How to Turn Single PC into Multiple one.Transforming Home PC into Universal Center of Work and Entertainment

You'll admit, that every family ever happened an issue when one family member need to to use PC for work, but other member want to play games, watch TV or videos, using preferably device with big screen and loud sound, not satisfying small tablet or smartphone. Well, it's not a problem if the family has multiple PCs, set-top boxes or other gadgets, but it's economically and “ecologically” preferable solution when all required tasks will be done by already existing PC. The solution above also has other benefits, which we will describe below. Every middle-level PC has a much more capabilities than high-level set-top boxes or media players or so-called smart TVs. Meanwhile, PCs has an ability to add new features during lifetime by often not expensive hardware upgrade or by install any required software.

So, how to implement this solution? I'll show this by example, which you may customize to satisfy your needs.

Our single “Central PC” system unit contains Home Theater PC (HTPC) case and is located on a shelf under TV. It has middle-level hardware configuration (core i7/16Gb/ssd+hdd-4Tb/Gigabit Ethernet), and you may be assured that everything will work fine on a much slower PC, unless you'll want to play hardware-intensive games. Next, we use special “magic” software, which we will describe later. With the help of this software, our PC is divided into two fully functional independent workplaces with different user accounts and separated peripheral devices. First user account and corresponding workplace is configured as “desktop PC” for work and study. It use their own display, mouse, keyboard, headphones, webcam with microphone and printer. Second workplace is configured as universal and powerful mediacenter and home cinema, which supports all existing audio and video formats and works with a number of connected devices, such as big TV, 5.1 audio system, game joysticks, remote control and even smartphone with tablet.

Well, modern GPUs have at least two outputs: DVI and HDMI. We use DVI to connect a display, and HDMI to connect a TV. Our display is pulled on the desk, which is located at the same room as HTPC. Display is connected to GPU output with 5 meter DVI/HDMI cable, which is wired under baseboard together with powered USB cable. USB cable us connected to 7-ports USB hub, located on the desk together with the display. USB hub holds all other USB devices: keyboard, mouse, headphones, printer, etc. Due to “distant” relative location of system unit and workplaces, we obtain additional benefits:

1) the desk got more free space, which was earlier occupied by a system unit;

2) complete silence, because of absence of coolers' noise neither at the desk nor at the sofa.

USB-repeaterUSB-HUB DVI cable

So, our “desktop PC” workplace has its own keyboard and mouse, but how to control a mediacenter workplace? It turns out that mediacenter could be controlled with a comfort multiple ways by:

а) infrared (IR) remote control;

b) smartphone/tablet;

c) keyboard and mouse of “desktop PC” workplace;

d) any other manipulator (keyboard, joystick, etc.).

I mainly use IR remote, smartphone, and wireless joysticks for a games.

In order to control with IR remote, we should have two of them. First is the ordinary PC remote control with IR receiver. The simpler is better, ex.: this – advanced models could have a drivers' compatibility problem with software, described later (ASTER). Second remote is universal learning remote control. I chose “chunghop rm-991” which could be trained to support up to 6 devices. In our house it is used to control almost every device: TV, audio system, air conditioner, ventilator, our mediacenter workplace and even electrical sockets. Furthermore, it is really strong, it survive after almost hundred falls.

 PC remote controllerUniversal remote
Ordinary PC remote control Universal learning remote control

Well, our first IR remote, despite of IR receiver, is used only for the training of our second universal remote. To do this, we should select first “device” (button), which we will use to control our mediacenter workplace and then use selected profile to train general buttons (ok, exit, off, arrow keys, etc.). See user guide of the remote for details. Next we could put aside our IR remote, but embed their IR receiver into system unit by connect it to internal USB port of motherboard and put out IR “eye” outside of the system unit. Also we should train some buttons of the selected profile of our universal remote to control TV, audio system or receiver, in order to set volume up or down, or to change inputs. This also could be done by training of our universal remote to learn “native” remotes of devices we want to control. If there are buttons unused by controlled device left, then they could be trained to control other IR-controllable devices. As a result, we obtain central remote to control all the house.

Next most important is somehow make it possible for our single system unit to work as two independent PCs (desktop PC and mediacenter) in such a way that while one user work on the desktop workplace, for example using Photoshop, other user should be able at the same time to play video game or to watch movies at the big screen on mediacenter workplace, throwing himself into a sofa. It;s time when an interesting software, mentioned before, will help us. This software is ASTER by IBIK .

 ASTER websiteHere is a short description from the official web-site: “ASTER is a program (and only a program!) which allows to create a few workplaces on base of a single PC. ASTER is a multiseat software for Windows XP/7/8/10. ASTER does not use any thin clients and terminal stations, i.e. ASTER is analog of such multiseat programs, as MS MultiPoint, SoftXpand, Betwin, Userful, etc.”

I’ve tried other pure-software solutions, but I’ve chose ASTER, which appeared to be an optimal combination of the setup simplicity, functionality and cost. And what’s more, it shows itself very stable during long period without any “crash” or “freeze” for 6 years! Recent version of ASTER support Windows 10 and has more user-friendly interface than previous version, which supports Windows 7. By the way, it could provide up to 12 workplaces. It’s good reserve for the future use. Over time, I plan to create additional “side” of my central PC – a smart home controller. But it’s subject for the other article. Note, that ASTER is an advanced multi-user system, that’s why it’s not a freeware. But it costs not so much with a respect to containing features. Also it’s offered a fully functional 30 day trial period, during which you could evaluate all advantages of the ASTER.

