Controlling Plex with Windows Media Center Remotes

Like many users of Plex (or Emby, or the multitude of other media server and library wranglers) I arrived via Microsoft Windows Media Center, a product that was quietly taken around the back of the shed and shot in the head as part of the internal upheavals that occurred at Microsoft during the dark days of Windows 8. The product limped on for a while, but it was clear it had no future and most users moved on to other platforms.

However, it did leave behind a few pieces of very neat hardware, including some remote controllers. As part of my Plex server build, I was curious to see if my old controllers would still work.

Back To The Future

For the most part, I was very pleased to find that they did. Plugging the IR receiver into one of the spare USB ports on the back of the QuietPC showed the familiar eHome entry appear in the device manager, and the navigation buttons came back to life, moving around the Windows 10 Plex App as though designed for it. Hats off to the Plex team for supporting remotes so well in what is more of a desktop application.

However, some buttons remained resolutely dead. Recorded TV, My Pictures and so on did not work. And of course, the big green windows button did nothing at all. This has been one of the major gripes of my partner regarding the move to Plex. She loved Media Center – loved the way that it consolidated all media into one place. With Plex, she has trouble even working out how to launch it. Bringing that green button back to life, and having it fire up Plex would be a big step to user acceptance.

Working The Problem

In this guide, I am going to work on the Green Button. The lessons can be extended to the other buttons on the remote control, but for clarity the problem definition is “I want to launch the Windows 10 Plex App with The Big Green Button”. I am working on the basis that you already have the Plex app installed and working in Windows 10 and are using the Microsoft IR transceiver.

Step 1

The first step is to figure out how to launch Plex from a command line. Since it is an App rather than a desktop program, things are a little more complicated.

First find the app. You can do this by bringing up the program run dialog in Windows 10 (windows key + R) and running Shell:AppsFolder (the capitalisation is important). This will show the Windows Apps folder. Find Plex and create a shortcut to it on the desktop by either dragging it or right-clicking. View the properties of this ShortCut (see below).

Step 2

The ‘Target type’ value of the properties is key. This gives us what we need to launch Plex from a command line. You can test this by calling up the Run dialog again (Windows + R) and typing explorer.exe Shell:AppsFolder\<Target type value>

For example: explorer.exe Shell:AppsFolder\CAF9E577.Plex_aam28m9va5cke!App

This should launch the Plex app. If it does not, go back and check your settings again.

Step 3

The penultimate step is to assign this command line to a Windows key combination. For this I used the WinHotKey tool (see below) and selected a suitably obscure key combination (in this case, Windows + Control + Shift + P) to avoid conflicts.

Adding a new hot key is straightforward, although the advanced options must be used in order to split the application from its parameters. Take the parameters used in the previous step and provide the full path to explorer.exe, as in the screen shot.

You should now be able to launch Plex by pressing Control-Shift-Windows-P so long as WinHotKey is running in the background.

Step 4

The final step is to assign the Big Green Button on the remote to the key combination defined in the previous step. This can be done directly in the registry (for the confident and the brave) or by using a tool such as MCE Remote Mapper. When run as an administrator (in order to allow Registry shenanigans), this tool lists the possible remote buttons and allows these to be mapped to key combinations. Select the Windows button in the list and select the hot key combination defined in the previous step (as in screen-shot below.) Apply this to the Registry, restart the computer (with WinHotKey in the background) and the Big Green Button will now launch Plex.

Final Words

This solution is working well for me, and I plan to work out how to assign the other remote buttons to launch Plex with photos, music, movies or TV shows in context. There are several other ways of achieving this result, and alternative tools such as https://autohotkey.com/ provide a good deal more flexibility along with scripting.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

The steps to find the Plex app came from the www.tenforums.com in the thread http://www.tenforums.com/software-apps/57000-method-open-any-windows-10-apps-command-line.html

WinHotKey can be found at http://directedge.us/content/winhotkey and is freeware, although the author asks for a $5 donation if you find it useful

MCE Remote Mapper can be found at https://github.com/osjoberg/mceremotemapper and I first came across it in this thread on the Kodi forums: http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=164252

About the author Richard Speed:
Spaceflight enthusiast and tech hobbyist.
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