My ham radio buddy, John, really likes the Logitech Harmony 880 remote control that I sent home with him to test for me. The $250 device is designed to replace multiple remote controls and competes with other advanced remotes sometimes costing three times as much. I gave the 880 to John because he comes closer to having “up to 15” devices to control than I do. He has an extensive home theater system and was pleasantly surprised that the Harmony remote could control all his equipment. This includes a component that comes with an RF-based remote control (which the Harmony doesn’t support) but apparently has an IR receiver as well. Since the Harmony is IR-only, this worked out just fine. The Harmony is configured using a web site, a PC, and a USB connection to the remote control. You select the devices you own on the site and the information is this loaded into the remote.
The unit is “activity based,” meaning it’s designed to send all the commands necessary for an activity all at once. If you want to watch TV, for example, the unit might send an “on” command to your receiver, select the proper input, turn on the cable converter, and turn on the TV set itself–all with the press of a single button. In that way, the Harmony can replace several remotes and a whole bunch of button pushing.The Harmony remove includes a color LCD display (left) from which you select the activity of your choice.
The unit also comes with a recharger, which John say he needs to use only every few days.One of the best features of the Harmony remote (shown right, click on the image for a full-sized and less-dithered view) is a “help” key that can solve programming problems. For example, after you hit the “off” key the screen asks if everything has really been turned off. If not, hitting the help key walks you through various fixes. If they work, the remote memorizes them and you never need to use help again. If only computers worked like this.The Harmony remote is an excellent product that requires a certain level of geekiness to configure. Plus $250, which isn’t so much if you’ve already dropped $6,000 or more on a home theater system. However, once programmed the LCD makes a home theater easy for even non-geeks (like spouses and children) to use and appreciate.