Monday, November 3, 2008

HarmonyOne Universal Remote

The Logitech HarmonyOne Advanced Universal Remote:
The Ultimate Remote for the Living Room


When asked whether a particular device, software program or computer is worth paying extra money for, I always respond the same way: how much is it worth to you? I was recently wondering what to ask Santa Claus for for Christmas. I have nearly everything in the way of technology I need. Then I looked at my favorite easy chair in the living room and discovered that I have 5 different remote controls! One for each different device connected to my home entertainment center. Fast forward a short time to when my wife was starting to review products for a Web site called BzzAgent.com. I don't know exactly how she did it, but somehow she was able to get my future Christmas present, a review copy of the new Logitech HarmonyOne Advanced Universal Remote to test and then write an online review of. I thought I would beat her to the punch, so I'm writing a review of it here.

The reason I ask, "What is it worth to you?" is because many people will simply dismiss this marvel of modern remote technology because of its steep price. It lists for a steep $250 from Logitech's Web site, although I have seen it for nearly $100 less than this on bargain electronics sites. Is it worth it to find a single device that will control your AV tuner, your HDTV, your old VCR, your entertainment PC or laptop, your game console(s), stand-alone DVD player, etc? Is it worth it to reduce the amount of clutter next to your living room furniture? For some people, it is. Amazingly this is not the most expensive remote that Logitech makes. That distinction goes to the HarmonyOne 1000 for $500.

My wife did her part by requesting that the remote be sent for review (courtesy of BzzAgent) and shortly we had it. Here is what you need to know about setting it up.
1. It requires that you install software on your computer to configure the remote through what looks like a Web page, and which requires a user name and password to log in.

2. It takes some definite set-up time, because you must find the exact model number of each d
evice that the remote will control. Finding the model number for our TV required that I wiggle my way back behind it with a flashlight and magnifying glass to take down the long Sony model number. The model number for our PVR was also a bit difficult. I had to tip the heavy thing on its side to get its long model number. You get the idea.
*One good thing is that the software will give an example for each model number once you indicate the manufacturer's name. This will help to tell you if you're on the right track when searching a device that contains a series of lengthy numbers like our cable box has.

3. After ascertaining the model numbers for each device, you can set up individual Activities. Since the average person who buys one of these Advanced Universal Remotes probably has a surround sound or AV receiver of some sort, this is a real time-saver, because it allows you to press one button and activate a series of devices into operation. For example, I set up a "Watch a DVD" activity. This allowed me to press the LED-lit "Watch a DVD" button on the beautiful black remote control, and it fired up the TV, turned on the receiver, tuned the input to input #6, which switched it to DVD Player mode, then turned the DVD to the Play position and immediately started playing the DVD...all with one button pressed. This is typically what setting up an Activity will do for you. Other activities include "Listen to Music," "Watch TV," etc.

4. You can also control each of your devices independently of Activities. What I found pretty cool and rather amazing is that each device you include the model number for is understood by the HarmonyOne, and it automatically picks the various features incorporated into that device, and includes these features in this remote's on-screen buttons. For example, our Panasonic AV Receiver (known as "Mini System CD/DVD/Radio" on the HarmonyOne) has a DVD player, radio, tuner and various audio inputs built into it. It's also a surround sound system with a 5-disc changer. The HarmonyOne automatically knew which sound control features were included in it, such as Seat Position, ability to change discs 1-5, Pro Logic, various inputs for each device, and, of course the usual fast-foward, rewind, chapter changing, menu options, LED display, Eject, etc. All of this is available in beautifully-lit on-screen button on the remote. That's right. The remote has a touch-screen LED built into the front of it.

5) It takes a person who loves to tweak the controls of a device to truly appreciate the HarmonyOne. It took me two days of connecting the remote to my laptop through the included USB cable, making changes in all of the button settings (which are completely customizable), and then transferring those settings from the computer to the remote. This means connecting the USB cable between the computer and remote, making the settings changes, then clicking the orange "Update Remote" button in the software.

After tweaking your various device settings (we had 6 different devices to set up), which took over an hour of changing various settings so they all worked, we were all set to use this thing. It required about 4-5 different sessions between the computer and remote with the USB cable, but I think it's safe to say that my HarmonyOne now works flawlessly. Another thing I like about it is that it is re-chargeable. All you have to do when it starts getting low on battery power is set it on its portable charger, plug it into a wall outlet, and let it charge back up. Too bad that all remotes can't do this.

Configuration Tips: You can go into the Remote Settings in the software and choose to turn off the Help tips (which come up otherwise whether you want them or not), as well as increase the amount of time that the LED controls are lit. I upped it from 10 seconds to 20 seconds. Otherwise the LED just doesn't stay lit long enough to read all of the various buttons. Our AV receiver device had 8 pages of buttons! and "Power Off" was on page 5. That is one complaint that I do have. Too many button screens. One more thing I recommend is that you change the button sounds. There really is no need to hear every button that you press. The annoying button sounds can be turned off in this same Remote Settings section.

Overall, the HarmonyOne is truly an amazing device which controls all of your other devices, or at least the ones that are connected to your TV. Even your higher-end entertainment laptops can be controlled by this remote. It takes a while to set up, but I think it's worth it. The more techie you are, the more you will love it. But please, do youself a favor and don't give it to anyone technically challenged. Grandmas and Grandpas and non-techie people will hate you for it. It will only make their lives miserable. For those who have 5 remote controls lined up or gathered around the living room, this is truly a godsend.

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