HAL TV Remote Set Top Box, Watch and Ring at CES

HAL logo

Todd and Don interview Eric Stalker from HAL.tv about the new Remote Set Top box for controlling your TV with hand gesture or voice control.  Once the box is setup, it allows you all kinds features like Hand control of your TV, Phone Calls, Reminders and a “mirror” mode.

HAL is also coming out with a smart watch and smart RING that will work with your smart phone. Details can be found at hal.tv.

Prices for the TV box and  the Watch will be $199 and the ring is $99. All these products will be available in the Fall of 2014.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Remote Presence

[fblike layout_style=’standard’ show_faces=’false’ verb=’recommend’ font=’arial’ color_scheme=’light’]Ever wish you could look at a view or views of your home and/or property from wherever you are? Is it raining or snowing at home? Is the sun shining or is it cloudy? Are the neighbors’ vehicles home? Does everything look as it should?

Ever wish you could monitor the temperature in your house, or easily adjust the furnace or air conditioner settings remotely?

Not that many years ago these were impossible dreams that could only be accomplished by calling someone at or near your home. In more recent years, these things started to become possible but were difficult and/or expensive to implement and even then perhaps didn’t work all that well or weren’t all that convenient.

In the past two or three years these things and more have become not only possible, but inexpensive and easy to implement, especially if you know your way around your home Internet router. In this article, I am going to tell you about specific hardware and software I’m using and how I set it all up. I will be giving very detailed instructions on how to set up a Loftek CSX-2200 WiFi IP camera.

The Nest Remote Control Thermostat

Nest 1.0A couple of years ago the first generation Nest learning thermostat went on sale, and for me it has been a dream come true. I can easily monitor the status of my home HVAC system while I’m gone. I leave the temperature at the minimum 50 degree setting when I’m gone in the winter, and the maximum 90 degree setting when I’m gone in the warmer months. Several hours before I’m due to get home I remotely make the appropriate adjustments to the temperature setting via either my smartphone or tablet apps so it will be around 70 to 72 degrees by the time I step through the door. The first generation Nest learning thermostat sells for $179 on Amazon, and the current Nest second generation unit sells for $249. Both the old and newer generations of the Nest

 

thermostat connect to the Nest server via your home WiFi and keep their built-in battery charged up by the regular thermostat wiring that has a small amount of electrical voltage in it to make a conventional thermostat function. There are no ongoing charges with the Nest thermostat. Once you buy it, you can use your Nest.Com account for as long as the unit continues to function. I’ve had my first generation Nest thermostat for a couple of years now and it continues to work absolutely flawlessly. I can’t say enough good things about it.

Remote IP Surveillance Cameras

Remote IP cameras can be a bit more tricky to set up and access from outside of your home, especially if you have a dynamic IP address on your home Internet connection. Most people fall into the dynamic IP address category. Sometimes your Internet service provider allows customers to pay extra for an unchanging “static” IP address.

There are generally a couple of different approaches to gaining remote access to an IP camera (or other device for that matter) on a home network with a dynamic (ever changing) IP address. One approach is to have a remote dedicated server. The device – a camera or thermostat inside the home is programmed to know the remote server’s address and is able to access your previously-created account information. This is how the Nest Learning Thermostat functions.

This setup works fine, but with remote IP cameras there is usually an ongoing annual fee that can range from $100 on up for the ongoing privilege of accessing the camera manufacturer’s server.

The other alternative is to use a service such as DynDNS.org. One or more devices on your home network, either an IP camera or even a computer is set up to automatically and continually report the home’s public IP address. This functionality can also be programmed in to many routers. I am familiar with DynDNS. I set up a DynDNS account which charges a reasonable $20 dollar per year fee for 1 up to a maximum total of 30 separate devices reporting their ever-changing public IP addresses. For each separate device, simply create a unique host name for each one. I have two cameras set up with DynDNS so far, likely with more on the way in the future, so I simply created a unique name for each host address. The resulting URL looks like http://name.dyndns.org. The second camera has it’s own unique name such as http://name1.dyndns.org. These names are programmed into each specific camera, along with my DynDNS username and password account credentials. Thus, every 60 seconds, each camera calls the DynDNS server and automatically tells it the current public IP address they are hidden behind.

