The Fifth Column: Remote Harmony
After I bought my LED television and Blu-Ray player, I discovered that I had a surplus of remotes because each of my devices came with its own remote. This was not too much of a hassle because the Blu-Ray remote also had a few basic functions for the TV which was quite convenient. The major problem was that I did not have a remote for my Sony receiver because the original remote had bounced off the tiles one too many times. Sony, in their infinite wisdom, wanted to charge me more than R1000 for a replacement and I politely declined.
Because I no longer had a remote for my receiver, I had to manually select the correct inputs as well as the volume every time I watched a movie or played music. This soon became tiresome and led me on an odyssey to find a universal remote. I had heard good things about the Logitech Harmony brand. It is quite well known, has a quality line of products and is reasonably priced. I visited their website and compared a few of the remotes. The basic functionality of each one was the same aside from the number of devices which it could control. My choices were the 300/i, at the middle of the range was the Harmony 650 with the Harmony 900 at the upper end. Because I was on a fairly tight budget, I had to be quite careful with my choice. I did not want to purchase a remote with a feature set that I would not use.
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For the sake of completeness I decided to check out the entry level Harmonys as well, the 300 and 300i . The only difference between the two is the glossy black finish of the 300i where the 300 has a matte finish. I did not really consider it a selling point to pay more for the glossy black finish of the 300i which was essentially a fingerprint magnet. The 300/i supports four devices, has no LCD and has pre-set buttons for your activities. The specification made it a great entry level universal remote but I preferred the 650 because of its added activity customisations.
The 650 can control 5 devices whereas the 900 can control 15 devices which is overkill for my requirements. Both remotes also support the activity-based control system. This means that the remote can be configured to switch on a number of devices for a specific activity. So for example when I created an activity to watch a movie, when I selected the activity button on the remote, the TV would be switched on as well as the receiver and Blu Ray player. When I needed to switch all the devices off, this was done by simply pressing the ‘All Off’ button on the remote. The simplicity and convenience is brilliant.
The other key feature that I checked was the programming function. I had read that most universal remotes had a very clunky interface but that the Harmony was the best of the bunch. The entire setup process is done online but you first have to create a profile on the Harmony website which is quick and easy. Once you have created your profile, you add all the devices that you want to control. Given that Logitech claim to have more than 225 000 devices in their database, I had no problem adding my devices except for my Samsung television. The setup wizard did offer an alternative Samsung television profile which worked without any problems. I managed to add my television, Blu-Ray player and receiver and also configured my activities in about 15 minutes. The entire process was quick and easy.
Given that I managed to find a 650 demo unit for super cheap, I opted for it over the 300. I have used the remote for a few months and have not had any problems. I love the activity based options as well as the ‘All Off’ function which switches off all my devices at once. The Harmony 650 has a great build quality and the buttons are well laid out. The colour LCD is a nice-to-have but not a major selling point of the remote. If you are in the market for a universal remote, you cannot go wrong with the Harmony range. Before dropping your hard earned cash, give careful thought to your requirements. If you have a basic setup with four or less devices, then the 300 will most likely meet your needs. The 650 will meet the needs of most any home theatre/entertainment setup and the 900 would be best suited if you have a wide range of home entertainment equipment which extends beyond a single room.