What’s this? One of those multi-function remote control thingies? I can already hear the legions of regular readers muttering “aren’t those things a bit, well, rubbish, really?”. Well, yes. In general. I’ve had a few of these over the years – setting them up generally involved finding the right codes for your TV and other toys in a manual, pressing some buttons to get the thing into programming mode, typing in strings of digits and hoping for the best. Then there was the one that had to be sent off to the maker to have extra codes added. Or the one which picked up its programming from notes played down a phone line. All very awkward and time consuming, but that wasn’t the main problem. The real issue was that the configuration of the buttons never quite worked. I did have one with a sort of touch screen, but it didn’t actually change the buttons, it just hid the ones that weren’t relevant to what you were operating at the time. But even that wasn’t the main problem. Imagine you want to watch a DVD. You’d need to do something like this with my kit:
- Turn the TV and set it to the correct input.
- Turn on the DVD player
- Turn on the amplifier and set it to the correct input
All of which would involve switching modes on the device for each step, working out which button is which and generally deciding that it would be less trouble to use three separate remotes before shoving the fancy devic in the back of a drawer and trying not to think about how much money you wasted on it.
But the Harmony remotes (there’s a range of them ranging from quite basic to fancy – like mine – to very fancy indeed) are different. While they will control devices independently, the design and concept is about activities. This takes a lot more setting up than a normal remote control, but once you’ve got it sorted out, it makes life much easier.
For instance, once it’s set up to “watch a DVD”, it does all the stuff listed above, and shows DVD type controls on its touchscreen. The play/pause/stop/forward/backward buttons on the main body of the device operate the DVD and the volume control controls the amplifier, which is pretty much what you’d expect.
It even operates my Virgin V+ box correctly – all the main controls operate the cable box, apart form volume, which again runs on the amplifier. I’ve even got a separate activity for listening to the radio on the V+ – this turns on the amp and the cable box, but not the TV.
And when you’ve finished watching and listening, pressing the power button on the Harmony turns off all the devices used in the activity, which is a nice touch.
Programming is done over a USB cable from the supplied software which comes in both Windows and Mac versions, and there is extensive support and advice available on the web. Quite apart from the actual Logitech information, other users offer their own suggestions and solutions for getting particular devices and combinations of devices working.
It’s not perfect – the way inputs are selected on some TVs (including mine) causes it some confusion, which means I sometimes have to tell it to try again to get the TV to display what I want to look at, but this generally involves fewer button pushes than I’d have needed with the original remote anyway, so it’s only a moderate annoyance, which may be fixable with some different codes, which I’ll investigate later. Either that or get a better behaved TV…
You also need to be prepared to spend some time setting things up, and to try a few combinations of codes and product types before you get the ones that really work for your toys. If you don’t like that kind of thing, this probably isn’t the thing for you. But if you’re prepared to invest a little time to save a lot later, this is well worth it.
Overall, I really like it. It’s nicely built, the buttons are nice and firm, the touch screen is bright and clear. It also has some kind of motion sensor which brings it out of sleep mode when you pick it up. That bright screen eats batteries, so it comes with a charger base which keeps it to hand, so that’s not really a bad thing.
 For an arbitrarily small value of “legion”
 Not to mention irregular and intermittent