We heaped a fair amount of praise on Logitech’s Harmony 1100 universal remote last April. But the reality is that while that touchscreen device is supremely easy to program and drop-dead sexy to boot, it costs as much as the small HDTV or entry-level A/V receiver you might use it to control.
On the flip side, Logitech’s Harmony 900 has a smaller touchscreen, and its bulkier form factor renders it something of a wallflower compared to its upscale sibling. However, the latter device offers the same easy programmability, includes robust RF capabilities that are optional on the 1100 model, and is priced $100 lower, making it a much better value overall.
The Harmony 900’s rectangular design and physical transport-control buttons and numeric keypad make it look much more like a typical remote control than the square Harmony 1100. In some ways, however, the dedicated buttons (which are backlit to render them usable in a darkened room) make the 900 just a little more intuitive to use. If you’re watching TV and wish to change channels, for instance, you don’t need to call up a numeric keypad on the touchscreen, you just press the buttons.
But we think the 900’s RF features are what really make it a better value than the pricier model 1100. In our home theater, all components other than the video projector are mounted in a built-in entertainment center, hidden behind plywood doors that an infrared signal can’t penetrate. We use a Niles Audio Remote Control Anywhere kit, which consists of an IR receiver that we mounted on the outside of the entertainment center and five IR emitters for the gear inside the cabinet. This works great, but you must be in the room for the remote to function.
The Harmony 900 eliminates this line-of-sight requirement with three IR blasters that receive commands over a radio frequency. The blasters translate the RF commands to infrared streams inside the cabinet, so we can control all our gear (even if it’s on different shelves) without having to be in the same room. Emitters like the ones that Niles Audio uses are much smaller and less obtrusive than blasters, but Logitech’s solution enables you to control more equipment. And if the gear is behind a cabinet door anyway, do appearances matter all that much?
The primary attraction of Harmony remote controls is the ease with which they can be programmed—as long as you have a PC and Internet access, that is. If you have a home theater PC, a laptop, or some other machine that you can use at least temporarily in the same room as the components you need to control, that’s all the better. Having a computer in the same room makes tweaking and troubleshooting much easier.
All you need to do is install the Harmony software on your PC, plug the remote into the PC’s USB port, and tell the software the brand names and model numbers of the devices you need to control. Logitech’s software will then download the appropriate instructions from the company’s massive database and store them in the remote’s memory. You can choose brand names from a drop-down menu, but you’ll need to know the specific model numbers for each piece of gear in your entertainment center.
The next step in the installation queries you as to which entertainment activities you want to set up, based on the devices that you’ve entered in the previous step. We downloaded the control codes for a ViewSonic N4285 HDTV, an Epson PowerLite Cinema 500 video projector, a Samsung BD-P1600 Blu-ray player, a Dish Network VIP-622 set-top box, and a Yamaha RX-V665 A/V receiver, so the software suggested creating “Watch TV,” “Watch DVD,” and “Listen to Radio” activities. It didn’t recommend creating a “Listen to Music” activity, though, perhaps because we didn’t indicate that we had a CD player, but we needed only to place a checkmark next to “Listen to CD” to add it to our list of choices. The installation routine even took into account Yamaha’s optional iPod dock and advised us that if we had one that we’d need to set it up as a separate device.
The next step in the setup process asks which devices you use for each activity. Since we indicated that we had both a TV and a video projector, for instance, the software asked which one we typically use to watch television. We took the default choice of the TV here, because we typically use the projector only when watching movies on the Blu-ray player. The next step inquired which device we used to control the volume (our choices being the TV, the A/V receiver, or—oddly enough—the video projector).
The final steps were to configure the inputs and outputs on the A/V receiver and the television. The software knows which ports are available on each device (HDMI 1, HDMI 2, Component Video, S/PDIF, etc.), so it’s just a matter of picking the right one. We were a little confused nonetheless when it came to setting up the Yamaha RX-V665, because the A/V receiver uses front-panel “scene” buttons for the Blu-ray player, TV, CD, and Radio. We resolved that issue easily enough by reviewing the receiver’s setup screen to refresh our memory as to the inputs and outputs we had mapped to each button.
Once you’ve programmed the remote with all the devices you wish to control and all the activities you’ll be using them for, all you need to do is press the Activities button on the remote and choose the one you’re interested in. The remote powers everything on and the hardwired buttons default to the appropriate action. If you select the Blu-ray activity, for instance, the transport-control buttons will control the player’s pause, play, fast-forward, rewind, and chapter-forward/back functions. If you select the DVR activity to watch a recorded TV program, then those buttons will automatically switch over to send commands to that device.
As easy as the Harmony remotes are to program, we have encountered situations where we could not configure one ourselves to control a device exactly the way we wanted. That’s where Logitech’s excellent telephone tech support comes into play. These knowledgeable folks can not only help walk you through a problem, they can prepare a fix that you can download and verify while you’re on the phone. Free telephone tech support, however, is available for only 90 days after purchase: Beyond that, you’ll have to pay a fee, consult the user manual, or peruse Logitech’s online troubleshooting guide and community forums. Like the overall package, such luxury comes at a cost, but – assuming you’re in the market for a high-end home theater remote – one that’s well worth paying for those who put power and convenience first.
- Controls everything
- RF capability and IR blasters included
- Easy to program
- Beautiful touchscreen
- Great tech support
- Telephone tech support limited to 90 days
- Harmony Adapter ($59.99) required to control a PlayStation 3