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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Our Favorite Tech — Logitech Harmony Universal Remotes

My home theater setup easily has the most complicated arrangement of interconnected devices in my household--moreso than my desktop PC. In addition to the TV, the living room entertainment center houses an A/V receiver, a cable box, DVR, multiple game consoles, media streaming devices, and yes, even a PC of its own. And while most seasoned enthusiasts may have no problem wrangling control of these devices with their respective controllers, the last thing i want to do when I'm plopped on the couch is fumble with numerous remotes just to watch some HBO or stream a movie. That's why I can't live without my Logitech Harmony 900 universal remote, a controller designed for the lowest common techie denominator: your mom and dad.

But not all Harmony remotes are created equal.

All models have the same basic functionality: they reduce complicated button sequences into programed "Activities" such as Watch TV or Play a DVD. Setting the remote up is straightforward too: the Mac and PC software walks you through teaching the remote what devices you have and which ones need to be turned on for each Activity. Switching from watching a Blu-Ray to gaming on my Xbox requires just one click of a button.

All models have LCD screens, though the 2008 Harmony One model added a color touch screen and recharge dock. The model I use, the Harmony 900, has the same elegant and ergonomic design as the One but adds RF technology so I don't even have to point the remote at IR devices to activate them. I also love that I have the option of switching between IR and RF control for any device, which helps reduce latency when IR works just fine. I did have to buy a Bluetooth adapter to get the Harmony working with the PS3, but that's still cheaper than buying a dedicated PS3 remote.

I also recommend not getting the full-LCD touchscreen Harmony 1100 model, since it's a two-handed device with unintuitive button placement (and just not enough buttons in general). I still like haptic feedback on my remotes.

The Harmony line of remotes is one of the few pieces of technology that actually makes life (and other technology) less complicated. For me, that's magical.

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