How to Control a TV's PC Media Center with a Smartphone for Free

Use VNC Viewer on your smartphone to control your entertainment system like a remote.

My family room is setup with a 60 inch LED TV, 5.1 surround sound speaker setup, receiver, and a small pc media center running Windows 7. There's a couch and a coffee table with odds and ends, plus an old wireless full sized keyboard and matching mouse to control the PC Media Center when streaming content. But mouse and keyboard setup is troublesome (will discuss below) and I have been on the lookout for a solution that would to solve all problems. And a few days, I think I finally found my solutions, which has been around forever. The solution is simple: use a VNC Server on your PC Media Center and a VNC Viewer on your smartphone!

Problems with Old Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

  1. The wireless range of the keyboard and mouse gets shakey right around where I sit the couch, often resulting in repeated key strokes while typing. In addition to the range issue, the mouse isn't modern enough to work on all surfaces (couch or jeans). I usually end up getting up out of the couch to change streaming content, standing right in front of the TV.
  2. The TV size is large, but the on-screen in Windows 7 is still difficult to see where I am clicking. Precision clicking for a distance can still be a challenge.
  3. Batteries are another problem to deal with on a keyboard and mouse. Even though this happens rarely, it always happens at the worst times. The keyboard or mouse will run out of batteries when guests are over, and I end up scrambling looking for where my pack of Costco batteries are stored.

Alternatives to My Keyboard and Mouse Setup

  1. The simpliest solution would be to purchase a modern wireless keyboad and mouse. The wireless range would be improved and the mouse should work on all surfaces. Additionally, newer keyboards and mouses have better built-in battery management, which would make battery changes more rare, but not eliminated. I might still have to walk up to the TV to see what I am clicking. This solution is likely to cost over $100.
  2. Purchase a smaller handheld solution (similar to a TV remote). These are generally built in with a touchpad and a very small keyboard. Batteries would still be a problem. I would still have to walk up closer to the TV, but at least I am not using a handheld device, and not a keyboard in one hand with a mouse in the other. This solution is likely to cost over $50.
  3. The final alternative (and my current solution) is to download a VNC Viewer app on my Android phone. With a VNC Viewer on my smartphone, I can control the PC Media Center from anywhere! Batteries depend on the juice remaining on my smartphone, but I already charge it nightly. I get a view of the area where the mouse is on my screen, which I can zoom in on if necessary.  Best of all, because I already own and need the smartphone, the solution for me is FREE.

Using VNC In My PC Media Center

Setting up a VNC Server on your PC desktop and a VNC Viewer on your smartphone will require minimal technical information, and the details of it are freely available all over the web. I'll outline the basics below, but if you still don't understand it, it may be best to get your technical friend to help.

  1. It does require setting up VNC Server on your computer. There are many implementations of VNC Server software, most of which are free. The 'official' software is offered free by RealVNC, but I am fan of TightVNC (which is FREE). Debating which VNC Server/Viewer is the best in my opinion comes down to preference.
  2. You'll also need a VNC Viewer on your smartphone. I've only tried one by RealVNC, but also noticed many other options on Google Play. For me, this one has worked fine. You'll need to connect in a IP address or hostname. Depending on how the server was configured, you may also require a username/password. The VNC Viewer software will save that information, so with exceptions, you'll most likely only need to input the information one time.
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