|Logitech Harmony 880 Universal Remote Control|
|Home Theater Remotes & System Control Remotes & System Control|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Wednesday, 01 March 2006|
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Ah, remotes. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without. Well, let me just get this out of the way - I generally hate remotes. Some remotes are good; most of them suck. What good is piece of equipment costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars that can be rendered inept by a terrible remote control? Sure, we’d all like to have a home automation system from the likes of Crestron, AMX or Control 4 that will do everything shy of rubbing our feet and walking the dog, but not many of us have the moolah to plunk down on such a system. Well, the people over at Logitech have answered the call with their new Harmony 880 Universal remote control.
Logitech is one of the leading manufacturers of third-party peripherals for today’s computer market. Chances are, if you’ve sat in front of a PC or Mac for a good portion of your life like I have, you’ve stumbled across or used one of their products. They make everything from multimedia speakers to keyboards. I was a little shocked to find out that they’ve been making universal remotes for quite some time now. I guess it’s only fitting, since a majority of their remotes have featured some sort of computer-assisted programming. Regardless of their heritage, I wasn’t about to give anyone a free ride. Hot on the heels of its predecessor the Harmony 659, which was reviewed almost two years ago by AVRev.com, the Harmony 880 is less of an update and more of a whole new beast. Retailing for pennies under $250, the 880 is crazy-sexy-cool with its peanut-like shape and color LCD screen. Out of the box, its smooth blue-gray color with faux brushed aluminum accents is a sight to be seen. Coming in at a hair over eight inches long by two inches wide and about an inch-and-a-half deep, it feels rather good in the palm of your hand. Inevitably, its looks are more attention-grabbing than its size and everyone that eyed it at my house had to comment on how stylish it was. The remote can easily be broken down into two parts, top and bottom. The top consists of the remote’s large color LCD screen and silver directional button, while the bottom features your more traditional controls like play, stop, chapter skip and more.
Turning my attention to the 880’s color screen, I noticed a few things. First, it’s not a color touch screen. I was a bit bummed at that. Its large 128x160 pixel display seems perfect for a touch screen application. Alas, it’s only for visually displaying “Activity” icons, leaving the actual control to much smaller buttons flanking either side of the screen. The screen itself is rather bright and colorful, which makes it easy to see in the dark and it comes to life the moment the remote is picked up or moved. You can house any number of “Activities” in the remote itself, but the 880’s screen will only allow you to see up to eight at a time. I found eight to be more than enough for my needs and was hard-pressed to create a situation where I would need more than that. The eight activities can be put into any order you wish, but basically default to “Watch TV,” “Watch DVD,” “Watch VCR,” “Listen to CD,” “Listen to Radio,” “Play Game,” “View pics,” and so on and so forth. You can create pages of such “Activities” and scroll through them (eight at a time) via the remote’s left to right directional buttons just below the screen. For the purpose of this review, I stuck with eight commands or less. With the exception of the 880’s display, the rest of the remote plays out more or less like any other. Above the screen is the master off switch, with the remote’s “Activities” and “Help” buttons resting directly below. The “Activities” button can be pressed at any time to bring up the 880’s various picture menus, allowing you to select which component combination you’d like to enable. The “Help” button, while being unusual for a remote, is most handy. Say you have children who like to push buttons (I know of no other kind) and they somehow manage to throw your system a bit out of sorts. A quick rap on the “Help” key and the remote will take you through a step-by-step process to undo what your children spent hours accomplishing. Kids or no kids, the addition of a “Help” key may just be the coolest feature on the Harmony 880. Directly under the screen, below the page forward/backward buttons, you’ll find a button marked “Device” and another labeled “Media.” They’re rather small for their importance, but if you’re not one of those people entrenched in your system’s innermost workings, you may never use them. In a nutshell, the remote’s “Device” button allows you to turn the entire Harmony 880 into a single-source remote controlling one component at a time. The “Media” button is active when the “Watch TV” activity is selected and will show you your favorite channels in the remote’s color screen, allowing you to toggle between them more easily. The second most notable feature is the remote’s directional keypad, which is useful when scrolling through DVD menus or your digital cable box’s programming features. To either side of the directional keypad are the master volume and channel controls, topped off with a mute button for volume and a “Previous” button for your channel controls.
The bottom half of the remote features a series of self-explanatory controls that can be found on any modern remote, including the ones you already own. Controls like “Menu,” “Exit,” “Guide” and “Info” can be found below the 880’s directional keypad, with your more standard DVD/VCR controls such as “Play,” “Forward,” “Backward,” “Skip,” “Stop,” “Record” and “Pause” below them. All of these standard features become active in their own right when an “Activity” is chosen. Say, for instance, you choose to “Watch TV.” Once your system fired up the necessary components, the remote’s menu key would pop your digital cable or satellite menu onto the screen. Once the menu is on the screen, you could scroll through it using the directional button and get more info on a show or sporting event by simply pressing the “Info” button. Want to record a program? Simply hit the red record button, and bingo, you’re recording. Honestly, it’s that simple, or at least it supposed to be. Lastly, there are the remote’s number keys, which allow you to enter in specific channel numbers or DVD chapters to speed up the navigational process.
When the remote is not in use, it rests comfortably in a sleek black sled that not only serves as a docking station so that you’ll always be able to find the sucker, but it also charges the Harmony’s battery. Oh, did I forget to mention the batteries? No more. That’s right, no more running around your house looking for other devices to rape and pillage in the hopes of finding just one more AAA battery. We’ve all done it, so don’t lie. The docking sled is as unobtrusive as one can hope for, with the exception of the very slender AC cord running from its bottom. So, at the very least, you’ll have to make sure your remote’s new home is relatively close to an outlet.