USB Device for Controlling Media

TL;DR

The Contour ShuttleXpress is a well-built and highly-customizable USB controller that perfectly meets a need in my daily workflow.

Learn about how I Configure the Contour ShuttleXpress for Media Controls.

My Setup

I work from home and have two PCs on my desk: a personal desktop, and a work laptop, which belongs to my client.

I have 2 monitors that are connected to both PCs using separate inputs. I switch between the PCs by changing the inputs directly on each monitor. The keyboard and mouse are connected to a USB switch, which allows me switch between the PCs by pressing a button.

During the day, I have everything connected to my work laptop, but at nights and on weekends I switch over to my personal desktop PC.

The Challenge

While working, I like to listen to music through the decent speakers connected to my desktop PC. I often need to pause the music at a moment’s notice to answer incoming voice or video calls. Additionally, I sometimes need to change the volume to accommodate varying volume levels of tracks.

The media playing software I currently use is Groove (included with Windows 10), but the same need would apply to any other media software.

Non-Starters

Remote Desktop / VNC / Remote Media Control Apps for PC

Another significant constraint is that I’m required to use VPN software on the work laptop, which blocks traffic to any device on my local network. This prevents me from using Remote Desktop, VNC or any other software solution that requires network communication between the two PCs. Bummer.

Remote Media Control Apps for Devices

Another option would involve using an app on my phone or tablet to control the media player. While this would satisfy most of the requirements, the gap would be in response time. It would take too long to wake up the device, allow it to establish a connection to the PC, and to respond to a pause command.

Web Based Media Player

All of my music lives on a Synology DiskStation server, which is on the same network as my desktop PC. This falls short for the same reason mentioned above: VPN software on the laptop blocks access to local resources.

Other Options

There are a number of other options, but none are ideal:

  • Host and play the media on the work laptop. Laptop is underpowered for my work as it is – it would be even slower if I tried to play media on top of the other critical tasks I do.
  • Play the media from my phone or tablet. Same concerns as above – response time would be too slow.
  • Play the media from a voice-activated device (i.e. my Echo Dot or Echo). While the voice commands are usually pretty accurate on these devices, the response time is a bit slow and would be awkward (almost unprofessional) to be caught trying to stop the music after I’ve answered an incoming call (“Alexa, stop…sorry, just one sec, my music won’t stop…ALEXA, I said STOP!”).

Solution: Contour ShuttleXpress

After considering all of the non-starters above, I realized the best solution would be a hardware controller of some sort. After evaluating the various options on the market, I discovered the ShuttleXpress, by Contour.

It connects to my desktop PC via USB 2.0 and includes 5 customizable buttons along with a free-spinning wheel for volume and a jog wheel that I use for next/previous functionality.

The ShuttleXpress software includes profiles for dozens of applications – video editing, productivity software and many more. It automatically detects the selected application and enables the respective profile.

If an unknown application is being used then it falls back on the Global profile. In my case, I have deleted all profiles except for Global so that it will always use the same commands regardless of which application is selected. I have configured my Global profile with media commands (play/pause, volume, skip forward and back, and mute).

The commands respond just as quickly as when I interact with the media software directly, even though there are no active monitors or other input devices (i.e. keyboard or mouse).

The only negative is that it’s a little bit bigger than I would prefer for my needs – 4.5″ (11.4 cm) in diameter. It’s definitely not too big for its primary use case (supplemental controller for video or audio editing), but I would be happy if it was about 20% smaller, maybe 3.5″ (9 cm).

Once I applied the approprite configuration so that the ShuttleXpress would send the media commands, I was off to the races!

IMG_3290

2 thoughts on “USB Device for Controlling Media

  1. […] I need to control media player software – playing, pausing, and controlling volume – on a PC while the monitors, keyboard, and mouse are switched to a different PC. (I happen to use Microsoft Groove, the deafult media player for Windows 10, but this solution should work with the media player software of your choice.) The Contour ShuttleXpress is a great hardware solution for this problem. You can read more about my reasons for selecting the ShuttleXpress over other possible solutions. […]

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