button. It’s all fairly straight forward. The circuitry looks complicated, and there do appear to be a lot of wires, but all we need to care about is that one end has the USB plug that connects to the computer, and the other end is a button. The rest of it we can ignore as it will do it’s job out of the box. A little bit of trial and error in notepad will show you what each button does. I have only come across two minor problems with using this board, though they have little impact on how reliably the system functions. If I set the script to use a keyboard letter, every time I use that letter on the keyboard, the relevant script will run rather than showing the letter on the screen. I need to make sure that I am only using rarely used buttons (such as [ and 0) instead of general letters. Also, this board will not bring the system out of standby, though putting the system into standby is not desirable as it will also stop the media centre from recording and processing TV shows. There are ways around it though, which I will explain in future articles.

Installation Guide

Please read through the entire process before making alterations to your lounge. If you are not careful, it would be easy to do a poor job and effectively destroy the appearance of your expensive lounge suite.

Ensure you do have access to the inside of your lounge. If your arm wont fit in the arm cavity, installation will be near impossible.

Components: This image is of the components that make up an arcade button. There is the button itself, the locking screw and the micro switch. They clip or screw together easily.
Connect the button to your PC: Plug in the button to your computer and wait for it to install. Open up notepad and see what button registers on the screen. There are lots of buttons you can plug into, but [ is plugged into the board, one down on the left side.
USB Upgrade board
Drill a hole: You will need to make a hole in the arm of the chair. Be careful when drilling because the cushioning of the chair may get caught up in the drill as it did for me. A way around this is to cut a suitable hole with a box cutter into the fabric before drilling. A 20mm hole is required, and once achieved, the button should slip in easily. You could choose to install a panel in the side of the chair, and attach the button (and other things) to that panel.  
Picture 256
Screw the button in: The button will fit tightly in your lounge when you screw on the locking device. 
Button in hole
Attach the micro switch:  Clip in the micro switch and if necessary reattach the wires.
Attach board to couch: I used the holes in the board to put in some self tapping screws. The other end I couldn’t reach was attached with double sided tape. You could probably just use double sided tape if you want, but the hold would obviously not be as strong as using screws.
Board mounting
Connect it to your computer: Either daisy chain some powered USB hubs together or use an active USB cable. This will get the signal from the back of the room, to the computer.

You should now be able to test it out. If the script is running and you have wired up the correct button, it should work straight away for you.

Some lounge suite designs may not be appropriate for installing your buttons. You will need to sit in your chair to feel if there is a suitable position for your button on the outside of the lounge where your hand can naturally reach to. You will also need access to this place from beneath the chair. Depending on how you mount it, you may need to make sure you can fit your arm into the arm cavity of the chair. As my arm would not fit, my wife needed to help me attach the button. The chair in the video is a chair my wife bought for $20 from an op shop. This was so that I could practice on it, without ruining the family lounge suite. I recommend going through this same process, doing some thorough research before attempting this on your expensive lounge. Saying that, it is ridiculously easy to install.

My final purchase was $130 plus shipping as I purchased the 20 buttons, the BYO arcade encoder, and 2 USB upgrade kits. Though as explained above, I don’t plan on using the Upgrade kits for this project, so that brings it down to around $70.


Pack of 20 buttons: $20
X-Arcade BYO arcade encoder: $50 – Includes wires to attach buttons though these could be made
USB PCB Upgrade Kit: $30 – Same as above without cables

I have no affiliation with X-Arcade. I just found their site and purchased from them by chance, and I found their service and products to be good.

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1 comment so far »

  1. G said, on April 10, 2011 @ 1:11 am

    Quite Cool. Don’t think I’m going to be cutting my couch up anytime soon though. Maybe an old one I have. Nice post

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