How To Set Up A Loftek CSX-2200 WiFi IP Camera

So far, I’ve set up two identical Loftek CXS-2200 WiFi IP cameras at home, one of them aimed inside the house at a central location, and the other aimed out of a window into the yard, both together giving me a great remote view of what is going on. I can open apps either on my smartphone or my tablets and the images from both cameras automatically pop right up without me having the foggiest idea of what my current public dynamic IP address is at home. I can even monitor sound with the apps or talk back via the cameras if I am using Windows Internet Explorer and have them plugged in to inexpensive self-powered computer speakers. The Loftek CXS-2200 WiFi IP camera sells for $59.99 on Amazon and is an Amazon Prime item. The Loftek CSX-2200 gives tremendous value for a relatively small price.

To set up a Loftek CXS-2200 camera, you MUST have access to a Windows computer. With the first Loftek camera, I used Windows XP running inside of VMWare Fusion on a Mac in order to accomplish the initial detection and hardware setup using the included software. With the second Loftek camera, I used Windows XP running on a netbook. You have to run a small program called BSearch_en.exe you either download from www.loftek.us or that you load from the included CD-Rom installation disc. The Loftek website vaguely states that you can do the intitial camera setup with a Mac alone, but in my experience you cannot. If you are using a Mac to do the initial camera setup you MUST have a copy of Windows running inside of a virtual machine program such as VMWare Fusion or Parallels.

You plug both the Loftek camera and the machine running Windows into your router via Ethernet, and then launch the included BSearch_en.exe program and then click on the button to make it search for the Loftek camera. Follow the instructions included with the BSearch_en.exe program and change the Loftek camera’s default internal network address to match your own router’s internal address numbering scheme. My internal network address scheme is set up for 192.168.254.x. The default Loftek address is 192.168.0.178. So to make the camera visible on my home network I changed the Loftek camera address to 192.168.254.178 and saved the new address to the unit. The first three sets of numbers MUST match your router’s numbering scheme, or the camera WILL NOT be visible on the internal network.

When your web browser successfully connects to the camera’s built-in web interface, you will be presented with a pop-up dialog box asking for the administrator username and password for the camera. The default username for the Loftek CSX-2200 camera is admin and the default password is 123456. If you change these defaults to something else (or add additional usernames and passwords), then you need to be sure to write down the new username and password and keep them in a safe place so you will have them for later camera access. Incedentally, if you should forget the new username and password or for some other reason want to return the camera to factory default values, there is a recessed reset button on the bottom of the camera that can be pressed with an extended ball point pen or paper clip.

You should always leave the camera set up with a static internal network IP address. That way, you always know what its address is. Other devices on your home network that are typically set up to request dynamic internal IP addresses can and do change addresses from time to time when your home router happens to assign them a different address when they reconnect to your home network. Write down the static IP address of the camera so you can know what it is later. This is especially critical if you end up with more than one camera attached to your home network.

Once the camera is set up with a static internal network address that’s visible on your home network while it’s still plugged in via Ethernet, go to any browser on your network and enter http://192.168.254.178 (or whatever you set your camera’s internal address at) into the address bar and press. This will cause the camera’s built-in control page to load. Enter the administrator name admin and the password of 123456 to make the control page display. Once in the control page, you can set many different parameters, including connecting the camera to your home WiFi. In my case, I also set up my cameras to automatically email me a series of images if motion is detected. Automatic emails of images on motion detection can be useful or even fun catching people walking through the frame or even occasional insects flying in front of the camera lens, but it can also be triggered by changing sunlight conditions or wind blowing trees around depending on what the camera is aimed at. This email feature can easily be toggled on and off from an app such as the excellent Tinycam Monitor Pro for Android available in free and paid versions in the Google Play Store on Android. Setting up the email to work properly can be tricky as the settings that you must use for the outgoing email server are determined by the specific email service you are using. You must have two email addresses – the one you are sending the email from, and the email address you are sending it to.

