Accessory or feature product?
The Firefly’s lifeline to your computer is a small black puck-shaped dongle attached to a standard USB cord. It measures 2.26” wide, 2.92” deep and 1.15” thick (5.7cm by 7.4cm by 2.9cm) and has a 6” (15cm) “mouse tail” RF antenna protruding out the back. The dongle features a red power LED, four small rubber feet on the bottom, and a humungous sticker wrapped around the cable cautioning you to install the driver before plugging it in.
Never one to ignore the advice of large and important looking stickers, I immediately downloaded the latest Windows XP driver version from SnapStream’s website, which was 184.108.40.2066 at the time of this review. The Firefly can also work with Windows Vista, although some finagling is required to get the software to install correctly.
The Firefly is obstinately sold as an accessory to SnapStream’s Beyond TV and Beyond Media media center applications, which provide an easy-to-use front-end for remote control use of a PC, much as Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition or the open source Media Portal software does. If you’re purchasing the remote standalone and have no immediate front-end plans, the Firefly does ship with a “limited” version of the company’s Beyond Media program called Beyond Media Basic, which provides a simple remote controllable interface to access programs, music, videos and photos. While most home theater owners will prefer to use an integrated user interface such as this on their HTPCs, the box indicates that the Firefly’s drivers have also been designed to work with over 80 other standalone media applications, ranging from Windows Media Player, VLC Media Player and PowerDVD, to Winamp, Internet Explorer and Microsoft PowerPoint.
In fact, the packaging goes so far as to call the Firefly “a universal remote control for your PC”. That statement shouldn’t be confused with the ability to control other hardware devices as normal “universal remotes” can; in this case the company is talking purely about the ability to control a wide range of software programs, unlike some PC remotes which are only designed to fully control the product they came with.
Unfortunately, Beyond Media Basic is an almost mandatory part of the driver installation process and will install even if you only plan to use the Firefly with Windows Media Center Edition or some other front-end. No MCE configuration plug-in is provided; instead you’ll find all necessary Firefly options in Beyond Media Basic, including the assignment of different programs to the 5 activity keys.
The only way to not install Beyond Media Basic with the Firefly’s drivers is if you are using Girder on your computer and have downloaded the Firefly Plug-in for Girder along with the basic Firefly drivers (which don’t provide any command interpretation by themselves). If you’re not familiar with Girder, it’s a backend home automation program designed to add remote control capabilities to many existing PC media applications, as well as providing control over X-10 devices, RS232 components (such as receivers and projectors), HTPC case VFD display support and much more.