Logitech Harmony 1100 Remote 
Home Theater Remotes & System Control Remotes & System Control
Written by Todd Daugherty   
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Harmony is a great name for this Universal Remote Control. Its main objective is to allow the user to eliminate all other remotes and solely use the 1100 as the single entity to direct multiple home theater devices needing orders at the same time. Logitech spares no modesty in its confidence to do just that, as the startup screen on the 1100 welcomes you with its boastful claim, “Finally, One Remote To Control Them All.”  

And that it does. How well it does that is up to you.

The Harmony 1100 has a few tweaks that its predecessor, the 1000 model, arguably needed from the start. The overall consensus is that it is significantly faster, not only in touchscreen response time but also the IR transmission. It is also black instead of silver, a concept I think many purists still are boggled by to this day. Why anyone would want their receiver, DVD player, or remote to be distractingly silver with chrome accents is beyond my comprehension; but I digress.

The 1100 made its mark on this year's CES in Las Vegas by nabbing the CES 2009 Design and Engineering Award for the Best of Innovations in the Home-Entertainment Accessories category. Logitech received this same award last year for the Harmony One Remote. The 1100 is Logitech's vision of the happy medium between your basic consumer universal remote, and the thousand dollar custom remote systems that high-end enthusiasts commit to for their collection. It is an ideal crossover for computer savvies looking to spice up their multimedia life, and diy home theater gurus that appreciate what online and computer based software can do for seamless functionality. This remote control attempts to revolutionize the device management aspects of home theater by focusing on “Activities” instead of simply device control.

Technology

The Harmony 1100 is accompanied by a rechargeable Li-ion battery, a charging dock with AC adapter, a USB cable, a Quickstart Guide, a Features Guide, Technical Support documentation, warranty information and an install CD for the Logitech Harmony Remote Software.

1100 Box
The remote itself is clad with a 3.5-inch touch screen, an Activities button (basically your Home button) and 13 hard buttons that control basic functions like volume, channel and navigation. The design of the 1100 is great. It is a sleek black color with a slightly rubberized grip around most of it. It dons a polished piano black finish around the touchscreen, and a silver inlay surrounding the outside edge of the remote.

The 1100 gives users the option of controlling devices that are in a closet or behind closed doors with the optional RF Extender (unfortunately, sold separately). With the Extender unit you can use it as the IR blaster itself or connect the individual IR emitters which are then stuck to each unique device that needs controlling.

The software used for the 1100 is what makes this device truly shine. Allowing the user to plan out their device management on a computer screen with intuitive software really takes out a lot of tedious and frustrating moments that are usually inevitable with universal remote setup. But we will get into the software in a moment.

Setup

Once all the contents are taken out of the box, the first thing you'll want to do is set up the charging dock. Logitech recommends giving the new device a charge for 5 hours, so factor this into your first day if you're looking to pick up the device and use it ASAP. I personally find this to be crucial, and not a suggestion; you're going to want a fresh charge for setup to avoid any frustrating delays.

The charging dock is very simplistic, with charging terminals in the base that is cupped at the bottom to hug the contour of the remote base and line up the terminals on the bottom of the remote perfectly. The back of the remote has a groove about three fingers wide going vertical along the back. This is mirrored on the charging dock, allowing the user to find the “sweet spot” as to where to slide the remote onto the dock without demanding too much focus away from your entertainment.

While the remote is charging, installing the software to your PC or Mac can be done quickly. In fact, the remote isn't needed to set up any of your devices or activities until the very last step. The software install on your PC is pretty straightforward, and defaults to your Program Files directory under Logitech. The next step is to run the Harmony Remote Software and create an account with the Logitech servers. This will also allow you to save your preferences in case you have to reset the remote or even transfer your profile to a newer model down the road.

Once an account is created, you're off and running with adding devices. Simply jot down the device type, manufacturer, and model number of all the devices you wish to control, and add them line by line. Logitech's database has literally thousands of different devices that it will recognize. It even recognized my 6 year old computer sound card with infrared on its jump drive, as well as my DLO HomeDock for my iPod. Unfortunately, both of these odd items did not come with all the button options and did not work flawlessly.

Harmony add

 With all your main devices added to your arsenal, the software will then offer up a list of possible Activities that you may want to use. It is very intuitive in this way, and once the Activities are confirmed, only a few simple and obvious questions have to be answered for each activity, with most of the predicted or recommended answers primed and ready for your confirmation.

