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What is a Multimedia Keyboard?

By Lynne William
Updated May 16, 2024
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A multimedia keyboard is designed to make it simple for the user to access often-used programs. There are special keys used to access the Internet, music, and other frequently used programs such as email. A typical example contains buttons that control various computer processes, such as turning on the computer's power, putting the CPU to sleep, and waking it up again.

The web browser keys on a multimedia keyboard should be familiar to most Internet users. Back, forward, stop, and refresh buttons are usually present, along with buttons to access bookmarked favorites, search, and whatever web page the user has set up as their browser's preference as the initially loaded homepage. Most of these keyboards also have a hotkey for the computer's calculator program, a well as a key to open the computer's access screen for navigation of applications and files.

Volume control is another handy function that many such keyboards possess. The keys for lowering and raising the computer's volume are clearly marked with easily recognizable speaker icons. This is especially useful for controlling music programs, and often songs can be played and paused, scanned forward and backward, and skipped using the appropriate buttons. There may also be a mute key available.

Multimedia keyboards come in various connection formats, including PS/2, USB, and wireless, and their price often depends on their complexity and the manufacturer. A specific type called a gaming keyboard, meant for use with high-tech video games, can be even more expensive. Gaming keyboards have special features such as backlit keys and programmable macros buttons to perform complex series of operations with the touch of one key.

In regard to overall styling, there are as many options with multimedia keyboards as there are with standard keyboards. Traditional, partially raised keyboards, ultra-slim flat keyboards that emulate the feel of a laptop keyboard, split ergonomic keyboards, and even waterproof roll-up ones are all available with multimedia functionality.

Keyboards designed for use with the Windows® family of operating systems typically come preprogrammed, ready to use right out of the box. Those for Macintosh® computers are also available from some manufacturers; these are also preprogrammed and ready for use with Mac® operating systems. The Mac® keyboards, and now an increasing number of the PC keyboards as well, also often have one or two USB ports built in, allowing additional peripherals (mouse, disk drives, cameras, etc.) to be plugged directly into the keyboard. These come in handy for those who have too many devices for the number of USB ports allotted on the CPU itself, in many cases eliminating the need for a USB hub device.

In this time of rapidly changing technology in the area of home computing, not even simple peripherals are immune to evolution and change. Take the keyboard, for instance. The simple 104-key board, with alphanumeric keys arranged in the traditional QWERTY typewriter positions, has, for all intents and purposes, gone away. Keyboards have become complex input devices that require careful consideration and comparison by the user before purchase. Given the many additional benefits and comparatively low cost, a multimedia keyboard is often a practical and affordable way to beef up any home computer user's efficiency and productivity.

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Discussion Comments

By anon994705 — On Mar 01, 2016

I just love my multimedia keyboard. Control of the music, pause, mute, forward or back are at your fingertips, and so handy for when the phone rings and you need instant quiet! Zooming in or out without having to find those controls on the individual programs, launching another Windows Explorer window or new email, launching the calculator -- these are my most used options.

My one disappointment with the new keyboard is that there is no light to indicate that Caps Lock is on. You have to look at the bottom right of screen when you push that button to see whether it says it is ON or OFF, but you have to be quick! I only pensioned my last keyboard off because it broke a leg. Half the keys were rubbed off so only partial letters were visible. I could work with that, but not the rocking from the broken leg.

It is a wireless Microsoft Multimedia Keyboard that comes with a wireless mouse using the same dongle. The initial reason behind buying this particular set was to get the full sized Microsoft mouse - cramping your hand up to use the little one has to be bad for your hand! But I discovered that I had to use them as a set, so I put it aside until I had to replace the keyboard.

By LittleMan — On Oct 23, 2010

I really need some advice. I love the idea of the multimedia keyboard, and have been looking into buying one, but there are just so many brands out there.

How do I choose one? I mean, you've got Microsoft and Compaq multimedia keyboards and Saitek and Belkin multimedia keyboards, not to mention the entire ranges of Logitech and Bluetooth multimedia keyboards.

And they've all got about a thousand functions on them, which is great, since I often work on my computer and think I would use a lot of the functions that most multimedia keyboards include, but I am just totally lost when it comes down to actually choosing one.

As far as looks go, I'm leaning towards a Saitek, but I have to say that Logitech and Bluetooth both have really attractive multimedia keyboard and mouse packages.

So what do I do? I can't go and try every one of them that I'm interested in, but I'd hate to pass one up and then settle for something that's not what I need.

Do you have any advice on how to choose the best multimedia keyboard? I would be ever so grateful.

By galen84basc — On Oct 23, 2010

I've never been a huge fan of multimedia keyboards, even the so called "natural" multimedia keyboards.

It seems like all they do is try and cram a bunch of functions onto a keyboard that you can just as easily do with one or two clicks of a mouse.

And a lot of the functions I had never even heard of, much less used. I mean, when's the last time you actually switched your computer to quiet office using the keyboard, or browsed the internet mouse-less?

Though there is a lot to be said for the convenience of sensibly designed multimedia keyboards, I find that most are simply cramming buttons into a space that could be better utilized.

I'm happy to stick with my minimalist multi-media keyboard that's just got the volume control and web launcher -- and even that I don't use too often.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned -- but next time you look at your keyboard, think about what keys you actually use, and how many you don't even know the purpose of.

By musicshaman — On Oct 23, 2010

Multimedia keyboards are great, but just remember that a lot of times you have to install a bunch of multimedia keyboard drivers with it to make it work properly.

I use a USB multimedia keyboard from Microsoft, and it seemed like I needed a driver for each different function.

Once I got them all installed it was great, and I've had no regrets since, but it was kind of pain to get it set up. Just some food for thought -- if you're considering getting a multimedia keyboard, it might take a little more set-up then you're anticipating.

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