Let me in two words describe the essence of the ASTER setup. See user guide for detailed instructions with step-by-step guide and screenshots.

So, there are main steps to be done:

  1. Create two user accounts of Windows operating system, for example “Comp” (for desktop PC workplace) and “TV” (for mediacenter workplace), both with administer permissions. TV user account should be set to log in without password.
  2. Choose “Extend these displays” in the “Multiple displays” section of the display settings.
  3. Install, and set up ASTER to create workplaces according to the user manual:

Assign everything we need to our “desktop PC” workplace (“Comp”), for example first display 1.1, keyboard, usb headphones, mouse, etc.

The same way, assign other devices to our mediacenter workplace (“TV”). In our case, there would be second display 1.2 (TV), external or internal sound card, IR remote. The latter could be displayed as another keyboard, and in order to detect whether the keyboard is real or it’s a IR remote, just press any key on it and image of corresponding device will be surrounded by a blue frame in the ASTER window. Detailed instructions available at “Indicating Devices” sub-section of “Setting up ASTER” section of ASTER User Manual. )

Device assigning itself could be made by a simply Drag & Drop images of corresponding devices to desired workplaces.

 Device assignment

The purpose of this article is not a detailed description of the software, so we assume that the reader could figure out with software setup using a number of manuals available at the developer’s web-site and videos from YouTube. For example, this video: and this or more detailed (in Russian)

We will move forward. When ASTER setting up is done, we need to enable ASTER auto-start and then reboot our PC. After reboot we will have two separate and fully functional workplaces, which work independently on each other.

Now beginning our mediacenter workplace configuration. We could transfer our primary mouse and keyboard between workplaces by pressing Ctrl+F12. This way we could work with convenient at the second workplace “TV” during install of all additional software and configure everything required to transform our “second” PC into fully functional mediacenter, HTPC.

In order to make it work, we should install few additional software and place their shortcuts to auto-start directory of our “TV” user account, which is: C:\Users\TV\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup)

It is important to install applications using “TV” user account

First additional software: KODI – is a free and open-source cross-platform media player software, which we use to implement HTPC functionality. Kodi graphical user interface allows users to manage and play videos and music from PC local storage, optical disks, internet or local network. Official website is

KODI SoftwareKODI (XBMC) provide convenient user interface to work with audio, video and photo content, supporting almost every file formats and codecs. It’s really convenient to control it from IR remote. I set up an auto-start of this software for TV user account. And after PC boots up and I do switch TV input to PC HDMI, I see full-screen media-player interface and, with the help of IR remote, I can choose what music, movies, photos, etc. to play. The same way as it does with smart TV, but with a huge differences: Kodi support much more features, a computer speed is enough to play videos up to 100Gb and even in 4K video format, if GPU and TV support it. Also Kodi made it possible to play files in almost every formats and codecs. Moreover, it’s always possible to add more supported formats by install recent codec packs, and to add any additional features with “Add-ons”( Consider to browse this source of boundless creativity.

Second additional software: Ultimate Mouse Lite –to be able to control “second PC” from Android smartphone or tablet.

Steps to make it work: а) Install application to smartphone:
b) Install desktop agent software to PC (TV workplace):

Ultimate Mouse Lite App

This software also should be set up to auto-start at “TV” workplace. It adds possibility to transform smartphone or tablet into fully functional touch-pad and keyboard with Cyrillic in order to control our PC number 2

With the help of this software I could easily launch web browser with any web-site, watch any film, movie or online video, lying on the sofa at the same time.
Exclusively for YouTube I use a better approach: set up Chrome web-browser to start at full-screen with the opened page page has “Link TV&Phone” settings. The connect is easy and guarded by entering code numbers. This approach make it possible to start playing movies directly from smartphone’s Youtube application, as convenient as from the smart TV.

Let’s summarize. “TV” workplace auto-start contains following basic applications: 1) Kodi 2) Chrome 3) Ultimate Mouse

Optionally It’s possible to install additional software. For example, AutoHideMouseCursor is a small utility which hides mouse cursor after several seconds of inactivity and brings it back when cursor starts to move. This is very useful when watching video in third-party browsers because It’s not needed to move mouse cursor to the screen borders.

Above we listed the very basic applications and settings required to implement two-in-one work of PC as desktop and mediacenter. Of course, we have many more additional components and automation helpers, which are constantly improved. After all, PC doesn’t require complete change to improve it infinitely to whatever you wish or require.

Finally, I personally use suggested configuration for many years and everything works accurate and without any issues. I didn’t find any noticeable disadvantages during this years. Maybe except that It’s non-portable and oldschool. Also It’s required to use long cables. Those, who need more compact and mobile variant, may build more elegant solution with a control via network and any kind of core element, for example laptop or smartphone with Chromecast or Apple TV or Smart TV with NAS storage.

But I prefer power and flexibility. Ability to increase capabilities at any time. And to solve any task, even very specific. After all, PC can do almost everything. I like that I can choose 30Gb film on the torrent tracker, sitting in the car on my way home. I could start downloading it to my home “supercomputer” with a single click from my smartphone. And then upon arrival I could watch this film with maximum quality and high-end audio. Use of other tools to obtain the same results are more complex and expensive.

Oleg Manko