The other critical part that MUST be present for remote monitoring to function is port numbers and open ports on your router. There are tens of thousands of port numbers that you can use. In my case, I am using port number 1029 in one camera and 1030 in the second camera. These port numbers are programmed in to the camera’s web control page interfaces. In each camera I turned on the UP&P protocol, which in my case was successful in automatically updating my router to automatically route any external traffic utilizing these specific ports to the correct internal IP addresses. So for example, the camera I have set up on my internal network at 192.168.254.178 automatically receives traffic that is specified for port 1029. The second camera is set with a static internal IP address of 192.168.254.179 and it automatically receives traffic that is specified for port 1030. So, if I am outside of my home network and I type http://name.dyndns.org:1029 into a browser, I will automatically see the camera’s control web interface page open up in the browser. Remember that the word “name” in the address must be whatever you have named your DynDNS host.

If you cannot get UP&P to work in your router, you can always go into the settings for your router and set up port forwarding manually. This process will vary from one router to another. Generally, the idea is this: when traffic comes in on your external dynamic IP address with a port number specified such as http://name.dyndns.org:1029 the router will automatically know to route the traffic to the specific internal network static IP address you type in. That’s one reason why you need to write down and remember the IP address you set up for your camera.

If you run into problems, chances are good that they revolve around port forwarding not working in your router. I have had one DSL router that port forwarding does NOT work on, even though it seems to allow it by saving my port forwards in its configuration screen. Go to a site such as http://www.canyouseeme.org/ and type in the specific port number you wish to use to see if your router is actually opening up the port that you are specifying for it to forward. If the port is not open after you have set up port forwards within the router, there’s a problem with the router not functioning properly and you will likely have to get another one.

Once you have gotten your camera working, be sure to write down the various things that you did and parameters that you set, just in case you ever have to set it up again with a different DSL or cable router, or if you wish to add additional cameras.

I have plans to add at least one more camera to my setup at home in the near future. This third camera will likely be a Loftek Nexus 543 WiFi outdoor camera, which will enable me to utilize the built-in infrared capability of the camera to illuminate and display a clear image of a completely dark outdoor scene. The second camera I currently have aimed out of a window into my yard will not display infrared illuminated images at night because it is aimed through glass. Nothing shows up but glare.

Once the Loftek CSX-2200 is properly set up and visible on the home network, it can be disconnected from the included Ethernet cable and placed anywhere that it can be supplied with AC power that’s within the network’s WiFi signal range. The built-in infrared LED’s that surround the lens have a range of 15 meters and can easily illuminate the image in a totally darkened room. The camera is also motorized and has a motion rage of 90 degrees vertical and 270 degrees from side to side. It can be remotely triggered to pan to predetermined saved positions, or simply pan from left to right and then return to it’s initial position. As previously mentioned, once an email account’s credentials are properly configured it can send emails automatically to any second email address when it digitally detects motion in the scene it is looking at.

Remote IP Camera Access

For primary remote access via my Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone and my Google Nexus 7 Android tablet, I purchased the pro version of the excellent TinyCam Remote app from the Google Play Android store. To make it work, you simply plug in the appropriate values, including the DynDNS address of your IP camera, the camera’s port number, and the camera’s username and password. If everything is functioning properly, you can simply open the app to the live view and your camera or cameras (if you have set up more than one) will automatically display. When a particular camera is brought up in full screen mode, you can turn on the audio to monitor the sound as well as the video from the camera.

I have yet to find an Android or Apple iOS app that can utilize the microphone function and send audio back to the Loftek CSX-2200 camera. The only thing I have found so far that is capable of sending audio back to the camera’s audio out function is accessing it via the Windows Internet Explorer browser with the appropriate browser plug-in installed. This fact is actually stated by the manufacturer and seems to be true.

Remote IP Camera Recording

It is also possible to set up software on a computer and record the camera’s video. I am currently using an excellent free program installed on a Mac Mini running Mountain Lion on my home network called IP Camera Viewer 2. It will continuously record video from the camera and analyze it for motion and face detection. It even has a second part of the program that enables the user to quickly scrub through the recorded video to find the action parts, and even has the ability to export just the period of the video you have marked. The program is free in the Mac App Store. In the free configuration, it can record one camera. If you wish to record video from more than one camera at a time, then additional camera recording capability can be added for small fees outlined on the company’s website located at http://dcomplex.com/products/mac/ip-camera-viewer/.

