Microsoft Wireless Media Centre Keyboard
- Media Centre functions at the touch of a button, cool design, responsive keys
- Poor mouse replacement, wireless technology sometimes a problem
For anyone with a media centre, this keyboard may be the solution you’ve been looking for. Whilst it may not be perfect, we’ve yet to see a better option for lounge room computing.
Price$ 199.95 (AUD)
Home theatres have slowly made the evolution from grey, ugly, boxy devices to sleek funky home entertainment units. Thus, they need equally funky control systems to keep things looking good. Enter the Windows Media Centre keyboard. Microsoft has designed a keyboard that goes hand in hand with their Media Centre operating system, offering all the functionality necessary to navigate the new OS, in a small and stylish design.
We were impressed with the size of the unit. It crams an awful lot of buttons into a relatively small, ergonomic design that won't look totally out of place in the average lounge room. The keyboard sports a regular QWERTY key layout, and kicks up at either side in a mass of controls for every conceivable media function. On the left are the playback controls, play, pause, stop etc, along with channel change, volume and mute. The right hand side is equipped with a number of shortcuts to the important functions of Windows MCE, such as the EPG and Recorded TV, as well as offering a directional pad and start button for navigation. Above the QWERTY keys are more shortcuts, along with a sleep key and a small thumbstick with mouse buttons for navigation without a conventional mouse. However we felt this feature was poorly implemented, and struggled to use it with any sense of accuracy, despite having practice using notebook mouse replacements in the past.
Thankfully the keyboard itself suffered no such problems. The keys felt well mounted and were comfortable to type on, although they were much shallower than the keys present on a regular keyboard, and those who have never used a laptop keyboard before may struggle with this change at first. The shortcut keys made navigation a breeze, enabling us to go from one sub-menu to any other, without necessitating a full menu search.
Unfortunately, however hard the keyboard tried to impress us, we occasionally met resistance from its wireless technology, seemingly willing it to fail. The MCE keyboard utilises infra-red wireless technology, which claims operation from a range of up to a 30 feet. We tested this, and true to its word, the keyboard worked from quite a long distance. It did however require near perfect line of sight, and we were plagued by drop outs every few minutes, which left us hammering keys in frustration. This was not the case all the time; more often than not the keyboard transmitted perfectly, but sometimes we'd find ourselves going to pause at a crucial moment and missing things entirely; a small blemish on an otherwise fantastic device.
For most people, the Media Centre keyboard will be a must-have device for their home theatre PC. The only situation where it may not be useful is if you already have a comprehensive remote control, but even then some basic typing functions are unavoidable. If you own a media centre PC, you owe it to yourself to at least check this out.
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