|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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Home theater systems are increasingly complex. In the old days of audiophilia, you likely had a tape deck, stereo preamp, power amplifier and two speakers. Maybe you even had a television in the same room. Well, those days are long gone and systems today likely include a digital cable box, digital video recorder (TiVo), audio/video preamp processor, DVD and/or CD player, VCR and television. Throw in a high-resolution disc player (SACD or DVD-Audio), music server (Apple iPod or ReQuest) or video processor (Faroudja), and if you can successfully make it all work seamlessly, you deserve an honorary engineering degree from Radio Shack. If you are anything like me, you yearn for a simple, one-stop solution to control it all and rid your living area of those unsightly remotes.
There can be little debate that modern technology has spurred a revolution in quality and functionality of home theater gear. This revolution has been driven by consumer demand and intense competition between hundreds of consumer electronics manufacturers competing for your hard-earned buck. While undoubtedly home theater has benefited, another result has been that most audio/video systems are comprised of components from many manufacturers, each with its own remote control.
Universal remotes are nothing new. In fact, they range from $10 models that have learned and preprogrammed codes, to models costing as much as $500 that will control lighting, macro functions and sequenced commands.
In the middle of all that is a range of universal remotes in the $300 range that can do sequenced macro commands and have many of the controls of the big boys. The problem to date is that they are hard to program, often requiring hours, if not days or weeks, of dedication to learn how to make them do what you want.
Most audio/video salesmen will try to convince you that universal remotes are the cure for all ills. But get that remote home and you will likely discover the most universal fact about universal remotes: they are surprisingly dysfunctional and difficult to use. Despite all the technological advancements in home theater and the intense competition between manufacturers to create products that cater to every conceivable facet of home theater, it is shocking that few manufacturers have attempted to conquer consumers’ appetite for a functional universal remote.
Harmony Remote has a new way of attacking the issues that have plagued lower-priced universal remotes. All of the universal remotes in their line are programmed via the Internet. No more complex macros to program. You connect the Harmony Remote to the USB plug-and-play port of any Internet-enabled computer, install the software, tell Harmony the components in your system and how they are connected, and preprogrammed "Smart State Activities" that control your components are downloaded to the remote. Any changes to your custom configuration are updated on Harmony’s website and synchronized to your remote. Even if you upgrade to a new version of a Harmony product in the future, your system settings are saved to your account on their website.
Harmony Remote makes several different universal remotes and all are available for direct purchase on HarmonyRemote.com or from most leading consumer retailers. The model they sent for review was the SST-659, which sells for $199. I found the SST-659 to be lightweight, thoughtfully organized and comfortable in my hand. The remote is backlit and contains a liquid crystal display (LCD), which while helpful for advanced functions, is a little small for my tastes. Text is often compromised or cut off due to the limited space on the screen, but other than the smallish display, I would characterize the SST-659 as a well-constructed product.