My home theater system consists of a Samsung LED LCD HDTV, a TiVo Premiere (which has a cable card and replaces the cable box), an Onkyo A/V Receiver, and a Sony PlayStation 3 for games (Marvel vs Capcom 3 being the latest) and playing DVDs/BluRay films. I say this not to brag (because I know many people with better systems and stronger brand preferences) but to paint an accurate picture. Once I had all these devices connected, I had more than a handful of remote controls and a mish-mash of controllers that could control more than 1 device to a certain extent. It was more than a little confusing and hard to explain to any guests that might want to just watch TV. In comes the Logitech Harmony One. It’s a smart universal remote that allows for some advanced programming and an evolving list of compatible devices. Was it up for to the task?
At $167 from Amazon (as of publishing), is the Logitech Harmony One worth it? Well, for the money, here’s what you get:
- Harmony One Remote with color touchscreen display and rechargeable battery
- Charging docking station with AC adapter
- USB A to USB Micro cable
- Lint-free screen cleaning cloth
- Instruction booklet/CD for installing the software
Logitech + Amazon is a great combination because you can opt to have your order packaged in the ‘Amazon Frustration-Free’ packaging which is better for the environment and is easier to open with no blister packaging.
Thank you for purchasing a Harmony Remote.
As a new Harmony Customer, you have access to 90 days of telephone support to ensure your harmony is working its very best.
To program the remote, it uses a desktop application that syncs your settings to an account “in the cloud” and transfers the configuration to your remote over USB. The Harmony Remote software works on Windows XP – Windows 7 and Mac OS X. It’s pretty easy to run through the setup but can be a bit time consuming. They provide you a booklet with instructions on how to setup the remote. One part will consist of entering the model numbers of the different devices you wish to control and the other part will involve tweaking what they call ‘Activities’. One cool feature of the remote is its ability to learn from other remotes when a specific model can’t be matched. For example, the Logitech remote learned from the TiVo remote its remote codes for its functions when I just entered ‘TiVo Premiere’.
Activities are essentially macros. You press one button and the remote does everything you need in order to do that activity. For example, when I press the ‘Watch TV’ activity it runs through these steps:
- Power on the A/V Receiver.
- Power on the TV.
- Switch the TiVo to Tuner mode.
- Put the TV on HDMI1 input.
- Put the A/V Receiver on Cable/Satellite input.
While the remote is in that activity mode, the color touch screen displays a lot of the common TiVo buttons like Tivo, LiveTV, Thumbs Up/Down, and the four colored buttons amongst others. The volume buttons are set to control the A/V Receiver and the channel up/down buttons are set to control the TiVo. Much more convenient than grabbing the TV remote to change the input to HDMI1 and then the TiVo remote to change the channel. To be fair, the TiVo remote is programmed to control the audio but before getting the Logitech Harmony One, another remote was often required to change the input of the TV when switching from one source to another. You can also switch the remote to control an individual device if you need something particular that isn’t controlled by the remote in Activity mode. When you’ve done what you need to do, you can switch the remote back to the Current Activity.
The one thing that none of the original remotes could touch was the PS3. You always had to get the PS3 remote and power on the system and control the system by remembering what buttons did what. R2 fast forwards while R1 skips a DVD’s chapter, etc. For others, this was the most intimidating part. When you just want to pop in a DVD and watch a movie, poking buttons and trying to figure out how to skip the 13 minutes of commercials in the beginning can take away from the relaxing event you’re supposed to be enjoying.
The PS3 is controlled by Bluetooth through the PS3 remote, not the infrared (IR) signal that most other remotes speak. A $40 accessory, the Logitech Harmony Adapter for PlayStation 3, acts as an adapter and translates your Logitech Harmony’s commands from the remote to the PS3 over Bluetooth. Setting it up was a breeze. You just plug the adapter into the AC power and then go into the PS3 settings to add a Bluetooth control as the included instructions guide you.
Thanks to the PS3 Adapter, the PS3 can be included in the Activity list. As the DVD and BluRay player, this is an extra convenience. The Activity for Watch DVD/Play PS3 consists of:
- Power on A/V Receiver.
- Power on TV.
- Power on PS3.
- Switch TV to HDMI1
- Switch A/V Receiver to BD/DVD input.
In this activity mode, the color touchscreen shows the PlayStation buttons: circle, square, triangle, X, R1, R2, L1, L2, and the others. This alone wouldn’t improve the process by much but fortunately the more common buttons are mapped to the necessary functions. So you can just hit the fast forward button or rewind button on the remote and the PS3 will do as you requested.
The experience with the Logitech Harmony One universal remote has been by-and-large positive. It’s simplified the home theater experience into a single remote. The remote is also rechargeable so batteries don’t have to be replaced and you can always find the remote in its dock. There are a few places where the remote could be improved or where it doesn’t fit just perfectly into my setup.
The remote, I believe, has an accelerometer in it and activates once it senses motion, like being picked up. Sometimes the screen won’t trigger if you’ve been holding the remote long enough that it shut off and you didn’t move it around to re-activate it. There can also sometimes be a delay in pressing a button and the action being sent it seems. This can sometimes be problematic when you are fast forwarding through a show’s commercials on the DVR. When the show returns, you hit the play button but it might end up into the show a little bit. This has been rare and pretty inconsistent so tracking down what exactly causes it has evaded me.
I use a Belkin Smart Power Strip to turn off all the other devices whenever the master, the A/V receiver, turns off. This saves electricity from vampire devices so I don’t want to remove it from the setup. However, devices can’t be powered on until a few seconds after the A/V receiver powers on. You can switch the remote into working for an individual device (instead of an activity) and then cycle through the menus to power on the device and switch back to the Activity Mode. Fortunately, the Harmony software provides a lot of control over the activity setup. I adjusted the “Watch TV” activity to include a 2 second delay and then power on the TV. This resolved the issue of the TV not having power yet by time it receives the normal Power On command. This demonstrates a strength, the flexibility, of the remote and not a weakness. Ideally, the TV would just be available like normal but in the name of saving electricity and money, the power strip remains in the equation.
The remote is a bit pricey. In fairness, it is advanced, has a color LCD touchscreen, and a rechargeable battery. It’s not a decision to be made without a bit more research but if you’ve spent the money on getting your system just right, it’s probably worth the extra money to smooth out the interface to your home theater experience. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. 😉