Review: Salling Clicker Makes a Great Home Theatre Remote

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Date: Thursday, August 18th, 2005, 15:28
Category: Software

Salling ClickerI have a Mac mini set up as a small media center connected to a plasma screen and also serving iTunes out to two areas of the house via a M-Audio Sonica Theater USB sound out device (also used for Dolby 5.1 for DVD playback) and via Airtunes/Airport Express (trivia: you can watch DVD’s in one room, and listen to iTunes in another off the same computer). I also have a PowerBook I use on the road – sometimes connected to a projector for either presentations or DVDs. What was lacking in both cases was a good remote control that I could use close to, as well as away from, the computers to control different aspects of what I was doing. I had long been interested in Salling Clicker – a US$20 application that can turn a mobile phone into a remote control, but didn’t have a suitable phone model to use. I recently upgraded to a Nokia 6680 3G phone and one of the first things I did was to download this application and start to play around with it.
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Salling ClickerI have a Mac mini set up as a small media center connected to a plasma screen and also serving iTunes out to two areas of the house via a M-Audio Sonica Theater USB sound out device (also used for Dolby 5.1 for DVD playback) and via Airtunes/Airport Express (trivia: you can watch DVD’s in one room, and listen to iTunes in another off the same computer). I also have a PowerBook I use on the road – sometimes connected to a projector for either presentations or DVDs. What was lacking in both cases was a good remote control that I could use close to, as well as away from, the computers to control different aspects of what I was doing. I had long been interested in Salling Clicker – a US$20 application that can turn a mobile phone into a remote control, but didn’t have a suitable phone model to use. I recently upgraded to a Nokia 6680 3G phone and one of the first things I did was to download this application and start to play around with it.
The current version of Salling Clicker (v2.2.1) works on a number of Bluetooth phones. Most recent Sony Ericsson models for instance as well as many Nokia phones (Series 60 for example). It also works with Palm OS devices with Bluetooth, including the Treo phones. For various reasons some phones are not or cannot be supported currently. Most (but not all) Motorola phones don’t work, so RAZR owners are currently out of luck. And, no Blackberry support either. (Yuck! -Ed) A quick look at the Salling site will give you some clues as to what is around the corner “real soon now” with version 3. Included should be support for many more types of device – perhaps also working via WiFi as well as Bluetooth.
So what is so interesting about Clicker when there are many devices out there that could do some or all of the job I needed? To me, the most exciting thing is that it is a two-way remote control. Rather than just send codes to a device as most remote controls do, Clicker actually enables the phone and computer to really communicate. So, for example, your phone can actually tell you what is playing in iTunes, the next tracks to be played and even show you album artwork. If you change tracks – even from the Mac itself – the phone updates to show you what’s playing. This ability to swap state information between phone and computer is what makes it such a useful device. Search and select playlists on the phone itself (try doing that with an IR or RF remote), or even what about just launching the application if it’s not there? Clicker can also be used to do system things including waking and sleeping the computer as well as controlling the mouse on screen. The two-way features also work in the opposite direction. You can have iTunes mute automatically when you receive a mobile phone call for instance. Or have your iChat status changed when you’re on the phone.
The next great thing about Clicker is that it is scriptable and extensible. On the Mac, if an application has something that can be controlled via AppleScript, then it can be controlled by Clicker on the phone. I’ll return to this subject in a minute. For many of you, you don’t want to go anywhere near this functionality, right? So, how does it work out of the box?
It is in fact surprisingly functional immediately. The application consists of two components – one is an app on the Mac accessed via the system preferences pane; the other is an app that is installed on your phone. This is all very simple in the single download you receive which simply explains what and how to install and where. You will obviously need to have paired your phone with your computer before installation.
There are a reasonably full set of controls for the following applications:
iTunes, Keynote, Powerpoint, DVD player, Slimserver, EyeTV, AlchemyTV DVR, VLC, QuickTime, Mail, NetNewsWire, iPhoto and System. As an example, in iTunes you can obviously control volume, pause, play, FF, RW etc. But you can also do neat things like add a track to a playlist etc. In many cases using the phone is a better way of interfacing with the app than the keyboard and mouse. For instance, when I am listening to a track around the house, it is much easier to rate it on the phone, than go to the Mac itself to do this.
So what if it doesn’t do what you needed it to do? Well, there is a community of people out there who have developed add-ons to Clicker to give either more functionality to the apps I mentioned above, or to support different apps. Some are free and some involve a small payment. The application itself allows you to easily view these extensions.
If you’re intrigued by AppleScript then this is another way you can go. When I watch a DVD, I usually don’t want the controller visible, but occasionally I do to see how long is left. There was no control for doing this in the out-of-the-box Clicker setup, so I decided to try this myself. First you ascertain whether what you want to do is scriptable or not. This is outside of the Salling application and something done by AppleScript Editor. Within this app, if you “Open Dictionary…” and choose the application you want to script you will get a complete list of ALL scriptable actions in that application and the syntax for doing it. I found that I could easily hide/show the controller, and wrote a script to toggle the visibility. When you’ve written a script you need to tell Clicker about it – using it’s UID that you get from Get Info. You add the script into the remote control list of commands where you want it to go, and then you must also tell the particular bit of Clicker (e.g. the DVD player script) about the existence of this script. You do this by duplicating a line in the DVD player part and then changing the UID in that line to the UID of your new script. It’s pretty easy really. Note however, that this was a simple script with no two-way communication. More complex scripts would involve more messing around. I was pleased that my changes worked first time. There was no need for additional synchronization to the phone – the new script automatically showed up in the available DVD player actions.
The limits to this are two-fold – your own ability and whether you can script what you want to do. For instance a gripe with iTunes is that it is (currently) not possible to tell iTunes/AirTunes which output to use. So, if my iTunes is outputting to one room, I must go to the Mac to change iTunes to output to a different room.
As far as range is concerned, I seem to get about 30-40 feet or so through a wall or two to the Mac mini (Bluetooth installed). That’s pretty good, though it doesn’t quite extend to my deck. With the PowerBook, I got a class one dongle supposedly good for 100 feet, but this strangely doesn’t go more than about five feet in real world use – a problem with the dongle I suspect. Your mileage may vary and obviously has nothing to do with Clicker itself.
You can usually find out answers to questions via the well-supported forum site at www.salling.com. Clicker costs US$19.95 and will cover a license for up to three concurrent computers (so I can use it on my Mac mini AND PowerBook). I also understand purchasers of the current version will get a free upgrade to v.3, so no reason to hold off. If you’ve got a supported phone, it is a no-brainer compared with other remote control devices. Just remember when you leave the house with your phone, your loved ones may need some other way to interact with your equipment.

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