PDAs as Remote Controls

If looking at a Philips Pronto reminds you a little bit of looking at a PocketPC or Palm, you are not alone. Many people who are comfortable with their PDAs look for control software that they can put on the PDA. A market for software of this type exists and currently is being served mostly by shareware authors and very small publishers.

The problem with using a Palm for a remote control device is that the audio/video components weren’t really built into the product, the infrared signal isn’t really that strong, and the only real port on the Palm was at the bottom end, facing the user.

Still if that meant that someone had to write software that inverted the screen and added an IR booster for CIR, you could make a remote control out of a Palm. You can find solutions for around $30 for old Palm equipment.

Newer models of Palm-style devices have fixed these issues by allowing add-in modules at the top, so undoubtedly this will get easier over time. The PocketPC has fared better than the Palm, and more of this kind of software has been released for this platform.

It’s not too surprising then that we’ve begun to see remote controls from large computer vendors such as the Compaq iPAQ H3950 / UEI Nevo. HP has put the Nevo software on a proprietary chip and loaded that on its iPAQ.

That means that you can still use the H3950 for its information capabilities or to play games on (just like you can on the Palm and even on the $999 Philips ProntoPro), but you have a powerful remote control solution for your home based on the Nevo technology.

The UEI Nevo software is programmed directly on the PocketPC product, and starts you off with access to the UEI code database, which at 110,000 items long is probably the best in the industry. After programming Nevo, you end up with an interface containing a circle of icons that you can touch to enter any specific module.

Nevo sets up with a Web interface at MyNevo.com, and there you can design individual screens and buttons, but you can’t redesign the main screen. (This is similar in concept to its Home Theater Master series.) The site saves your settings so that can apply them to other Nevo devices.

The LCD touch screens of the Compaq iPAQ have always been exceptional, and that’s true for this model as well. In our opinion, the introduction of the Compaq iPAQ and in particular the quality of the screen may have gone a long way toward saving the PocketPC platform when it was floundering.

This iPAQ requires some basic knowledge of the PocketPC platform to set up, but once you have done so the actual control program is easy to use. The system lets you set up a system for eight individual users, which is unique for remotes.

The ergonomics and fit of this iPAQ are excellent. Whether you want to invest in a remote as expensive as this one largely boils down to what you think of the Nevo software.