You need a keyboard mouse, sitting in the living room (preferably wireless). This is a problem because
- The big keyboard/mouse is not the item you want on your coffee table. A compact keyboard with touchpad might be ok, but they are still expensive.
- If you hide the keyboard/mouse out of sight, you invariably stack things on top of them causing them to lose battery charge in a day or so if some keys get pressed. As a result the batteries are drained whenever you need to use it.
Use your laptop keyboard to control the HTPC. This of course can be done with a regular VNC, but the display of the HTPC especially if it is running at a high resolution is extremely slow to show up on your laptop.
Enter Win2VNC (or x2vnc for linux folks) !! This is basically VNC without the display. So it sends your keyboard mouse presses over VNC but drops the display back to your laptop. As a matter of fact, it creates a "hot edge" on your laptop crossing which moves focus into the HTPC and back. Very convinient, clean and fast. !!!
This has been traditionally used to control multiple computers at work with a single keyboard, but can be used in this HTPC scenario as well.
There exists another similar solution called Synergy which does the same thing, but I suspect it needs you to run a server app on the HTPC. For people who have no clue what VNC is, this might be a better option. Synergy does seem to have more features like combining clip boards to allow copy pasting between the two computers.