Media Center Network Control

My media center PC is an ASUS bookshelf computer running Ubuntu Linux and KDE desktop. I use it primarily for music, running the Amarok music player.

Our house is pretty small and open. I can see the entire living room from my desk. I often play music on the media system while I'm working. The annoying bit is that I have to get up from my desk and walk over to the living room anytime I want to fiddle the controls.

I wish I had a good way to control the music from my desk. I've been puzzling over this for a whilte. I've tried various ways to control Amarok remotely and none were satisfactory. Then it dawned on me that I was missing the obvious: I didn't want to control just the media player but the whole desktop. I can do that using something like Virtual Network Computing (VNC).

VNC requires two pieces: one that exports the display (remote frame buffer) from the server, another that connects the client to the frame buffer. The Ubuntu KDE desktop provides all the pieces I need in its default installation. The krfb program runs on the media center computer to provide "remote frame buffer" services. The krdc program runs on my workstation to act as a "remote desktop connection" client.

Setup krfb Server

screenshot of krfb configuration settings

The first step is to setup krfb on the server. It's launched from the "Internet" applications group on the KDE menu. I started the program, clicked the "Configure" button, and set the configuration settings (see image to right, click to view full size) as follows:

Allow uninvited connections
Enable so that client can connect without a specific invitation. This can be insecure, so we'll set a password in a moment.
Announce service on the network
Enable so the client can discover this server.
Confirm uninvited connections before accepting
Disable so that server will accept connection requests without any intervention. Again, this can be insecure, so we'll want to protect with a password.
Allow uninvited connections to control the desktop
Enable so that the keyboard and mouse on the remote system work to control the desktop.
Password
Finally, set a password so that only authorized users can access the desktop.

Setup krdc Client

screenshot of krfb configuration settings

Now, back on my workstation, I can run the krdc program to connect to the remote desktop. Again, this is under the "Internet" applications group. You can type in the URL of the remote display (in my case, it was vnc://coldsnap.unicom.com:5900), enter the password, and the window opens up displaying the remote desktop.

Or, if you aren't sure what URL to use, here is a trick that should work if you enabled the "Announce service" setting in krfb. Launch krdc and click the "Browse" button. Wait about 60 seconds, until the "Rescan" button becomes enabled. Then exit and restart krdc. This time you should see the newly enabled remote desktop in the list of connections.

The connection window is shown to the right (click to view full size).

If you find the mouse is jerky, select: Advanced → Always Show Local Cursor.

Setup Windows Client

The KDE remote desktop is based on the same protocol used by VNC. This means any system that has a VNC client could control the media system. I installed TightVNC on my wife's Windows computer, so she too can have control over the media system.

This setup has given me the remote control capability I've been looking for. I now can operate the media system from any computer in the house.

Now all I want is a Google phone with an embedded VNC client.

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Have you checked out

Have you checked out http://musicpd.org ? It handles the task of remote music control pretty well, and has a slew of nifty clients.