For the serious home theater enthusiast, the concept of a home theater PC is very attractive for those who want to store all of their media in one spot and utilize it to consume the rapidly growing library of web based, high definition video. Unfortunately, interacting with a HTPC has been reliant on a wireless keyboard / mouse setup or HTPC remotes that lack in complete functionality for navigation. Enter the Navigator from GlideTV, a small device that is a hybrid of the keyboard and mouse.
The GlideTV Navigator isn’t designed as a replacement for a home theater remote in the Logitech Harmony series, but rather for a broader form of control on the PC, Mac and Playstation 3. The company has dubbed it a “couch mouse”, probably the most accurate description of the Navigator. It also looks nothing like a conventional remote, a diamond black casing with a rounded bottom for a comfortable feel in the palm of your hand. The unconventional design makes it the proverbial black sheep in my line of home theater remotes, but it’s still an attractive design.
The Navigator is encased in black glossy plastic and it rests on the similar charging station when not in use. The top of the Navigator has a smooth surface for a touchpad, surrounded by 8 clickable buttons that are mapped to functions on your keyboard. Above the touchpad, there are volume controls at the top of the remote, a power button to the left and a search button to the right. The volume button has a mute capability and the search button can also search other video sites such as Hulu, Netflix or Youtube as well as music / photo sites.
There are also track selections and play / pause buttons at the bottom of the remote. The orange button that’s specific to the Navigator opens up a custom UI created by GlideTV. It’s a simple screen that allows you to quickly launch applications like Media Center, Skype, VLC, Xbox Media Center, Firefox, etc… You can also go directly to your favorite websites without having to type in the address over and over in the bookmarks section.
Setting up the remote for the first time is pretty simple. After charging it up, connect it to your HTPC (or other media device) via USB and select the profile you want (PC, Mac, PS3). You can also choose between two touchpad settings, Relative or Absolute. Relative is just like a touchpad on a laptop, simply moving the cursor based on your sliding movement anywhere on the pad. Absolute moves the cursor to the spot where your finger lands on the pad and you can slide it around from there. For instance, if you put your finger on the top right corner, the cursor will jump to that position on the screen and you slide it around from there. After setup, connect the USB dongle to your component and it will communicate automatically with the Navigator via the 2.4 GHz wireless signal.
The learning curve of the remote can be steep, mostly due to the 8 buttons around the touchpad. There are no labels on the buttons, so you have to memorize their functionality based on when you are operating. There’s also no was to reassign the buttons to different functions. Navigating directions is simple enough, but trying to remember what closes a application or clicks to the next page can be frustrating.
Opposite from the way Logitech has pushed us to simplicity with the Harmony series, the GlideTV Navigator requires an investment of time in reading the manual and memorizing how the buttons work. Once you do learn the functions, navigating around a HTPC can be a breeze. Not surprisingly, the PS3 controls are actually the simplest to learn. Four of the main buttons act as the Triangle, Circle, Square and X keys on the PS3 controller and the shoulder triggers are mapped to the corner buttons.
The range of the Navigator makes it perfect for anyone with a custom built home theater. I was getting immediate feedback from 15 to 20 feet away and it really didn’t start to wane until I was about 30 feet away in another room. The rechargeable battery performed well during my tests and I never found myself without a charge, even after leaving it off the charger a few days in a row. I also never had a problem with the Navigator losing the pairing with the USB dongle, despite multiple bootups over the weeks.
The GlideTV software basically attempts to solve the most glaring issue, the fact that you can’t get away from the keyboard. With quick navigation buttons to the most popular media consumption sites, you can almost get away from the painfully slow on-screen keyboard. It’s much quicker to pair the Navigator with a wireless keyboard, even though it’s attempting to remove that need. If there was anything I’d like to see in the next version of the Navigator, it would be Bluetooth support and a way to label the buttons based on their current functionality (a small LCD screen perhaps). Bluetooth would be helpful for systems in which a dongle sticks out like a sore thumb or components with limited USB ports to begin with.
For just under $100, the GlideTV Navigator can be a really attractive option for home theater PC owners that are looking to lose the keyboard / mouse setup for a sexier, more streamlined approach to the convoluted options in PC navigation. That being said, learning how to get the most out of the Navigator (and teaching the family) is much tougher than it should be. I would pick up the Navigator if you are currently unhappy with your current HTPC controls and are looking for a solid web browsing remote. Those who use a Playstation 3 for their primary Blu-ray player will likely prefer this control to the official Sony remote as well.