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Control volume of attached digital Dolby surround device Other Hardware
Some people are speaking from the "living room of the future:" A television where you can read your emails and surf the web, listen to your music everywhere in your house, and also control everything everywhere. For me, all solutions I've seen until today are not very user friendly. Surfing the internet with the television remote control, problems with all the different video codecs when playing media files on the TV screen, etc.

I've had my own solution for the last three years: A Mac mini (small, quiet, powerful enough) attached to a big LCD TV, a Dolby Surround system, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, some AirportExpress Base Stations for iTunes access in other rooms and an iPod touch to control them, eyeTV, etc.

There was one small problem with my setup, though: With the Mac connected to an audio device using the digital fibre connector, there's no way to control the system output volume. Pressing the volume keys results in this bezel. From that, I presume that the digital output only transports the signal information and no volume information.

So I had to control the sound volume with an additional remote for the digital surround device. I also had to control the power for the surround device and the LCD TV via that remote. This was very annoying, as I had more than enough remotes on my couch table already.

Finally I found a low-cost solution some weeks ago, and maybe it's worth sharing -- I don't think I'm the only one who's using a Mac as a real digital hub.

What you need:
  • First, there has to be an infrared submitter. I found three solutions: irtrans, a high-end solution with high costs; ZephIR with lower costs but unfortunately shipment to Europe was nearly as expensive as the device itself; and finally, Iguana IR, a small IR transmittter in form of a USB stick for $40 (and a fair price for shipment to Europe).

    There are three models: A small USB stick with the submitter-LEDs, the USB stick with one submitter and a port where you can connect a cable with another submitter-LED, and the USB stick without LED on it but with the ability to connect two cables. I suggest ordering one of the last two versions. I ordered the first, but because the USB stick gets its power from the USB port, it's doesn't submit very strong signals. With the ability to connect one or two cables, you could place the LED diode directly in front of the device you want to control.

  • Software to control the IR submitter. As far as I know, IR trans and ZephIR are shipped with Mac software, but I'm not really sure. Iguana IR isn't shipped with anything. You can download some software from their home page, but you will soon see that this device was developed for Linux! Fortunately, there is a developer who provides a (free!) IRControl System Preferences panel for Mac OS X to control the Iguana IR. I have tested it with MacOS X 10.4.11 through MacOS X 10.6.1. At first, I had some trouble sending signals, but after a firmware upgrade to the Iguana IR, and a new version of the software, it works like a charm.

    With IRControl, you can send IR signals with any IR remote to your Mac and trigger some AppleScripts, or you can submit IR signals from the attached Iguana IR by using simple AppleScripts (that's what I've wanted to do). It's not very hard to use: Just install the System Preferences panel, attach the IguanaIR to your Mac, and make sure that it's near the device you want to control.

    Open the IR Control System Preferences pane, make sure the faceless background application 'IR FBA' launches at startup, and point the remote control you want to get rid of at the Iguana IR. IRControl will learn the signals, and you can give names to the signals. Later you can send these signals by calling those names via AppleScript (there's documentation on this available at the developer's website).

  • Now you have to write an AppleScript that calls the IRControl software which sends a given command ('Higher Volume!') to your audio output device. Not really user friendly when you have to do this with Script Editor!

    As a fan of Butler, I entered all possible scripts to turn the LCD/surround devices on and off, and control the output volume of the surround device in Butler, and gave them some adequate keyboard shortcuts like Control-Minus, Control-Plus, etc. I was then able to throw my remote controls away. (OK, I did not really throw them away, but from now on, they are in a drawer.)

  • The next improvement: With the help of Proxi (freeware), I'm also able to use the Apple remote for controlling the volume of my surround device. Proxi also lets you attach AppleScripts to keyboard shortcuts (like Butler does), and (something Butler isn't able to do) to the buttons on your Apple remote.
Despite all this, I wasn't really satisfied. I had to press Control-Plus to increate the sound level, and the three keys at the top right of the keyboard to control the volume where useless. So after some searching, I found KeyRemap4MacBook (that also does remapping for other macs) -- also freeware.

KeyRemap4MacBook can remap the volume keys quieter/louder/mute to F3/F4/F5 (unfortunately, I found no way to remap them to something else). So I did the remap, and changed the settings in Butler to F3/F4/F5. Now I'm happy: After three years of digging, I'm able to control the volume with the volume keys. Who thought this could be so hard when using the digital output? At the other side: Pressing the F3/F4/F5 keys does the same thing as pressing the volume keys, but I can live with that...
  • Currently 3.00 / 5
  You rated: 5 / 5 (11 votes cast)

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Control volume of attached digital Dolby surround device
Authored by: siMac on Oct 21, '09 07:59:46AM

I had a similar problem.

This hint: helped. With SoundFlower I can use the Apple remote to alter the system volume when the sound source is stereo. This doesn't work with 5.1 sound apparently.

Another way around the problem would be to get a Harmony remote (the 525 costs about $50) which can adjust the sound on your system and act as an Apple remote (or any other) at the same time.

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Control volume of attached digital Dolby surround device
Authored by: scotch on Oct 21, '09 08:02:25AM

Another vote for the Harmony remote, controls everything and is programmable from you mac... Much easier than this...

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Control volume of attached digital Dolby surround device
Authored by: Unsoluble on Oct 21, '09 08:19:23AM

Pick up a Harmony, seriously. :)

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Control volume of attached digital Dolby surround device
Authored by: digitalcowboy on Oct 21, '09 08:26:36AM

I'm a huge fan of the Harmony remotes. I absolutely love mine - a cheapo entry level model that I picked up last Christmas for around $35. I'm probably going to upgrade now that I've seen how well it works and how infinitely programmable it is.

I use mine to run a Mac mini/Eye TV media center, Hulu, home theater sound system, Dish satellite receiver paired with digital HD OTA through the Eye TV, Front Row for archived TV recorded with the Eye TV...

I also just got a pretty nice wireless weather station that connects to the TV. After a quick reprogram of the Harmony remote, I can now switch to my own weather station info on the big screen with two button presses on the remote.

I have a wireless keyboard and mouse for the mini but rarely use them. The Harmony does almost everything.

I also have a ZephIR to change channels on the Dish receiver. I can't say enough about that product and it's developers. I had a question right after I got it. I sent an email and got a personal response from the developer with far more than I asked for - including a private link to unreleased software - within an hour.


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Control volume of attached digital Dolby surround device
Authored by: Makosuke on Oct 21, '09 03:40:46PM

Even cheaper still than a Harmony would be a usable remote code for the Apple remote, but thus far I've never found one that works.

Pretty frustrating since it only has six buttons (well, the classic one--the new one is going to be more complicated). C'mon, AV companies, you've got codes in there for 20-year-old VCRs that I've never even heard of, but no Apple remote?

(In the old Performa days it was really easy, since Apple just used Sony codes. Also amusing when you accidentally changed the volume on your Mac or brought up the Shutdown dialog accidentally.)

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