Remote Show Control with a Laptop


What You Need

Hardware and software

Hereís what you need to do this:

- A laptop.  I use a PC netbook. With the price of netbooks so low, I donít think a Macbook is cost-effective for this.

- A remote control.  I use one called KeyRF.

- Software to convert CD tracks into MP3s.

- Software to play MP3s during your show.  I use WinAmp.

- A cord from the laptopís speaker output to the PA system.

- A bag of connectors, so you can hook up to all kinds of PA systems.  (Thanks to Mike Caveney for this tip.)

What kind of laptop do you need?

Since this whole system is built around triggering MP3s in WinAmp, you only need to find a laptop that can run WinAmp properly, and that has good sound. This means you don't need a state-of-the-art model.  A netbook is more than fast enough.  The one I have is a Toshiba that came out in 2010.

I used to say that Winamp had gotten large and slow, and to get the older version, but that was several years ago. Winamp has stayed the same size (the entire download is 11MB), added more features, and become more efficient, while computers have gotten faster.  Now, I really like how itís a very fast and straightforward experience, while iTunes takes a long time to load on my triple-core desktop computer.

You need enough space to store all your MP3s for the show, but hard drives are now so big that MP3s for a show donít even make a dent.  You can easily have twenty different shows on your netbook and you wonít notice it.

Also, the laptop needs:
- Either a PS/2 keyboard port or a USB port, to plug the KeyRF remote into. 

- A sound system.  This is usually built-in.

The basic process to set up

Once you have the remote, the software, and the music tracks, youíre ready...

1. Select music or sound effects on CD.

2. Copy the music or sounds to your hard drive.

3. Edit them to the right length, if necessary.

4. Turn the music files into MP3s (this can be combined with step 2 if the track is the right length as it is.)

5. Put all the MP3s for a specific show into the same folder.

6. Create a playlist in Winamp with the tracks in the order you need them.

7. Test the operation and running order of the show.