All of this incredible level of remote presence functionality has been possible for a while, but has traditionally come at a fairly steep cost. With today’s advanced hardware, software and network availability, far superior functionality can be set up for a fraction of the cost. I’m carrying direct instant access to my home right in my pocket.

Loftek CSX 2200 Remote Wireless IP Camera

I recently started looking to purchase a remote IP camera that would allow me to remotely view my home via the Internet. There are quite a variety of remote IP cameras that offer a number of different viewing options at widely varying price points. After a bit of looking, I ended up purchasing a Loftek CSX 2200 wireless IP security camera via Amazon.Com based mostly on the large number of positive buyer reviews.

Among other features, the Loftek CSX 2200 offers VGA/QVGA/QQVGA resolutions, a built-in microphone, supports external audio, UPNP/port forwarding, 802.11 b/g WiFi, 270-degree horizonal pan, 120 deree vertical tilt, automatic motion detection and alarm, alarm notification via email or FTP server, infrared LED’s cover up to about 15 feet, and support for all major browsers.

The Loftek CSX 2200 offers a lot of features for the $67.99 price tag. The downside is that the small included quick start guide is printed in very small type and isn’t all that helpful.  A fair amount of networking knowledge is required in order to be able to get all of the features working properly. Simple Windows setup software is included, and even though once it is set up it will readily work with Apple and other non-Windows devices, Windows is required for initial setup. Initially it has to be plugged in directly to an Ethernet port so the included software can detect it. Once detected via Ethernet and into the browser setup screens, WiFi can be enabled. A more complete PDF manual can be downloaded from the Loftek website.

I was able to go into my ISP’s DSL router and enable port forwarding to port 1029 and get remote access to work from outside my home network. I was also able to get the automatic email alarm notification feature to work on motion detection. Motion detection sensitivity can be selected, but it seems to work good so far at the default setting. When motion is detected, it will automatically take a series of 6 photos and email all 6 photos to up to four pre-determined email addresses. One quirk I ran into is that when setting up an email account the email “test” feature won’t work even if all of the parameters are correctly set up until the configuration has been saved to the camera.

Since this camera is designed to work with it’s own infrared LED’s in complete darkness, the color balance can be a bit off in normal lighting conditions. I’m including two photos of the same scene, one with my compact florescent lights on and the other with the lights completely off.

 

Even though one of the Amazon.Com reviewers claimed he was able to get this camera to work with an iOS app designed to work with Foscam brand IP cameras, so far I’ve been unable to get any of the free iOS apps to work with the Loftek. On the other hand, I can easily access the camera directly in Safari both on my iPad and my iPod Touch using an Internet connection completely external to my home network DSL connection.

Overall I’m quite pleased with my purchase. The Loftek CXS 2200 offers a lot of value for the $67.99 price.

Remote Monitoring/Home Automation

For several years, there has been a small but dedicated group of people experimenting in the world of what has been dubbed home automation. Until now, this field has been fragmented with clunky, often expensive products that don’t integrate well and often make the consumer jump through multiple hoops to even get them to work.

In a recent article I talked about installing a Nest remote-controlled thermostat in my house. The Nest thermostat has so far proven to MORE than live up to the promises made by its manufacturer. The Nest thermostat was remarkably easy to install and makes it amazingly easy to remotely monitor and control my home heating/air conditioning system via iOS or my Android smartphone. Once installed, the Nest simply works. The Nest is worth every penny of its $249 dollar price tag.

Now that I’ve lived with the Nest a while, I’m more excited than ever about the possibilities of remote monitoring, remote control, and home automation.

What I want next is a remote camera system that works with the absolute ease of the Nest thermostat and Nest app combination. The ideal remote camera system would offer at least 4 network-connected weatherproof cameras along with a controller/app system that could be set up with the no-muss, no-fuss ease that the Nest thermostat offers. I want to be able to open an app on an iOS or Android device/smartphone and have my remote camera views simply show up, perhaps with the ability to pan, zoom and tilt individual cameras if I wished right from within the app. Furthermore I don’t want to have to worry about firewalls or port-forwarding to try to get past my home router or ISP firewall

I would also like to be able to use my iOS device or Android smartphone to be able to remotely monitor my refrigerator.

Now that most of us are equipped with smartphones, I see a huge opportunity for a company or companies to step into the home automation/remote monitoring arena and fill the void. The standard to meet revolves around ease-of-use.

