Control Your HTPC: Flirc Review

Nowadays, it seems that HTPC’s are getting more and more popular. Users are building rigs that eliminate the need for even having a cable subscription. Fantastic new accessories are hitting the market changing the way we think about watching TV. We also can’t forget to mention the amazing freeware media center solutions; PLEX and XBMC. Without these, we still might be using Windows Media and Boxee; yikes. With that said, there are challenges with making HTPC’s a fluid setup similar to what you see with “appliances”, like for example a DVD-Player. One of those challenges being how users control their media centers.

Many individuals resort to just using their keyboard/mouse combo.  But that’s not what the populace wants to use when they sit down at their TV’s. They prefer to have a  remote control in hand. So today, we look at a unique product that allows you to do that. The device is called Flirc and it’s slogan is, “Take control of your media center and the clutter off your living room table”. Let’s see if it lives up to that statement.

What is Flirc?

Flirc is a tiny USB device about half the size of a thumb drive that allows your PC to receive infrared (IR) commands from a remote control. However, the Flirc is much more than a IR adapter since the computer recognizes it as a keyboard. The creator offers free downloadable software that allows you to instruct the Flirc on what clicks on your remote should correlate to presses on the keyboard. Essentially, emulate using your keyboard but with a remote. Or you can look at the Flirc as the middle man receiving commands from your remote and transferring them to the keyboard. Makes sense?

If you’re still following along with us you might of already been able to think of a few good uses for the device. For one, it’s great for configuring a generic TV remote to control XBMC and on top of that being able to adjust the volume without switching between multiple peripherals.  A huge plus for anyone still stuck using the keyboard and mouse combo. Let’s dig deeper now and see how to setup Flirc.

The Flirc

What’s Required?

  1. Flirc
  2. Infrared Remote
  3. Flirc Software (Available on Windows 32/64bit, Snow Leopard, and Linux)

Setting Up the Flirc

  • Reviewed on a Windows 7 Professional 64bit PC, Windows 7 Professional 32bit laptop.
  • Software used: Windows Media Player, XBMC
  • Remotes used: Generic Dish Network Universal Remote, Panasonic TV Remote

The only instructions were on the back of the cardboard insert, and those just mentioned that the website (www.flirc.tv) had “helpful tips, community support and free software”. I tend to always read the manual first, but seeing as there was none, I plugged the thing in. I had hoped it would download whatever necessary drivers or software by itself.

It didn’t. I had to go to the website and pull down the software. This isn’t a serious inconvenience, but a less technical user may become confused. A simple way to remedy this would be a clear instruction on the packaging that mentioned that before the device could be used, you must go to the website to download the software.

The download and setup were quite easy. After going to the download page (http://www.flirc.tv/downloads/) and clicking my operating system, I chose the most recent version of the Flirc software (0.96 at the time of this writing). After it downloaded, I ran the installer choosing default options whenever asked. There’s nothing interesting about the install process, except at the end when it’s installing the necessary drivers. Windows users will have to select “Install this driver anyways” twice when prompted, since the security certificate of the driver isn’t signed.

After install, ensure that the the Flirc is plugged into a compatible USB2.0 slot on your computer and open up the software. You’ll need a remote handy, but once you have one you can proceed with the programming.

Just like installation, setup is also simple. Below you’ll find a screenshot of the “Minimalist” controller in FLIRC. This screen allows you to map basic navigational commands.  Left, Right, Up, Down, that kind of stuff.  All you need to do to get started is hit the “go!” button on the right hand side, and map out each button individually.

The software has four additional controller layouts. You can actually map out any button of a keyboard, BOXEE, XBMC, or Windows Media. So whatever button you map on your remote to FLIRC, when pressed, that mapping will execute.

Test Results

  • Reviewed on a Windows 7 Professional 64bit PC, Windows 7 Professional 32bit laptop. – PASSED
  • Software used: Windows Media Player, XBMC – PASSED
  • Remotes used: Generic Dish Network Universal Remote, Panasonic TV Remote – PASSED

As you can see from the results above, we ran into no issues with the stick. It worked as advertised with 1 Operating Systems (32/64bit), 2 Media Center Applications, and 2 Remotes. We wish we could of tested more remotes, but frankly, there are so many out there that it would be difficult for us to direct readers on what works and doesn’t. With that said, if you are a bit cautious, head over to the Flirc Forums where you can ask if your remote will work. Just keep in mind, the product is fairly new and from what were reading on the web some users experience issues. The only way for the product to improve is for users like yourself to use it and report problems.

Flirc Close Up Shot


Flirc Plugged into USB

Flirc Plugged into USB

 

Overall, the Flirc is an all around great device that worked right out of the packaging with no problems besides the little misunderstanding that you need to download the free software first.  It allowed us to effectively get rid of our keyboard/mouse combo and control our HTPC with only the remote. With that said,  we have to conclude that it does live up to its slogan of, “Take control of your media center and the clutter off your living room table”.

We should also mention that the story behind Flirc is a pretty remarkable one. A piece of every sale is donated to a cancer research facility due to the creators battle with cancer.  These types of projects not only enhance HTPC setups, but also inspire. So I encourage you to give Flirc try. To get the ball rolling on that, we will be giving away 3 to loyal TotalHTPC readers. Head over here to learn how you can get your hands on one.

Learn Anything? Share it!