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If you have added a Media Center PC in your living room and are using a standard keyboard and mouse, you've probably grown tired of mousing on your armrest and typing hunched over at your coffee table. The Belkin MediaPilot not only combines keyboard and mouse into one wireless device, it also functions as a universal remote for controlling your home-theater components. At $124.99, the MediaPilot is expensive; it costs $20 more than Microsoft's similar Remote Keyboard, which we found a bit more comfortable to use.
The Belkin MediaPilot's chief advantage over the Microsoft Remote Keyboard is its rechargeable batteries. The MediaPilot's USB docking station recharges the three nickel-metal-hydride AAA batteries via USB, which will keep you from trekking to the store for batteries every few months. Though the recharging feature is convenient, its base station is very large, especially compared to most USB wireless keyboard receivers', which are no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. The MediaPilot's receiver/docking station is 19 inches wide, with a number pad on one end. These extra keys do provide some added utility, but we doubt many people will take advantage of them in the living room, especially if the docking station is wedged somewhere in your A/V rack next to your TV.
Once you've found a space for the keyboard, you'll be up and running in a snap. Just pop in the included batteries and plug in the USB cable to your PC or Mac. Our Windows XP test system recognized it immediately. To use the more advanced programming features, we installed the MediaPilot software.
The keyboard communicates to the docking station via a 2.4GHz wireless frequency (called Cypress Wireless USB; it's RF with a longer range, less latency and interference, and better battery life), which means that, unlike with infrared (IR), you won't need a line of sight for it to operate. Belkin claims that the MediaPilot has a range of 30 feet, which we exceeded; we were at least 35 feet away and around a corner and still were able to maintain contact. The keyboard uses IR when operating as a universal remote to control your cable box, DVD player, or stereo receiver. Unlike the Microsoft Remote Keyboard, the MediaPilot doesn't feature any backlit keys, which can be convenient for controlling the action during movie night in a dark room.
The Belkin MediaPilot is definitely not built for office use. The keys are very soft, which we appreciated in the living room, but we found that the keys required extra effort from us when typing for long stretches. Likewise, the keyboard's built-in mouse controls--thumbpad in the upper-right corner and left and right mouse buttons and scrollwheel in the upper-left corner--are convenient when navigating Media Center's oversize menu options, but they're less usable when attempting to save and close a Word doc. We did appreciate the inclusion of the scrollwheel, a feature left off the Microsoft Remote Keyboard.
Above the character keys is a modest collection of multimedia shortcut keys and a toggle for switching between PC and A/V functionality. Each key has two uses. For example, the Tuner button in A/V mode lets you control your A/V receiver (should you have programmed it to do so), and in PC mode it launches your designated Internet browser. Each button's PC use is listed above in blue lettering; its A/V use is listed in red. Also present are CD controls--stop, play/pause, fast forward, and rewind--and volume controls, including a mute button. Using the MediaPilot Control Center software, you can reprogram the multimedia keys and the F keys to perform other functions, shortcuts, and macros.
Belkin backs the MediaPilot keyboard with a lifetime warranty, which is superior to Microsoft's three-year warranty on its Remote Keyboard. You can contact Belkin's tech support at no charge via e-mail or a toll-free number.