Nest Remote-Controlled Learning Thermostat

As an over-the-road truck driver, I spend most of my time traveling. For many years, I have set my home thermostat when I’m away to 45 degrees in the winter and 95 degrees in the summer. The idea is to prevent frozen plumbing in the winter and to keep things from literally melting in the heat of the summer.

This system has worked quite well over the years, with one big drawback. When I do come home, it can take several hours to bring the house to a comfortable room temperature.

For the past couple of years I’ve been looking for a simple remote-controlled thermostat solution that would allow me to remotely change the temperature via the Internet at home several hours before getting home so that I come home to a comfortable house that is neither too hot nor too cold.

There are a number of Internet remote-controlled thermostats available, but none of them has excited me much. Most of them are downright clunky and require one to jump through a number of hoops just to get them to function.

Enter the Nest Learning Thermostat available at www.nest.com. The Nest thermostat is the brainchild of Tony Fadell, Founder and CEO of Nest. Mr. Fadell led the team that created the first 18 generations of the Apple iPod and the first three generations of the iPhone. The Apple design philosophy is clearly reflected in the simple, clever design of the Nest Learning Thermostat. Obvious care and incredible attention to detail went into the design of the Nest. Like Apple products, the Nest simply works. The Nest has a satisfying tactile feel to its build quality. A lot of thought also went in to the packaging, which results in a very Apple-like un-boxing experience.

The Nest can easily be remote-controlled via iOS and Android apps. The apps are tied to a user account the owner creates at www.nest.com. Once the apps are linked, it’s easy to bring up the app and view or change the Nest’s temperature setting. The design of the Nest allows it to easily sidestep typical ISP firewall issues. Again, the Nest design simply works without making the owner jump through a bunch of hoops.

The acid test was with my Mom, who just turned 87. While Mom has been using a computer and cell phone for a number of years, she questioned me as to whether she or Dad would be able to run the Nest. The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Walk by, and the Nest’s display automatically lights up displaying the temperature setting. To raise the temperature, rotate the outside ring to right, and to lower the temperature, rotate the outside ring to the left.

More complex settings can easily be accessed by pushing the outside ring, very much like a mouse click, and rotating the ring to select various options.

If you are in the market for a remote-controlled learning thermostat that can help you cut down on your energy bills, I highly recommend the Nest Learning Thermostat.

IRIS 9000 – Use Siri From Dock

IRIS 9000

IRIS 9000

ThinkGeek has put out a new device for your iPhone 4S. The IRIS 9000 dock with remote.

So you are at home. You plug in your iPhone 4S to charge and sit down to relax. You forget that you need to schedule that appointment in your phone, however, the phone is way over there. What do you do?

The new item, slated for Q1 2012, is a remote system that lets you shout at your phone for answers. You press the remote and ask Siri a question, the speaker system will broadcast the answer to you.

The remote does not have a microphone in it. The “built-in mic” says it can pick up your voice from a distance. So you may have to yell at the top of your lungs if you are in the other room.

Hey Siri! Where’s my wrench?

It’s a great way to keep your schedule set. It might also be a great alarm clock when you have the phone plugged in, and not lying on the bed next to you. This is only for 4S models. Price: $59.99

 

TiVo Remote for the iPad

 

nullI recently lost my TiVo remote and I don’t care. It’s not because I not using TiVo anymore I use it almost daily. However I have fallen in love with the TiVo remote on the Ipad.   It is so much better and easier to use then the physical TiVo remote.  The TiVo remote is free from the Itunes App Store. When you first open the application up it will ask you for the Media Access Key, which you can get either off your TiVo under Account & System Information or on the TiVo Web site under your account. Once you get it connected you have a couple of options on how you can use it. The first option is to use it as you would a normal remote, where everything appears on your TV screen. The way I like to use it however is with the information sitting in front of me on my iPad.  At the bottom of the screen you have your Info, Guide, My Shows, Browse and Manage icons. Click on the Guide button it will bring up the Guide screen on the middle with the show you are watching highlighted. At the top of the screen you get some basic information on the show. You have the option to record the show, see if there are any upcoming episodes and share what you are watching. You can also see it the show is available through other places such as Netflix or Amazon download. It will only show you what is available through your TiVo, so Hulu will not show up.  If you click on My shows you can pull up what you have recorded.  You can choose to watch, explore, get a season pass or delete the show. You can also check to see if there are any upcoming episodes. You can even  share what you are watching  to Twitter or Facebook. Under the Explore button you may get information about the actors and crew. it will also suggest shows you might like based on the show you are exploring. Not all shows will show the same information. It is fun to be watching something and say I know I’ve seen that actor before somewhere and click on his or her image under the Explore button and up pops the shows they have appeared in, directed, wrote or produced. You can also add the actor or crew member to your wish list. At the very top of the screen it tells you which TiVo you are connected to. Change your connection to Twitter or Facebook and reset the application. You can also search what is available through TiVo.

