I’ll admit it. Universal remote controls are the bane of my life, well one bane anyway. I’m always tempted by them, and in general, they always let me down.
For the past year I’ve been trying to simplify and distill my home entertainment needs — and I’ve now got as few devices as I think I can. I’ve got a PVR to watch and record TV, a plasma screen, my trusty Apple TV and a valve amp that doesn’t even have a remote control. So, that makes three devices that count.
I decided to give universal remotes one more try: enter the Harmony One from Logitech.
The Harmony line of remotes isn’t new. In fact, the family has been around for nearly five years. The premise of Harmony is simple: set up your remote control via software, and operate your remote control via “activities” or tasks.
The software client you use to setup Harmony One is really a portal to the Harmony web site, where you program the device. The software that runs locally is merely a conduit for the remote to exchange data with the web site.
Once you’ve registered for an account, you’ll be asked to select your devices from Logitech’s vast catalogue — which it claims contains 5000 brands and more than 225,000 devices. While I easily found my LG plasma listed under “Television”, adding the Apple TV was a little more complex (hint: it’s under “Computer” and “Media Center PC” — enter Apple TV for the model number).
Having entered my devices, the Logitech wizard then prompted me to set up activities. Think of activities as a list of macros, or a sequence of IR commands the Harmony spits out once you press the button. In my case it goes something like this: Turn on TV, set to input HDMI 1 and Turn on PVR.
After you’ve setup your activities, you can further tailor the Harmony One by customising the “soft” buttons on the touchscreen. You can also set up “sequences”, or sets of manual commands that can be assigned to any button on the Harmony.
Before you can use the remote you’ll need to hit the big green “Update Remote” button, plug in the Harmony via a standard mini-USB cable and let the software do its thing. Once the Harmony restarts you should see the main screen with the activities you’ve programmed into it.
Using the Harmony One is mostly pleasurable. It’s got nice contours and certainly feels better in hand than most remotes and comes with a docking station where the remote charges while not in use. It’s also got a motion sensor so it activates when you pick it up.
Sometimes though, the Harmony doesn’t get switching modes quite right. In my case when moving from HDMI 2 back to HDMI 1 the TV always seems to go via HDMI input 3. That may be more to do with my plasma that can’t accept discrete commands to move between HDMI inputs. Either way, I fixed it by creating a soft button that lets me manually adjust the HDMI input.
Happily, my wife seems to be comfortable using the Harmony, which seems to be the biggest indication yet that Logitech might just have got it right with the Harmony One.
Australian Macworld Buying Advice. The Harmony One is a great, albeit expensive universal remote control that is easy to configure and use. If the Harmony One breaks the budget, Logitech have cheaper models in the Harmony product line that might be suitable.