Logitech Harmony 880 Universal Remote Control 
Home Theater Remotes & System Control Remotes & System Control
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Wednesday, 01 March 2006

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.

Setting up the Harmony 880 requires two things, a computer and a relatively fast Internet connection. The USB cable that comes with the Harmony to facilitate its online programming is similar to most digital camera cables. This comes in handy, since halfway through this review, I moved into a new house and temporarily misplaced the factory-provided cable. I connected my 880 to a barrage of computers all with equally stellar results. I started by connecting the Harmony 880 remote to my trusty Apple G4 Powerbook. I utilized Apple’s own Safari browsing software and logged on to Logitech’s website. From there, I was able to create an account with my own personal username and password. Once your account is created and your remote is connected, you can in theory update your remote from any USB-capable computer anywhere in the world. Pretty cool, and handy, since I’ve set up many of my friends and family with the Harmony 880 and programmed them all myself remotely. Upon logging in, you’ll be prompted to begin setting up your “Activities.” The 880 has several defaults ranging from “Watch TV” to “Listen to Radio.” Simple add or delete commands by each of the “Activities” names will allow you to customize which ones you’ll want to keep and which ones you can do without. Once you’ve settled on which “Activities” you want on your remote, you’ll begin the step-by-step process of setting up and tweaking all of their controls. For the sake of time and space, I will only describe one such set-up option. So, to set up the “Activity” for watching a DVD, I first had to write down all of my components’ makes and model numbers. This is of paramount importance and will save you a great deal of time and energy in the end. With my model numbers in hand, I began programming. One by one. I input all of my components into my Logitech homepage to be stored for any future changes. Inputting your component information is easy via the website’s use of drop-down menus and fill-in-the-blank text windows. Within 10 minutes, I had all of my components listed and stored on my homepage. Next, the website will begin asking you specific questions regarding your system when playing a DVD. For example, “When watching a DVD, your TV needs to be set to what input or channel?” A simple click on the option “HDMI” listed below the question and, boom, I’m in business. All of the questions are similar to, if not simpler than, the one I’ve chosen to quote. This type of simplistic language may annoy some advanced users, but it does make programming the remote’s more complex features a lot easier. When everything was said and done, I had everything inputted and was ready to upload to my remote in about 20 minutes. Once I was finished with setting up my options, it was time to upload my settings to the remote. With the simple click of a button on my screen labeled “Upload,” the whole process began. At one point, I had to manually start up a program that downloaded to my desktop in order to finish my upload. However, it wasn’t a difficult task and I was back on track in seconds. The uploading can take mere moments to several minutes, depending on how complex you chose to make your Harmony 880. On average, my times were in the ballpark of three to five minutes. With everything said and done, I disconnected the Harmony 880 remote from my computer and walked it into my main listening room. With the “Activities” clearly labeled on the screen, I chose “Watch TV” and like magic, my system turned on without incident and I was free to channel surf at my leisure. Stunning, and it all worked on the first try.

Music and Movies
My system changes a lot and the changes are never permanent. The Harmony remote made it easy to accommodate these changes day in and day out, regardless of the product or manufacturer. At one point, I had the Outlaw Audio Pre/Pro 970 and 7075 multi-channel amplifier in my main rig before it was even available to the public. I thought I was special. Maybe I was, but the people over at Logitech already had the new codes in place and I was able to program the 880 without incident. You don’t get more current than that. Regardless of components (new and old) or their configurations, I was rarely able to throw the Harmony 880 a curveball it couldn’t hit. In fact, the only time I really had to flex a little brainpower was when I had to figure out how to make the remote control my ceiling fan. That’s right, I said ceiling fan. Upon looking at the barrage of components supported by the Harmony 880 remote, I’d venture a guess and say you’d be hard-pressed to find a component it couldn’t control. And if the codes aren’t hardwired into Logitech’s database, you can always have the 880 “learn” your other remotes’ controls by simply pointing the two at each other. This baby just works.

The Downside
I would’ve loved to have seen a true touch screen LCD display on the Harmony 880. However, its absence is no doubt the reason why this remote is so affordable. The small buttons on either side of the screen are sometimes a bit difficult to see and/or use, given their petite size.

Also, on several occasions I was unable to keep certain devices on, such as my Hi-Def cable receiver, when pressing the master “Off” button. This would result in my cable receiver having to re-boot every time I turned my system on and off. This happened only on occasion and was always fixable, but it would spark some colorful language from yours truly.

I found the remote was a little slow to communicate with my system when I really wanted to make changes fast or chapter-skip ahead. I would press the chapter skip three or four times before image would skip ahead. Often, this would cause me to go too far in one direction and force me to backtrack to compensate. Once I got a feel for the remote’s speed, I was able to correct for this mistake.

Lastly, the remote’s docking station had to remain in a spot that was less than favorable for me due to it needing an AC outlet nearby. Happily, the 880 will hold a charge for several days, which meant I only had to make sure I “docked” the remote at night before I went to bed.

The Harmony 880 Universal Remote is everything a true “universal” remote should be. It has stunning good looks, a wonderfully comfortable shape, an easy to use interface and functionality to spare, all for a pretty reasonable price. While the Harmony 880 is not a true home automation remote like those from Crestron or AMX, it does give you a little taste of some of the bigger toys without having to pawn the wedding ring. Where the Harmony 880 truly excels is in its ability to adjust to the user’s specific knowledge level, allowing you to learn and understand the ins and outs of the automation process without having to consult a professional every time you want to play a DVD.

I’m the last guy in the world to sing a remote’s praises. The Harmony isn’t without its subtle faults, but the 880 is my new remote of choice. In fact, this past holiday season I made the Harmony 880 my friends and family’s remote of choice, too. Now, I just have to get a few more for myself. Without question, the Harmony 880 universal remote is one of the best products of the year.

Manufacturer Logitech
Model Harmony 880 Universal Remote Control
Reviewer Andrew Robinson
Type Handheld
Wireless Yes

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