If you’ve got home entertainment gear hidden inside cabinets, behind false walls or in the next room, Logitech’s radio-enabled Harmony 900 universal remote could be a godsend.
Unlike traditional remotes, the Harmony 900 can shoot through walls and around corners. It comes with a radio-controlled infrared repeater, called a ‘blaster’, that can live in the next room – pointed at hidden AV gear such as a home theatre amplifier or media centre. Now you can use the remote’s infrared transmitter to control your television, while radio waves relay infrared commands for your hidden AV gear to the blaster in the next room.
The Harmony 900 sticks with the sleek design of the Harmony One and comes with a custom recharge cradle. The four coloured function buttons (Red, Green, Yellow and Blue) make a welcome return on the 900, as they’re handy for accessing special functions on devices such as pay-TV set-top boxes and media centres.
Design-wise the 900 is exquisite – moulded to fit your hand and perfectly balanced with the most commonly used buttons resting right under your thumb. The LCD touchscreen automatically wakes when you pick up the remote. As for physical buttons, they feel smooth under thumb and offer just the right amount of resistance. A subtle backlight kicks in if you’re in a dark environment.
The strength of the Harmony remotes is that they use customisable ‘Activities’ to let you run your entire home entertainment system. Just tell the software (Mac or PC) all the gear you want to control and it automatically compiles macros and assigns them to Activities such as Watch Live TV or Watch a DVD. This makes it easy for anyone to drive your lounge room – just press the Activity button on the colour LCD and all the required devices are switched on and configured accordingly. If something should go wrong there’s even a Help button that starts reissuing commands until you tell it you’ve fixed the problem.
Like the Harmony One ($500), the Harmony 900 can control up to 15 devices, whereas the cheaper Harmony 700 ($300) can only control six. This is part of Logitech’s annoying campaign to strip features out of its new products, forcing you to buy the more expensive model. The old Harmony 785 – which comes with a recharge cradle and controls 15 devices – is still available online for around $100.
Once it’s finished switching on and configuring all your gear, the Harmony 900 then becomes a remote control for whichever device you’re watching – such as your Blu-ray player, PVR or media centre.
Logitech maintains an online library with the set-up for thousands of home entertainment devices but, should you strike out, the Harmony can learn commands from your existing remotes. Configuring it to control an Apple TV is tricky, but it can be done.
Unfortunately, Logitech has made a small change with the Harmony 900 that will frustrate power users. Once you’ve created an Activity, you can customise the function of each button on the remote, but – unlike older Harmony remotes – you can’t allocate a sequence of commands to one button.
Australian Macworld’s Buying advice. Logitech’s Harmony 900 is an amazing piece of gear but, at $900, you’d only buy it if you absolutely needed the RF-controlled blasters. Otherwise you’d be better off with the cheaper Harmony One or Harmony 700. If you care more about substance than style, you could still pick up the old Harmony 785 on the cheap. Still, if you’re struggling to control an expensive hidden home theatre then $900 might not seem too much for an exquisite remote control that ‘just works’.
This review originally appeared in the April issue of Australian Macworld magazine.