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.

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How to: Control TV, VCR, DVD, cable and more with voice using USB-UIRT

Difficulty: 2.5

USBUIRTOnce I was able to voice control my home theatre PC, I still needed to use my remote control to turn on the TV and receiver. I wanted to rid my lounge room of remotes altogether, so I needed to find a way to get my computer to control the rest of my audio visual gear. I wanted to be able to control everything in the lounge room with just my gadget and my voice.

It was logical to use Infra Red (IR) technology for this, because that is the only way we can control most AV gear currently. Often the buttons on a device (such as a TV set) don’t offer as many options as its remote control unit.

The USB-UIRT is a magic device that can send and receive IR signals. It connects to a USB port on our computer and enables us to send IR commands from our computer to our peripheral AV gear. It sits at the back of the room and has good range and reliability. This device removes the need for remote controls in our TV room altogether as we can tag a voice command to tell the USB-UIRT which IR signal or signals we want it to send.

The result is that we can walk into the room, press the trigger button and say “TV on”. This will turn the TV and stereo on. When we say “I’m finished”, the TV and stereo will turn off. 

It gets really impressive when we start controlling our VCR, BluRay or cable box with voice. I have added some extra scripting which will enable just this. When I put a video into the video player, I can say “Video Player” and the TV will change the channel to AV, to show the VCR. I can then use the usual play/pause/stop/rewind/fast forward voice commands to navigate through the video. When I return to the media centre, the tape will stop, rewind and 3 minutes later, eject the tape and turn off. This is while all the other media centre voice commands are working as per normal.

This article will show you how to setup the USB-UIRT to control your audio visual gear to control everything in your lounge room/home theatre by voice. The scripts need to be installed, and IR signals learnt, which is thankfully quite easy with to do with EventGhost. The speech macros have also been updated to simplify the commands to their shortest abbreviation. I have also included another speech macro which enables the “Play artist/genre/track” commands. It’s a bit harder for the computer to pick up the new commands, though they do work. The old commands still work and are worth learning because the computer is much more likely to recognise them. The commands will be progressively tweaked until each command is as simple as we can make them. It’s not far off as simple as it can get now.

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Universal Remote Control Cheat Sheet

Cheatsheet

Universal remotes are great devices which simplify the control of home entertainment devices. They cut down the pile of remotes to one single remote, removing the need to use multiple remotes to do a simple task like watching TV. This also clears up space on the coffee table so that it can be used for better stuff like.. umm coffee.

While making life easier for the person who set up the remote, other family members or friends may become confused by it. All it takes when pressing the remote buttons is for a cat to walk by, or a coffee table in the way of the infra red signal to go walkabouts. There could also be configuration problems where the universal remote isn’t completely compatible with a device. This may result in some buttons needing to be inputed manually.

While the remote works correctly most of the time, when something does go wrong, my wife has no idea what buttons to press to get things up and running. Why should she need to know the inner workings of something that I set up? I continually tried to make minor adjustments to the remote configuration, and even rewired the equipment at one stage, to make life a little easier for her. In the end, there was only one solution.

I put together a cheat sheet for my wife so that she can do her own fault finding. The cheat sheet lists what devices need to be on for a certain activity, and what setting each device needs to be on. Using this list, she can look on the front panel of each device and figure out where the problem is. There are also additional notes describing what may go wrong, and how to rectify it.

I tested it out on my wife and the results were much better than anything else I had come up with. Feel free to download it here and alter it, or create your own. It isn’t a complicated document, but I hope it will save my wife from any continued frustration.


Windows Software: Control your computer with your game controller with JoytoKey

Jtk33en3Have you ever wanted to control your computer with a game controller? It could be convenient to use a game controller from the couch to control Windows Media Center or move through PowerPoint slides.

JoytoKey is a small program that allows you to setup the movement controls and buttons of a game controller, into emulated keystrokes and mouse movements. You can setup different profiles for different programs and games, as well as separate configurations for different controllers. You can even configure a button on the controller represent a key combination.

This program is useful in the case where games don’t offer any game controller support, or where some newer games don’t offer support for older controllers, especially where drivers haven’t been updated over the years. JoytoKey allows you to split the axis controls into two separate buttons.

For example; if you have a first person shooter game that does not currently support a game controller, you can setup a profile for your controller to work with the game. Each button will represent a key from from your keyboard. Once all the buttons are configured, you have effectively added game controller support for your game.

Read more and download your free copy from electracode.

If you would like to control your mouse cursor only with your controller, check out this article for a simple alternative.


Sidebar Gadgets: Logitech Typing Tools

When I first played with Vista, I found the sidebar to be an annoyance which took up valuable desktop property. As time has gone on, I am using it more and more. This is mostly because there are a lot more worthwhile gadgets available than when I first started using it. It is now becoming quite useful to have.

Logitech has a new range of Vista Sidebar Gadgets available from their website. All of the Gadgets mentioned here can also be used as Yahoo! Widgets. Each of these tools are related to keyboards. Best of all, you don’t need a Logitech keyboard for them to work. I am using a Microsoft cordless keyboard and all of the gadgets worked fine.

KeylockKey Lock Status Gadget: Cordless keyboards generally don’t have LEDs in them to tell you when your num/caps/scroll locks are active or inactive. This is often the job of the receiver. You are able to get software that shows a popup on your screen, but these fade away, clog up the tasktray or look really ugly.

This gadget from Logitech sits in your sidebar and shows you the state of your keyboard. The response time is a little slow (around 1 second) but it looks nice and is always visible.

If you like that, it’s just the beginning of what Logitech has for us…

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