TV. TV tuner. Blu-ray player. Your home theater or stereo. Familiar units for most of us who have an average relation to home entertainment. But the more boxes the more remote controls. It is not uncommon to have three or four pieces that are scattered all over the coffee table, to the spouses' despair and the pets delight. Is there really no way to get rid of all those remotes?
Yes, there is. Remote apps for tablets and smart phones have long since become the salvation for us with remote control anxiety. However, they are only half the solution to the problem, because all electronics are not from the same brand so you often need to have an app for each device. What we really want is an app or remote that can control all devices simultaneously.
That's exactly what Logitech has tried to fix with its new Harmony Ultimate. The American manufacturer is one of those with the longest experience of multi remotes, and the latest in the series seems to be the smartest so far.
Harmony Ultimate is a programmable remote that can control almost any device, including TVs and receivers, home theater systems and gaming consoles, and even Philips Hue light bulbs. But the brains behind everything is not the remote, but rather the box that comes with it: Harmony Hub.
Harmony Hub is supposed to be placed in A/V furniture and acts as a hub between the remote and all of your devices. It is full of infrared transmitters that sends out control signals on all sides and angles. In addition, with built-in bluetooth and wifi, you can also use your tablet device or mobile phone as a remote.
The Hub accepts remote commands via radio waves. There is no need to point the remote straight at it. Also included are two optional IR extenders that can be mounted in the vicinity of components to ensure that the signals reach them. That's handy if you have components that are hidden in a cabinet or a machine room.
Installation & Setup
The first time you use your Harmony Ultimate, you should expect a half hour installation. Despite the wifi connection, you have to connect the remote directly to a PC or Mac (via USB) when you set it up for the first time.
The Harmony remote can be programmed to control up to 15 different components. In Logitech's own installation software, select which devices you want to control, model number and everything. Logitech then looks up the correct control codes from its database. This seems quite up to date as I easily found control codes for brand new products that recently hit the market, plus most other devices I had standing at home at the moment.
If something is not listed, you can use the original remote and "teach" all necessary commands. Harmony Ultimate can also be programmed with shortcuts, like your favorite channels on the TV set. For example, you upload channel lists by entering their "zip code".
When everything is installed, the fun begins. This could result in programming sequences (macros), such as "Watch TV". Such an automatic sequence contains a series of commands so that, for example, the TV, blu-ray player and receiver turns on when you press a single button. You choose if certain commands, such as changing channels or changing the volume, applies to the TV or amplifier.
How Does It Work?
The minimum requirement for a multi-remote is that you can do without the original remote controls for everyday use. That particular part of the test the Harmony Ultimate handled flawlessly: My "Watch TV" command turned on all involved devices, with the right audio and video inputs. I had predetermined that the channel selection would be done by the TV tuner and the volume control would go through the amplifier. Thus, the whole configuration functioned as a single unit, where everything was being controlled with a single remote.
The IR control only works in one direction. The remote control has in other words no idea if a device is already turned on or not. In this case, it may turn it off accidentally in the same sequence.
Problems also arise when you want to go a little deeper into the menus of each device. It is not always that the remote's layout corresponds to the respective unit to 100%, and some commands might be missing. In such cases, you can "teach" the remote control the necessary additional commands - but then you´ll have to hook it up to the computer again.
A tablet app on iOS/Android can perform exactly the same commands as the remote control. In our view, it would therefore have been an advantage if you could also use your tablet device to set up the Harmony Hub and the various devices without plugging into the computer. And you can actually do this with the simpler version of the Ultimate Hub, which only uses the Hub head unit and have a mobile or tablet as a remote. This “simpler” version is cheaper (not counting the cost of a tablet or phone). There is also a version called Harmony Smart Control which has a somewhat simpler remote control and will cost ~$100.
Logitech's Harmony Ultimate is the smartest remote Logitech has made so far. Together with the wireless Harmony Hub device, you can control virtually all devices with the same remote control, including advanced features if you spend a little time to program them. Before you are blessed with full control, however, you may have to tolerate a slightly tedious installation process via computer. Overall, I have to say that the Harmony concept is working better than ever.
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