Remote Possibilities

The Logitech Harmony remotes I would categorize somewhere between the original multi-function remote (the ones that came with your VCR player and could also control your TV) and the high-end programmed remotes that are used by professional installers. These remotes definately pass the NGUT (Non-Geek Usage Test) – they are a breeze to use. Logitech recognized the genius behind this product and bought the parent company Intrigue Technologies in 2004. While they have done well to make this product easy to setup and program, I cannot recommend it to the totally non-geek owner (didn’t pass the NGOT; Non-Geek Owner Test).  You need some tech-savvy to avoid frustration in setting this up, but if you can get past that hurdle, you will really appreciate how it works.

So what’s so great about a Harmony remote?  It eliminates having four remotes sitting in a basket on your coffee table and frees the TV user from needing to know how your system is wired – just press and watch!

Let’s compare this to the simple multi-function remote: the kind that has buttons on it labeled “TV”, “VCR”, “DVD”, and “CABLE”. This type of remote can control different devices, one at a time – you press the button for which device you want to control, and then press the desired function buttons.   If you have more than two devices, this can get complex – the viewer may need to know how to switch the TV’s input.  In contrast, with the Harmony remote, you just press an Activity, such as “Watch TV”, or “Watch a Movie”, and the remote turns on all the necessary devices and puts them in the right setting (like TV on Input 1).  After that, the various buttons on the remote are assigned to the appropriate device: the channel changer controlling the cable box, the volume controls the AV receiver, etc.

The breakthrough that makes this technology possible is the new way the Harmonies are programmed.   Programming a remote by entering codes from a booklet or special key-sequences is so limited and frustrating- the clever people who invented the Harmony created software for you to program your remote using your PC or Mac, drawing on their huge database of devices over the Internet.    And if that wasn’t enough, the Harmonies are learning remotes – you can teach it IR signals from your original equipment remote. Over the years, Logitech has improved the software, released more specialized models, added RF-based wireless extenders, touch screens, etc.

I bought my first Harmony back in 2003 – it looked just like a cable remote with similar buttons in the same places, so anyone could use it without much education.  People just had to learn to press “Watch TV” or whatever.  I’ve since upgraded to the 1000 for my home theater, which looks nothing like a traditional remote – it has a big touch screen  which is easy to read in the dark (the way we like to watch movies). I also use the RF extenders – these eliminate the need to keep the remote pointed at the devices and also handles the DVD changer on the side of the couch.

Yes, there are drawbacks to these remotes and it really depends on your needs and users how significant those are:

  • Not Cheap – although the new low-end model is $40, you should expect to spend a over $100 for a all the features you need.
  • Not Indestructible – like all other remotes, they break and you will eventually replace it for that reason.  Think about it – if you’re replacing four remotes with one, it’s going to get much more handling.
  • Devices Get Out-of-Sync – The Harmony remembers the state of every device (on or off) and devices that use the same button to turn on as off can get out sync with the state the remote thinks they are in.  There is a help button to resolve this, but it can frustrate some users.
  • Keep Pointing – When you turn on or off or change activities, you must keep the remote pointing at the device IR receivers until all of the commands are sent.  This was a real problem at our house, where people would press the off button and toss the remote on the couch as soon as the TV turned off.  This would leave the cable or AV receiver on and then out-of-sync for the next use.  The RF extender solved that problem.
  • Which Button? – many compact remotes have this same problem – lots of buttons with tiny symbols on them and not everyone can see them well. Some models do better in this area – they have backlit buttons or bright big touch screens (like the 1000).

In summary and just like the Sonos for Home Audio, the Harmony remotes are the only ones I would personally consider – I am sold. They do everything I need, easily, elegantly, and more.

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