The cord-cutting trend has made streaming STBs (set-top boxes) and HTPCs (home theater PCs) popular. Remotes are bundled with all OTT (over-the-top) boxes and Android media streamers, and Media Center remotes are common for HTPCs. However, as media consumption becomes more interactive (for example, consumers explicitly searching for a movie to play on Netflix), the use of remotes with limited functionality becomes cumbersome.

Last  year, we visited some vendors at CES to look at the options on display for interacting with HTPCs. Our criteria for paying attention to a device included the following:

  • The device should be wireless and optimally sized (neither the mini- varieties which make typing with large fingers difficult, nor the full-sized combos which come with separate keyboard and mouse units)
  • The device should come with either an integrated touchpad or a trackball
  • Ergonomics and ease of use with a layout as similar as possible to a traditional keyboard while also allowing for short-term single handed operation common in HTPC scenarios
  • Be adaptable for the occasional prolonged typing / computer interaction task with properly sized keys

Some of the other desirable features include prolongation of battery life by going into sleep mode (either automatically, or through an explicit toggle switch), 5 GHz communication frequency (to avoid the crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum) and an integrated rechargeable battery with a charging dock. It would also be nice to have ease of use with Windows 8.x (in terms of replicating touchscreen functionality on a touchpad). Obviously, features have to be traded off to hit an acceptable price point. So, the options we want to look at might not hit any of the desirable features too.

I have been using a Logitech K400 for more than a year, and it has managed to become the mainstay in my HTPC setup. Frequently available for less than $30, its feature-to-price ratio is simply unparalleled. Unfortunately, the keyboard does have a few drawbacks with respect to ergonomics and key placement, making it challenging to use it for extended typing duties. With a better budget, would it be possible to improve the HTPC interaction experience? That is what we hope to answer with our 'Interacting with HTPCs' series.

In today's piece we will be looking at three different wireless HTPC interaction solutions with MSRPs ranging from $50 to $70:

  1. IOGEAR GKM561R 2.4GHz Multimedia Keyboard with Laser Trackball and Scroll Wheel
  2. SIIG JK-WR0412-S1 Wireless Mini Multimedia Trackball Keyboard
  3. SIIG JK-WR0312-S1 Wireless Multi-Touchpad Mini Keyboard

We will first take a look at the features offered by each of these keyboards in detail along with some usage impressions. This will be followed by the comparison of the pros and cons of each of these units on a single page. Note that most of the aspects presented in keyboard reviews are subjective and dependent on test environment. For example, even the wireless range may vary from one test location to another because the 2.4 GHz channel being used might exhibit interference issues under certain conditions. This could result in improper functioning and range issues. All the three units we are covering today operate in the 2.4 GHz band and have an advertised range of 33 ft (under ideal conditions). We will not be covering the range factor any further in this review.

IOGEAR GKM561R - Features & Usage Impressions
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  • owan - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I own a k400r. I wouldn't touch any of the rest of these garbage kb's with a 10 foot pole. Its the smallest (total footprint), lightest, and cheapest, while still having a good layout and integrated touch pad. The only knock on it (in this article) was that its not good for the occasional extended typing session? Who uses their HTPC for even an occasional extended typing session? And even then, why is it a concern when you can just move over a decent full size keyboard?
  • andymcca - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I love my IOGear GKM681R. I believe I bought it for $25
    Similarly priced to the lenovo link above, my batteries last months (>a year?) with auto on/off, it has different mouse buttons for holding it in different positions. It has a track ball, which I find much more ergonomic than touch pads or those awful laptop pencil erasers.
  • rickon66 - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    The K400 is often on sale for $19.99.
  • donebu - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I'm just using a cheap usb keyboard for my Windows 8.1 HTPC. I'm trying to decide between these keyboards and would like to see them reviewed:

    Logitech Wireless All-In-One Keyboard TK820 with Built-In Touchpad

    Rapoo Blade E9180P 5GHz Wireless Compact Ultra-slim Keyboard w/Touchpad
  • zlandar - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I would test and verify the range of each unit.

    What a manufacturer advertises and what is reality are not the same thing.
  • Death666Angel - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    What would be the point? The only information you can take away from it is that it has a range of x in the reviewers quarters. There is no way to translate that information to your own home.
  • kchilaka - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I use a logitech K400 myself and it works fine except for the position of the shift key and lack of dedicated home and end keys. Two keyboards for extended HTPC I would like to see reviewed are the Logitech TK820 and the Rapo E9180P which has 5GHZ support..
  • drainplugofideas - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I've used the Logitech K400 for a couple years and I LOVE it. I had fooled around with other products such as a usb media center remote control, but the keyboard is by far the most useful part. I briefly thought about buying a smaller, thumb controlled keyboard, but I'm glad I did not because the typing experience on a full sized(ish) keyboard is far superior. I

    In the future, I'd pay more money for a model that had a backlight, better keys, and it would be amazing to include support for a smart hub (something logitech already makes) so it could turn on my TV and switch the input.
  • peterfares - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    I really like my Logitech TK820 for my HTPC. To make it perfect it would be backlit and the trackpad drivers would be a little better. As it is I have to disable most of the gestures because they don't work right but they're not really necessary anyways.
  • CSMR - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    What do keyboards have to do with HTPCs?
    What HTPC interface makes use of a keyboard?

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