Anyone that knew Harmony before they were purchased by Logitech knew that they made some of the most user friendly remotes on the market. Perhaps not so ironically, Logitech has the distinction of making some of the most user friendly PC peripherals. Maybe that’s why there was little objection to Logitech’s takeover. Or maybe people were waiting to test the first batch of remotes from this dynamic duo before passing judgment. Whatever the case, if the Logitech Harmony 720 is anything like what we will be seeing in the future, get ready for some incredible new products.
Harmony was the first on the remote control scene to offer activity-based buttons rather than requiring the convoluted, finger cramping spasms needed to turn on most modern home theater equipment. Power on TV, switch to input 2, power on receiver, switch input, power on cable box, switch remote mode to cable box, and God forbid you had separate amps or wanted to watch a DVD because you would be nursing thumb blisters for the rest of the evening! Sure some remotes offere macros, a set of defined actions tied to an ominously labeled button named M1, but what if you wanted to watch TV and then a DVD without powering down all your components? And what if your manufacturer codes were supplied in the tiny secret code booklet, which would inevitably get lost as soon as put it away after the first use?
The Harmony philosophy was simple. If your one remote had a little bit of memory, it could remember what it did, what actions were needed to switch your setup between different states, and best of all translate user intent from thumb mashing acrobatics into simple commands. It worked beautifully. Sure, you could still control each component to your heart’s content, but if you just wanted to watch TV, you hit the Watch TV button. The components turn on, then switch their inputs, the lights dim, curtains close, popcorn popper starts up, etc. As long as you controlled it with an IR remote, you could tie it into your activity settings.
The devices made by Harmony gathered an almost fanatical fan base among home theater enthusiasts, offering advanced features for a good price and in a format that the whole family could understand. But the remote control is a single, small component and the opportunity to gain the resources of one of the biggest PC peripheral manufacturers was too enticing. In 2004 Intrigue Technologies, the maker of the Harmony remote line, was purchased for $29 million. Most of the first Logitech branded remotes were simply re-branded Harmony remotes with updated styling. The Logitech Harmony 720 represents the first major redesign since the acquisition, and we have to say they hit the mark in nearly every respect.
Features and Design
The Harmony 720 comes with a charging cradle, USB cord, software, and instruction manual. The remote itself sports a crisp, clear LCD screen surrounded by six silver hard buttons and two soft navigation buttons. Above the screen are the Power, Activities, Devices, and Help buttons. Below the screen are info and navigation buttons, followed by a shiny silver directional pad. A silver U-shaped bezel contains the Volume and Channel buttons. The bottom third of the remote contains the DVD/VCR controls (also called video transport controls) and number buttons. The top surface contains the USB port covered by a rubber flap and the IR transmitter. The bottom edge houses the IR receiver used for learning new codes from old remotes. The charging cradle has a softly glowing blue Logitech emblem, and placing the remote into the cradle can launch a slide show on the remote’s screen. Useless, but a nice touch.
Logitech Harmony 720 w/charging base
Logitech obviously paid close attention to design on the Harmony 720. The remote is slim, but has good weight, feels well built and sturdy, and has a nice balance to it. Tactile feedback on some of the buttons isn’t the best we’ve seen, but overall we were pleased. The removable battery pack and ergonomic design balance the remote comfortably in your hand. All the reflective silver buttons are blue backlit, and placed logically. The Activities button is adorned with an especially bright circle of blue.
Image Courtesy of Logitech
Setup and Use
Turning on the Harmony 720 is as easy as picking it up. The tilt sensor illuminates the buttons when it senses a change in orientation. Some other remotes use a simple motion sensor that can be overly sensitive to slight vibrations. The 720 uses a tilt sensor that requires what might be called an “intentional movement,” or a movement more indicative of use. Raising and lower the remote slowly does not turn it up, but once the tilt is around 20 degrees the 720 jumps to attention, waiting for orders.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Harmony remote line is the ability to program it through a PC. Install the software on your computer (or use the web interface for Macs), plug in the remote, and a start tweaking. The process for initially setting up the remote takes approximately 10-15 minutes, but more inquisitive users could spend anywhere up to hours messing with each parameter and tweaking each setting. Most people with the skills to use a regular remote will have no trouble setting up the Harmony 720 in most configurations. Power users will find the extensive use of Wizards and question based solutions a little annoying. For instance, we still cannot figure out how we managed to get our Yamaha receiver to toggle the 6 Channel Input when it leaves the Home Theater PC activity. But, it works. Users can adjust everything from the slide show that displays in the cradle, to the pause between commands being sent to individual components. Finding the screen where they’re done can be slightly annoying, but with a little work, it all comes together.
Updating the remote with a new program takes about five minutes, which can seem like an eternity if you are trying to tweak specific settings by trial and error. Also, while activating an activity, the remote will lock out any input until it is through issuing the appropriate bursts of sweet IR energy. This can be annoying if you set the volume nice and loud for that movie you watched in the afternoon, and then sneak downstairs late at night when you can’t sleep. You’ll the greeted by blaring sound while the harmony patiently waits for your TV to warm up before switching its input and allowing you control.
Just as s reference, we used one of the most universal remote un-friendly setups that exist today. A Samsung DLP (with moderately long warm up times and questionable discrete codes), a Yamaha RX-V2200 (with several toggle modes and separate power on and off buttons), a home built Home Theater PC (with Windows Media Center Edition 2005), and a Motorola HD cable box (with poor reception and ridiculous lags between commands). Overall, we were very pleased. Some advanced tweaking needed to be done in order to make the Yamaha receiver play nice, but we were pleasantly surprised.
One final note: The Logitech Harmony 720 is exceedingly hard to find. It was released in July 2006 to a few retailers, and as the 785 in the UK, but the Logitech site has not yet posted a product page for this remote. Rest assured: it is new, it is supported, and it has not been recalled.
If you’re looking for a great middle range universal remote with all the bells and whistles, the Logitech Harmony 720 should be at the top of your list. The unique combination of stylish aesthetics and an intuitive interface is sure to impress everyone at first sight. Not only does it look nice and operate well, but it is affordable and solidly built. If the $200 price tag puts you off, the cheaper, monochrome 550 model offers many of the same features for less.
• Color screen
• Tilt sensor
• Easy setup
• Intuitive interface
• Might annoy some power users with lack of access to direct editing