If you decide that you rather have the information on your TV screen this is where the access button for it is. The button looks like a the physical TiVo button click on it and a virtual representation of the TiVo remote appears. To be honest I don’t use this option very often. The only time I use it is when I am fast forwarding through commercial. At the bottom of the screen is a time line and you can use that to swipe backward or forward through a recorded show. Unfortunately they haven’t figured how to enable you to fast forward through a live show and believe me I’ve tried. However you can go back if you missed something on a live show. It also has a keyboard that I actually enjoy using, instead of one that makes me want to throw it.  The share button tends to be a little flaky at times and refuses to work. The other negative is that the TiVo remote on the iPad is that it works only with TiVo Premiere and Premiere Plus. For a Series 3 TiVo I recommend DVR remote which is available for both the iPhone or iPad.  If you have an iPad (version 1 or 2) and a Premiere TiVo I highly recommend downloading this app.

Dijit Your Personal Media Assistant

Andy McCasky spoke to Maxium about their new product the Dijit. The purpose of Dijit is to simplify media discovery and control in the home. There are three parts to the application the first is it replaces multiple remote controls with one. It works with almost all major cable companies’ boxes and Netflix along with other devices. For those devices that can’t directly with the application Dijit is partnering with Griffin Technology who created the Beacon which allows infrared devices to connect to the application. The remote is highly customizable the buttons can be switch around to the user liking.

The second part of the solution is discovery. Dijit makes everything easier to find either by keyword search or by program name.

The third part of Dijit is how it makes it easy to share what you are watching on Facebook or Twitter directly from the application. The application is made for the iPhone, but will work on an iPad and an Android application is coming. The application is free and available in the iTunes, the Beacon is $79.00 and will be available soon.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News.

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iDevices Presents the iGrill Bluetooth-enabled Wireless Meat Temperature Cooking Monitor

Jonathan Conelias of iDevices, Inc. (www.idevicesinc.com) presents the iGrill Bluetooth-enabled wireless temperature probe device that is designed to synch up with an iPod, iPhone or iPad and remotely display temperatures of cooking meats. It is able to monitor two temperatures at once and runs on four “AA” batteries. The iOS application features alarms that can be set to notify the user that the desired cooking temperature has been reached. The app also includes recipes and an Internet browser. The app is currently available for Apple’s iOS devices but will be available for Google Android by the end of the first quarter of 2011. It sells for $99.99 and comes with one temperature probe. A second temperature probe can be purchased for $19.99. The probes have 48″ inch cords and can measure 40 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit inside cooking meat products.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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Mobile Mouse Remote Trackpad For iPod/iPad/iPhone

I recently bought the newest version of the 32 gigabyte iPod Touch. The latest iPod Touch is one amazing device that has functionality well beyond simple MP3 and video playback.

I’ve started adding some extremely useful apps. One of these apps is Mobile Mouse Remote Trackpad. To use it, you have to download and install a server program on your Mac or Windows machine, and then download and install the app on your iPod, iPad or iPhone. The app connects to your local network via WiFi and searches for and connects to the locally-running server software.

The Mobile Mouse Remote Trackpad app works exactly as advertised. It even adds left and right mouse buttons, along with an on-screen keyboard. This setup works well for use with a home theater PC setup (HTPC) as an easy-to-use hand-held controller.

So far I’m using the free version before deciding whether to move to the paid version. The paid version eliminates a startup nag screen as well as adds additional functionality.