|Logitech Harmony 1000 Advanced Universal Remote|
|Home Theater Remotes & System Control Remotes & System Control|
|Written by Ken Taraszka, MD|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2007|
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The first TV remote was made by Zenith in 1950. Called “Lazy Bones,” it allowed you to change the channels and to turn the TV on and off. It came with a 20-foot wire connecting it to the set. The first wireless remote also came from Zenith in 1955, using a directional flashlight to activate its then-incredible four control functions; the “flashlight” system meant stray sunlight activated functions at any given time. Within a year, Zenith switched to an ultrasonic remote that added almost 30 percent to the cost of the set. This became the first practical remote control. It wasn’t until the early ‘80s that IR (infrared) technology replaced the ultrasonic remotes and, thankfully for us, now we have IR, RF (Radio Frequency), Bluetooth, WiFi and surely more technologies to come. When the first remotes came out, a single remote for your TV was fine. Fast forward 50 years and we now have a multitude of remotes. My reference system has nine or more remote-controlled devices at any given time. Coordinating all those remotes gets hairy, not to mention impossible for the wife or kids, and let’s not even start with the second coffee table you’d need for all of them to fit together on its top. I have been hunting for the idea universal remote to control my system for the past 10 years. Some have been tolerable, some outright horrible. Due to the complexity of modern home theaters, programming these remotes became so time-consuming and had such a steep learning curve that they became frustrating, even for a tech geek like me.
Enter Harmony Remotes, now a part of Logitech Corporation, one of the largest suppliers of computer peripherals. Harmony took a unique approach to programming a universal remote. They made it simple. Their newest remote, the Harmony 1000 Advanced Universal Remote, offers a three-and-a-half-inch touch screen color LCD display with ability to control up to 15 different devices. It offers motion-sensitive backlighting, IR and RF capability, and comes with a rechargeable base station, so you’ll never need to buy batteries again. The package comes with everything you need to get started for a retail price of $499.99.
The remote comes packed in a stylish satiny green and white box made of heavy cardboard. Opening the box requires freeing up the bottom rear edge that opens the magnetically-held cover over the bottom, front and top of the box. Under that is a cardboard display cover that allows your first sight of your new remote through its window. The remote, charging base station, rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, software CD, startup guide, warranty information, power and USB cables are packed in a two-tied black plastic support system underneath. The USB cable is the standard mini-USB cable used for most digital cameras. The software is both PC and MAC compatible, and is universal to allow optimized performance on the newer Intel-based MACs.
The remote itself is five-and-a-half inches wide, just a hair over four inches tall and three-fourths of an inch thick. The three-and-a-half-inch color touch screen in the upper left side dominates the front of the remote. A slightly recessed half-inch-thick glossy black frame that has the bar-shaped “activities” button in the middle of the bottom edge and small round “off” button in the top left corner borders the screen. The remainder of the front of the remote is a sleek brushed aluminum that smoothly rounds off at the edges, making it very comfortable to handle. On the right side of the display, starting from the top of the remote, are channel and volume rocker controls, then the small round return and mute buttons, the directional keypad and finally the forward and back button. All other functions are controlled with the touch screen display. The remote’s hard keys are backlit in a beautiful bright blue. The backside is a matte black, almost rubberized plastic with a channel down the middle to assist placing it into the base, which holds it at a 45 degree angle proudly displaying its face. When in the base station, a small blue light indicates it is properly positioned and charging.
Harmony has done a great job simplifying universal remotes, and their newest hasn’t strayed from that model. The basic system used by Harmony sets up “activities,” macros designed to control and set up the various functions of your system. The list of activities you can add is vast, and all these functions can be customized and renamed. The basic ones are things such as “Watch TV,” “Watch DVD,” “Listen to Music,” “Play Game,” etc., but you can easily have “Watch Blu-ray,” “Control Fans,” “Control Lighting” – yes, this Harmony remote will control seemingly any device that uses IR, RF, or Z Wave as a method of control. Lighting, blinds and fan control can be added into your other activities, allowing you to turn up the fans when playing a game or dim the lights and close the blinds when watching a movie. The number of steps allowed in a macro isn’t listed, but I’ve had over a dozen steps in some without incident.
If you are having a problem getting an activity to work correctly, the remote has a help button that will walk you through the steps in the assigned macro, until you find the problem or missed code, as IR isn’t flawless. Should your problems run deeper than that, Harmony’s tech support is one of the best I’ve ever dealt with. While I had no difficulties programming this remote to be used in any of the four systems in my house, I recall when I bought my first Harmony 659 remote years ago. At the time, Harmony’s database didn’t have some of the components I owned. A call to Harmony not only remedied the problem, it immediately added the device codes to their database. In fact, they even found discrete codes for my Linn AV5103, a device Linn claims does not have discrete codes. I highly doubt this will be a problem any more, as Harmony now has a database of over 200,000 devices, with approximately 3,000 new devices are added each week. Should you have some completely esoteric piece of gear, say, one of the infamous Furbys from the ‘90s, the Harmony 1000 can learn the IR codes to control it if you can’t find them on Harmony’s website. Before you ask, yes, Furbys are IR-controllable.
A discrete code allows you to always go to a known state. For example, “On” will always turn the device on; a separate “Off” button will always turn the device off. Continued pressing of the “On” button will do nothing after the device is powered up. This is in contrast to a toggle switch, the more typical power button that turns the device on and off in sequence each time you press it. While discrete codes are critical for reliably programming universal remotes, Harmony has found a way around this with their Smart State Technology®. This technology allows the remote to control your entertainment system by knowing how to control each individual component and by keeping track of each component’s last state. It sounds simple, but it is a huge advance in convenience for universal remotes. If you have to scroll through your TV’s inputs to change video sources, your TV doesn’t have discrete codes for its video inputs. The harmony remote will remember where in that list it last was and then using that knowledge to accurately scroll to the next needed input for changes in activities eliminating set-up errors.