If you give yourself a good 20-30 minutes (not counting the time to gather all the model numbers you'll need!) to go through the online software setup, you should get a good feel for how everything will work and be able to navigate through the steps quite smoothly. The software allows you to review each Activity step by step, process by process, and device by device. You can customize the Activities in many ways, and even start tweaking some of the default device button layouts if you have the time. Also, you can add any extra commands to the Activity protocol, from priming up a particular cable channel to popping out the disc tray of your DVD player.

Making custom buttons is easy enough, but the user has to make sure to label them individually as to remember which buttons are which. The remote also allows you to choose unique icons to use with each button made, although the choices are limited as to what is offered in the software, and not all button types are represented. Once you are satisfied with all your Activities, plug the USB cord into the device and your PC and hit the Update Remote button. This will reset your remote and upload all your commands.

Functionality

Fast forward 5 hours and you're ready to use that brand new Harmony 1100 remote. The charging dock doesn't lock or slide together with the remote itself, so remote removal is never tricky or challenging. The remote simply is placed onto the dock, as there are exposed contacts for charging on the bottom of the remote. While this is definitely the most convenient and simple way to dock and undock, the connection doesn't feel tight and can be easily dislodged. Also, when you first slide your remote onto the dock, the classic battery symbol with a lightning bolt through it pops up, indicating to the user that is has made a charging connection. However it disappointingly does not give the user a real-time charging status, as the battery symbol simply has a stagnant portion of it green with the rest gray, tricking the user to assume that it is an actual charging progress indicator. Don't be fooled by this fake progress, and just assume it's best to be left on the charger until you need it.

There is no true off position for the 1100. The controller goes idle after a certain length of inactivity, determined by the user, and comes back to full operation from either a touch of a button or simply the movement from picking it up. The battery life for the 1100 has been improved compared to its older brother, the Harmony 1000, and is in an acceptable range. You will be able to leave it off the charger for a few days without it dying under normal usage, but if you have the charging dock conveniently in the room you need the remote, you should never have a problem.

menuSo you're off and running. Clicking one of your pre-set Activities turns on the necessary devices, changes them to the right inputs, and gets the entertainment flowing.  Changing Activities from one to another not only changes the inputs on the fly, but also turns off the devices you won't need for your next Activity. If set up right in the beginning, you will be able to change the volume of your receiver, the channel on your cable box, and the brightness of your TV all from the same Activity screen.

Response time was good and bad. In a good sense, I never felt the feeling of the software lagging behind my commands. However, it did require me to monitor the way I gave it commands. When channel surfing or navigating through a DVR recorded program, there were times when I would spam too fast and it would simply void out my button press. If I kept it at a steady pace in sync with the delay that occurs with every signal sent, it worked very consistent and responsive.

The 1100 times the delays of its IR commands remarkably well. I never once hit a snag because IR delays weren't spread out enough, or that it had sent another command to a device before it was fully powered up. The touchscreen also indicates the status of each process within an Activity, showing you each device with a green check mark when it has completed its commands and believes the devices are all running smoothly.

If you happen to fall victim to Murphy's Law, don't fret. The troubleshooting software inside the remote is a determined piece of ingenuity that will help you pinpoint and eliminate your problem nearly every time. It also won't give up until you tell it to, as the remote isn't done with the process even though it thinks everything is in working order. It will then prompt the user to confirm everything is operational. Only then will it display the activities main control set on the touchscreen. This confirmation step can be turned off in the settings menu of the remote, but I find it to be not only convenient but crucial for the first couple days of operation until the user is completely satisfied with every command the 1100 delivers.

If the troubleshooter fails to satisfy the issue, there are a few methods for the user to get help controlling their controller. First up is clicking the “More Help” button in the Tip Center side window of the Harmony Remote Software, which brings you to the help system. An exhaustive list of FAQs is categorized depending on the types of issues you may be experiencing and it includes a search function. If none of those resolve your problem, Logitech provides telephone, email, and user-based forum support through easy links integrated into the software. However, the phone-based customer support is only valid for 60 days once you setup your online account.

channelsWatching TV, watching a DVD, listening to music, playing a Blu-ray, and playing back recorded television was a snap. I only needed to go back and add a few custom buttons to the layout, as I had forgotten their usefulness during the initial setup. Most of the controls were ready and conveniently located, but the screen itself leaves a bit more to be desired in regards to the amount of buttons that can be on one page of the touchscreen.

