Almost three years ago I put together a few options for remote controls for the Intel NUC. A lot has changed since then, and now seems a good time to reopen the remote control discussion. Finding the right remote can be a lot like finding the right car…you know it when you see it.
The big change in NUCs with regard to remote controls is that most (all?) consumer models include a built-in IR receiver. That means with the right remote (one that uses the RC6 standard) you no longer need to ruin the sleek look of your NUC with a USB receiver sticking out of the front.
But where can you find an RC6 remote? Well, the short answer is almost anywhere. I’ve ordered them from Ebay and Amazon several times. Prices are surprisingly low. The cheapest RC6 remote I ever bought online was, if I remember right, about $6. And it worked great right out of the box. I also found a ready supply at my local Goodwill. In their electronics section they have a bin full of used remotes, and every so often one would pop up there for a dollar, sometimes still sealed in plastic.
It’s easy to find an RC6 remote when you’re searching online; just add RC6 to the search. In person they’re easy to spot because they usually have RC6 printed on the back cover. They come in all sizes and shapes. They were common on PCs sold years ago that included a TV tuner card, so you’ll see many with company names printed on them. I have one that says “Gateway” and a couple that say “Hewlett Packard.” The “branded” ones were the easiest to find brand new at Goodwill, probably because many people who bought computers that came with the remote never bothered to use it. One person’s trash…
Of course you don’t have to use an RC6 remote, but it’s by far the easiest way to add a remote to your system.
Other IR remotes
There are countless remotes available that use their own IR receiver.
While the extra receiver means you lose a USB port, and potentially make your NUC a little less cool looking, these remotes to give you some extra features. For example, many of them come with a built-in pad for mouse input. That can be a handy feature, especially if you’re using Windows as your operating system.
The “air mouse”
If you’ve never heard of an air mouse, think of a Wii controller; instead of pressing your thumb around on a pad to make the mouse move, you move the entire remote in the air and the cursor follows your movement. These are great for presentations, or even for home theater. They CAN be a little difficult to get used to though, if you’ve never tried one before.
Bluetooth options abound. Keyboards and mice that work with bluetooth are nice because they don’t require line of sight, meaning the NUC can be hidden out-of-the-way. You can easily find mini keyboards with touchpads built-in. Also, since most NUC models either come with bluetooth on-board or have the option for an add-on card, you don’t need an extra dongle taking up a USB port.
For me, the main down side to bluetooth is that it just isn’t as rock solid as IR. I’ve played around with bluetooth keyboards and mice on my NUCs in Windows, Openelec, and Linux. The one constant was that they weren’t…well, constant. Every so often they just wouldn’t work at all. It’s pretty frustrating to lose connectivity with your bluetooth device because fixing it isn’t as easy as turning it off and on. It often requires repairing, which means finding a non-bluetooth device to walk through the menus. Talk about annoying.
One of the coolest remotes I have is this combo device from August.
It combines the benefits of a remote, a keyboard, AND an air mouse. On the front are simple remote buttons. The back is a complete (if tiny) keyboard. And by pressing a button on the front, it turns into an air mouse. It does require its own USB dongle, but since it uses RF it doesn’t require line-of-sight, so you can attach the tiny dongle to the back of your NUC.
Of all my remotes, this is the one I look to when I’m setting up a NUC. I don’t have to go hunting for a mouse or a keyboard to get through menus. I don’t use the air mouse feature as much as I thought, but it’s still cool to have.
Now, if you’re into gaming on your NUC, you can always go with a wireless bluetooth game controller as your remote. This is a less common route, and it does require a bit more work, but if all you’re doing is playing games, it just might make sense.
Depending on which device you choose, and which operating system, you may need to think about drivers. The built-in IR port on the NUCs require their own drivers. And some remote devices have their own. The easiest driver setup I’ve found is the August combo device; it just works no matter what you plug it into (within reason, of course). Other options may require a little installing and/or configuring, but typically none of them are too difficult. In terms of operating systems, Linux is the most cumbersome when it comes to drivers, with Windows a close second. Openelec, which is specific to the HTPC use, comes preconfigured for most remote options.
These are the more common remote control options. If you’re new to the NUC world and looking for a way to go wireless with your input, this should get you started.