One remote control to rule all electronic devices equipped with infrared sensor, one remote control to supersede all other remote controls. In today’s home entertainment world, more and more gadgets and devices are controlled by infrared remote controls.
Soon your coffee table (or wherever your remote controls are normally parked) will be filled with them. To free up the space and keep the place looking neat and tidy and less cluttered by remote controls, you will need something like Logitech Harmony 880 (or other all-in-one model).
Such device are known as universal learning remote control. There are many other brands and models available out there, and I picked up the Logitech Harmony 880 for my personal use.
Why Logitech Harmony 880?
One main reason why I picked this over other model in the Harmony family or other brands is because the Harmony 880 is actually looking quite nice, and it has a colour LCD screen.
The Logitech Harmony family of remote controls also includes other models such as the Harmony 525 for Xbox360 - and I have the impression that more and more people are getting the Harmony 525 over Harmony 880 due to its integration with Xbox360 and Microsoft Windows Media Center 2005 Edition.
The box is fairly big and feels solid enough to hold its content without damaging anything. There is enough information to say about its content, and of course some of the marketing sell points too.
Opening and digging into the box, you get a moulded clear plastic shell and white shell to hold the remote control, charger, battery, A/C adapter, USB cable, instruction book and driver/software CD.
According to the manual (and yes, I read the manual) you need to install the software first before plugging USB connection between the PC and Harmony 880. This is pretty common for most modern USB devices, since the operating system may not have the up-to-date drivers available.
However the driver supplied with the CD is pretty old (Logitech Harmony Remote version 4.4) compare to the Logitech’s website version which currently is at version 7.0.2.
So off I went to download the latest and installed it. I never seen the GUI of version 4.4, but a few forums said the version 7.0.2 has a nicer GUI over its predecessor. I agree, the GUI looks great, however it is HTA-based.
The software requires an Internet connection be available as it will contact a database for devices' remote code. I do not like this idea as it means you are dependent on having the Internet avaialable and having the Harmony server on-line for your remote control configuration. An offline database would be ideal and only update periodically as required to check and see if any new updates are available.
To use the software, you will need to create an account on the server, where all your remote controls' profile and settings will be saved. From the look at this, it seems like you can have as many remote controls associate to your login as your heart desire.
After the logon screen, you have 3 main tabs to work with: Activities, Devices and Remote Settings.
The remote control setup is pretty easy to use and follow as it is mainly wizard-based. Adding devices to the list is easy enough, just make sure you have the model number or make handy, so if you haven’t got a list of your devices in hand, time to do the hard work now!
Once all devices are added, you can create "activities" and configure it to suit your setup. You can create “Watch a DVD”, “Watch TV” or “Listen to a CD”, etc.
I find the default setup works fine, to a degree. And as there are countless of devices and millions of combination of how all these devices will interact, configure and set up, it is probable that some options won’t work as thought.
My setup consists of a Philips 32” LCD TV (32PF9966/79), Sony home theatre (DAV-S880), TelstraClear digital decoder (ADB I-Can 3000c Q68 TNZ), Joytech JS-965 AV Control Center, Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2.
I found out that my Philips TV requires at least 10 seconds delay from cold start before any command will be recognised properly, and I always have my digital decoder turned on, and both game consoles and the home theatre system connected through the Joytech A/V switcher to go to specific TV input, and switches to the specific A/V inputs depending on what activities I want.
The whole process to get to my ultimate remote control setup took about 6 hours, with back and forth tuning and refining, and learning how both original remote control works, and the available remote control codes and database are available from Harmony server and tweaking the time delay etc. Sure took a long while but the payoff is worthwhile!
You can also customise the LCD to display your personalised background (which is 128x160x24-bit, <160KB) and also with option to set Favorite channels icon/button image (64x32x24-bit, <160KB).
As mentioned above, the setup for devices and activities required me to make some tweaking to some devices’ delays, inputs setting, learning new code or even try slightly different model.
However it is not all that bad, much to my least liking I found the IR Learning feature is great and easy. Unfortanely once you taught the Harmony a new IR code, you cannot remove it from the list without deleting the device and adding it back on again!
One advice to all new users is, try out all the pre-assigned codes and those available from the database first. Only if you can’t find what you need or it doesn’t do what you expected, THEN you teach the new IR code.
Overall, I like the feel of the Harmony 880, the look of it as well as the potential of its future proof and longetivity as it is a learning remote control. The software could use a bit more improvement in terms of not requiring the Internet connection, and as mentioned an offline database would be great!
The GUI is good but there is room for improvement, and also a bit more advanced configuration for further tweaking is be greatly welcomed.
Universal learning remote control
Huge remote control codes database
Easy to configure and customise
Activities oriented operation with 1-push to turn the necessary devices on, switch to right inputs, turn off unwanted devices and start your activity
Useful “Help” (Remote Assistance) on the remote to guide you through simple troubleshooting and step by step “fixing”
Relies on Internet connection for database and configuration
HTA-based software instead of an actual software interface
LCD screen is a bit washed out
Can be quite confusing and frustrating when trying to configure odd setup
Remote Assistance can be quite annoying, however is useful for diagnosing a failed control - fortunately, it can be turned off permanently.