|Harmony SST-659 Universal Remote Control|
|Home Theater Remotes & System Control Remotes & System Control|
|Written by Ben Shyman|
|Thursday, 01 April 2004|
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Open Source for Remotes
Generally, if you are looking for the biggest nerds on the planet, you need look no further than the open source community. This is where computer geeks speak of Linux and Unix in glowing terms and share software code and programming tricks mostly for free or sometimes for a nominal fee. The sprit of Harmony Remote takes cues from this world. Their proprietary database is constantly improved with each new customer they acquire, which benefits all their customers, new and old. While there is nothing proprietary to remote codes themselves, every customer has different components, a unique set-up and individual preferences toward their system. Harmony’s database continually improves with each customer who configures a home theater on his or her system. While a user may encounter a function or quirk when integrating a Harmony remote with the system or have a system preference that either Harmony has not seen before or is not a default user activity, once a Harmony customer support teammate works you through your problem, their database now contains the solution for the next customer who potentially has a similar problem or custom request. Simply put, with every customer Harmony acquires, the more comprehensive their proprietary database gets.
While this is the idea behind open source, you need to be hip to the investment of time and enthusiasm required before you invest in a Harmony Remote, in my opinion, because it is unlikely at this date that every component you have will be available to download onto your remote exactly as you want it. Sadly, I encountered problems with many of the most basic functions on almost every piece of equipment in my system. My Proceed AVP2 audio-video processor and Lexicon RT-10 Universal Disc Player are not commonplace in average AV systems, but it was disappointing that the Harmony SST-659 was ill-equipped to work the mute, sound surround, fast forward and rewind functions with these components right from the get-go. Both products are manufactured by Harman International, a multi-billion-dollar consumer electronics conglomerate. As a result, I can only say that tweaking and modifying your remote is a part of the ownership experience. If you aren’t up for the challenge, you are better served plunking down thousands of dollars for an AMX or Crestron touch screen remote, complete with professional programming, RF transmission and RS232 hard-wired connectivity between all of your gear. It took me over two and one-half hours of support and triple that time on my own with the Harmony website to get the Harmony SST-659 up and running with the basic (but far from all of) functionality of my system.
It is essential to understand that getting your Harmony remote working at an acceptable level for a home theater enthusiast or lifestyle consumer is a labor-intensive experience. Thankfully, their technically-oriented customer support team is intimately familiar with their products and your components and has the patience and enthusiasm to put you on the path to satisfaction. It should be taken as a compliment that after hours of tweaking the Harmony SST-659, my patience was exhausted before Harmony’s customer support team was willing to quit. In the end, however, after working with the Harmony technical team, it became obvious to me that pretty much anything was possible and that their product was able to handle literally anything that I requested. It was just the time it took to make progress with the remote that left me frustrated.
In fairness, while I was frequently overwhelmed with the complexity and labor-intensive nature of the set-up process, my system probably is more complex than most and contains components that are not considered “mainstream.” I am certain that if your system contains names like Pioneer, Sony, Yamaha and Denon, to name just a few, your set-up process will be far more conventional and less frustrating than mine.
Using the Remote
I did find many of the functions of the Harmony SST-659 quite clever and simple to use. The most functional aspect of the remote is switching between different functions of your theater system. When I simply pushed a programmed button for “Watch TV,” the Harmony SST-659 sprang my AVP2, Faroudja NRS, Fujitsu plasma and cable box to life and set each component to the correct input or output. When I wanted to switch from “Watch TV” to “Watch HDTV,” simply pushing that button and the Harmony disengaged the Faroudja, which I do not use for HDTV sources, switched the input on the plasma to the component video input for HDTV and switched the television channel to the HDTV stations, which for me as a Time Warner Cable New York City customer are the channels beginning in the low 700s. Want to “Listen to DVD-Audio” or “Watch a Movie”? No problem! The Harmony SST-659 switched every component nimbly to its correct settings. And when a component does not get switched properly, the Harmony SST-659 is smart. Pushing the “Help” button gets this product to walk you through the necessary steps on the LCD to get your components back on track so that you do not have to leave your couch. All these functions do not happen for the first time by magic, however, so you must configure and set up the remote to make it all work. It requires an in-depth knowledge of your system’s connections and a fair amount of understanding of how everything in your system works.