The Harmony 1100 had trouble with my TV at first. When going from one Activity to another, then shutting down the system, to booting up the original activity, it had lost track of which input to land on. However, the troubleshooting software on the 1100 is fantastic, but it can only navigate you to your solution through yes and no questions, which can be tedious and downright frustrating for the user who isn't gifted with both technical savvy and divine patience. The troubleshooter starts off with an internal attempt to check your systems, and will then ask you, “Did this fix the problem?” If not, it will then go through a battery of prompts for the user to confirm whether all the necessary devices are on or not, one by one. After the power check, it will ask if all your devices are on the right inputs and outputs.

It also had trouble powering down my Xbox 360 when performing a system shutdown after playing some video games. However, I was very impressed that not only does the navigation pad allow you to go through the Xbox 360's menus with relative ease, it also supplies you with the color coded A,B,X, Y, and the infamous Xbox buttons that are on the controller. While I definitely don't recommend tossing out your original game controller for the 1100, it is definitely nice to know that using the 360 as a DVD and media player is as harmonious as can be with the 1100.

Downside

As mentioned above, it did not lock in TV inputs accurately. I had to manually adjust to the Component, HDMI and Composite inputs with the remote's troubleshooter, as they didn't align with the commands given in the software. It is possible that a few of your components will need a bit extra time before getting to a seamless status.

There is no easy method for adding a second room. Instead, the user just creates a label to declare which devices and activities are for which room. While this obviously isn't a high demand option for people looking for a home theater controller solution, offering an option that allows you to designate which devices are in which room would be a very easy and impressive feature.

One of my biggest pet peeves with tablet style remotes such as the 1100 is the two-handed operation. With a customizable touchscreen on the left and standard buttons on the right, it isn't the most convenient way to eliminate all your remotes.  Yes, you can hold it with one hand, but full functionality is lost compared to a slim-line remote, and it is very unwieldy with one hand for any complex functions. It also requires much more attention than a traditional remote. If you like to feel your way around buttons without having to divert your attention, the 1100 will be a wakeup call for you (but adds the luxury of not having to “feel” more remotes than you have hands).

 

tablet style
Device operation is a distant second priority to the Activities management for the Harmony 1100, as you have to go through the system settings menu to even get to the unique buttons you may have not put on your favorites. Another thing to consider is that you can only add buttons from the devices associated with the Activity. So hypothetically, if I was engaged in the “Listen To Music” activity but wanted to turn on my Xbox 360 so it could download an update, I would have to exit out of the current Activity setup and go to the Activities Home page, then click Settings, click Devices, select the Xbox 360, and scroll to the 4th of 5 pages (assuming I didn't reorder the buttons from their default position in the system) to find the On button. Going through this process, and a few that were similar with other devices, made me want to open the closet and grab the original remote real quick to take care of a task, which is the true challenge for every universal remote. Logitech wants you to prioritize your button usage, but it comes off more as imposed triage. The convenience it offers is much too focused on Activity management, at the expense of the basic goal of the universal remote – controlling devices.

One of the biggest shockers for me was that there is no Blu-ray option for the 1100. While the software will recognize Blu-ray model numbers if labeled as DVD players, there is no option for setting up Blu-ray activities. The easiest workaround is just modeling the Activity as a generic command option and renaming it to a Blu-ray player, while remembering to independently tag it as a DVD playback device as well. Blu-ray is pretty much here to stay, and with its CES 2009 prominence, it is unacceptable to completely lack a Blu-ray Activity category.

As mentioned earlier, while the 1100 did seem to have information available for both my computer sound card and my iPod dock, the functionality was severely lacking, and there was no actual category for either of them. The iPod dock was simply labeled as a “Digital Music Server,” and the sound card was just a “Computer.”

The 1100 retails at $499.99, and that's without the optional RF Extender, which comes in around $99 itself. For some it may be hard to justify spending more money to control your devices than some of the devices cost themselves. However, if this is a viable alternative for those considering more expensive custom remote programs out there, this could be a money saver and an entertainment enhancer.

Conclusion

The Harmony 1100 universal remote gave me the “whole nine yards” feeling. A great deal of the setup was smooth and seamless, but any specializations you want, like wanting to keep a device on even if the current activity doesn't need it, bring a whole new time investment. Be prepared to spend quite a bit of time and give a little extra TLC when tweaking the 1100 to any custom modifications you want. The Harmony 1100 Universal Remote does what it does very well, and the troubleshooter is a fantastic option to minimize frustration, but it is definitely lacking in the device management category.  Hopefully future models or even firmware updates of the Harmony family will venture past the popular Activities focus and allow the user to have complete control of their home theater system with simple access. Because in the end, eliminating the need of a remote without reducing the usability is the key goal of the universal remote world.





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