When I hooked up my Mac mini media center and started using it, something became quickly apparent. The included infrared remote control functionality is severely lacking! The intel Mac minis include an IR port and the little Apple remote (which is surprisingly functional for only having six buttons) but you can only use it to run and control Front Row and to operate a few included applications like the DVD player, iTunes, and Keynote. If you want to control any other application, you’re out of luck.

There are some excellent third party remotes available for the Mac and I could have purchased any of those and configured it away but I knew some enterprising programmers would eventually figure out how to make the Apple remote do more than Apple provided. Well, I didn’t have to wait long and there are now at least three options available: iRed Lite, Remote Buddy, and my favorite, Sofa Control. They all do a good job of extending the functionality of the Apple remote, but there are some differences in how they work.

The first one to come out was iRed Lite. which is available free. iRed splits its functions on a per application basis (though you can set up more than one set for a specific application if you want) and you can set up any of the buttons on the remote to send a keyboard command or run an applescript. It also recognizes ‘click and hold’ for several of the buttons so you get more than just 6 functions from the 6 buttons available. You call up iRed itself by clicking and holding the ‘Menu’ button for a couple of seconds. Once it’s up, you can move to the application switcher by hitting ‘Menu’, select an application, and then hit ‘Menu’ again to use the remote with the application. Out of the ‘box’ iRed comes with a lot of useful commands and scripts, and I was able to get it to control VLC very well without too much effort. It’s a beta application and it has some stability issues, and I found the control interface to be a little cumbersome even though it is very powerful. It’s worth checking out to see if it meets your needs before you buy something else.

The next one I discovered was Remote Buddy. It’s much more ‘Mac-like’ and intuitive to use than iRed, but it requires all of the actions to be applescript rather than keyboard commands. Applescript is more powerful but it’s harder for a novice to use. Remote Buddy is activated by a single push of the ‘Menu’ button. It provides a way for you to access Front Row so you still have that functionality. When you push the ‘Menu’ button it brings up a somewhat Front Row-esque menu on the screen that lets you pick an application, some system functions, and Input Devices which gives you mouse control over the mouse, cursor keys, or other preset keyboard key sequences. Being able to fully move the cursor around using the remote is pretty cool, but ultimately not actually that useful for a setup like mine. Remote Buddy did a good job overall but the need to use applescript to customize the functionality kept me from customizing it to suit my needs.

The one I have decided to go with for my own setup is Sofa Control. It has similar a ‘Mac-like’ feel to Remote Buddy but it improves on things just a little bit. Sofa Control also requires Applescript to control applications so it’s a bit complex for novices to customize. Sofa Control improves on things by adding an additional per-application menu accessible from the remote. This allows it to offer additional functionality like locating and opening a file with VLC or the ability to change iTunes song ratings. This sort of system allows you to set it up to do pretty much whatever you want in a remote friendly way. The customization is not for the faint of heart but the resulting interface is head and shoulders above what iRed provides.

These three remote control applications let you do a lot more with your Mac mini without ever leaving the realm of the remote, and that’s what having a media center computer is all about, right?

12 thoughts on “Mac mini Remote Control

  1. This is a great collection. I have been looking for a way to control my mac mini via ir for a while.

    There is also another program called “Mira” that does pretty much the same thing as sofa control and remote buddy.

  2. Yeah, thanks for mentioning Mira. I’ve also tried that one out and it’s probably the slickest overall package but it was missing some of the customization I wanted the last time I tried it. I have been meaning to add some thoughts about Mira to this little article!

    The new Sofa Control beta has added some nice features like ‘virtual mouse’ that are cool, too. That’s what I’m currently using.

  3. Yes, the remote control is pretty good… however, I have a little problem:
    I have 3 mac mini in the same room. 3 different people working on them.

    Guess what when one of them tries to use the remote…..

    It controls the all macs…. that’s a big…….

    🙁

  4. Can someone answer a question for me?

    Is the ONLY way to power the MacMini is to have the remote?

    When you plug it in, does the light on it come on?

    I know. I know….stupid questiong; but believe me, I just got a Samsumg Monitor/HDTV and it took me a few minutes to figure out how to turn it on and I have had PC’s and Macs since the first IBM PC Jr.

    Does one have to use the remote with the MacMini?

  5. Which model of the mini was the first to include IR capability? I have two G4 and neither works with the IR remote 🙁

  6. I think it may have been the first intel-based Mac mini, but I’m not certain. I have a 1.6 Ghz Core Duo Mac mini which was probably the first or second intel-based one.

  7. I’m getting a wireless keyboard with touchpad (KeySonic ACK-540MACRF Mini Keyboard ) to control most applications but when it comes to music and video a remote is easier.

    I just need the remote control to access iTunes and VLC. Will I need 2 separate remotes (1 for iTunes and 1 for VLC) or can I get the same control to work on both?

  8. @David One apple remote can control every application. Mac OS X is semi-smart about making it control the front-most application so you may not need third party remote software at all depending on what you want to do.

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