Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Windows XP Media Center Edition

There are two things we don't like about Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE): obviously one is that Microsoft can't spell "centre" properly, the other is the fact that there's no getting away from the fact that your TV is really a PC when you've got a bloody big and ugly keyboard on the coffee table next to the MCE remote (see how we got out of having to say "Center" there).

To be fair, the default remote control is decent enough and allows for plenty of on-screen operational flexibility thanks to the well designed MCE interface.

Where it falls apart is when you want to use the PC functionality, and if you don't then Sky+ is a better and cheaper way to get control over your TV viewing. There's even a Sky+ remote which flips open to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard inside. Now, at last, Windows MCE users can do even better with the world's biggest TV remote control.

This is a made for MCE product, and as such assumes you've got a PC with the relevant receiver dongle thingy built-in. Only those who've built their own PC will have to worry about buying one (at about £25).

This means that your remote keyboard is less plug and more play. Microsoft even supply the four AA batteries you'll need, although we found the unit to be rather battery hungry so would replace these with Duracell Ultras or a good set of high powered rechargeables ASAP.

Stick the batteries in and the black slab of plastic comes to life with a subdued orange glow around the edges, well under the buttons at the sides. There's no backlighting for the QWERTY keys themselves though, which is a shame at this kind of price point. It does make using the keyboard in low light conditions problematical to be honest.

We also had problems with holding the thing comfortably. Maybe it was our stubby fat fingers (speak for yourself, Ed) but the handgrips were too shallow and the rubberised grips too thin to provide any real stability.

In order to hold the unit comfortably and firmly, our thumbs were left in the wrong position for easily accessing all the relevant buttons. We'd recommend you actually try one before buying it, and that means everyone who will be using the device.

We liked the My Music, Radio, Pictures, Videos and TV shortcut buttons on the top of the device, and the Live TV, Recorded TV, Guide, DVD Menu and Messenger ones that fall under your right thumb. A reviewer elsewhere said that it has "shortcut buttons coming out the wazoo" and while we wouldn't dream of being so vulgar, he's right, it has. We don't like the mouse pointer nipple joystick on the right with click buttons on the left arrangement though, and would have preferred some sort of notebook-alike thumbpad.

Actually, we'd have preferred a mouse that works. The pointer is so difficult to control, requiring you to push down and swivel at the same time, that we felt like telling Microsoft to do much the same.

At least a solid and not easy to find switch locks the keyboard so your TV doesn't spring into life with an Instant Message window when the hovering is being done. Microsoft also claim to have made the whole thing "spill resistant" but as that's not the same thing as spill proof we decided against tipping the coffee over it.

Microsoft also claim that the unit will work up to 30 feet away, and yet we had difficulty in keeping a connection when typing further than 20 feet away. Remember that this isn't a radio frequency or Bluetooth wireless device, but an infrared one so requires line of sight to work.

Move around or further away and expect your televisual experience to become a little less interactive and a whole lot more annoying.

Verdict

The world's biggest remote control looks cool and provides more functionality than the default remote MCE handset. But the useless mouse pointer and line of sight keyboard requirement make using that extended keyboard functionality difficult to say the least. Even at bargain bin prices of around £35 it's too much money.