Harmony remote controls aren't inexpensive, but they're worth every penny. No other universal remote matches the Harmony in user-friendliness and trouble free operation.
Universal remote controls are nothing new, but Logitech's approach to them is. Harmony remote controls are inarguably one of the best universal remotes you can buy.
Here's how Harmony remotes work. You install the Harmony software on your computer. (Mac and PC are supported.) Once the software is installed, you create an account for your remote. (If you have more than one Harmony remote, you'll need a separate account for each.) Once the account is created, you simply tell Logitech what devices (using the device name and model number) you own.
Logitech's database of devices is very complete. I have a couple of pretty obscure devices (an off-brand HDMI switch and a digital audio interface switch), and both of them are included in Logitech's database. In fact, I've never found a device not included in Logitech's database. However, if a device isn't already in the database, the software will walk you through adding it using an existing remote. Once you finish adding the device, it will automatically be added to Logitech's database and anyone else adding that device will be able to do so automatically.
When you've finished adding your devices, the next step is to set up "activities" for your devices. The software will recommend activities based on the devices you told it you had. For example, if you added a Blu-ray player, one of the activities that Logitech will recommend is "watch a movie".
When you set up an activity, the Harmony software will walk you through a wizard interface that asks you how the activity should use your devices. It will choose what it believes to be the correct options, but you can change them if necessary. For example, when I set up an activity for watching television, the Harmony software correctly guessed that I would watch the video on my television, but it incorrectly assumed I would adjust the volume using my television's volume controls. Changing that setting to adjust the volume using my AV receiver was as simple as clicking a different option from a list. Once all of your activities are configured, you simply plug the remote into your computer and all of your settings are sent to the remote.
To operate your remote, you simply tap an activity from the remote's main touch screen. This is where the beauty of the Harmony remote really shines. Tap on Watch TV and the remote sends all of the necessary commands to all of your equipment. It turns on the TV, sets the input to the correct setting, turns on an AV receiver and sets the input, turns on the cable box, etc. If you then decide to watch a movie, you simply tap that activity and the Harmony takes care of the rest, turning off any devices that aren't necessary for the new activity.
Harmony makes several remotes that are completely touch screens, but I prefer the Harmony One and Harmony 900. These two remotes are like typical remote controls. They have hard buttons that you can find by feel. You don't have to look at a touch screen to find the mute button, for example. All of the buttons on the remote are dynamically remapped when you choose your activity. For example, if you're watching TV, the play and pause buttons might control playback on your DVR. When you're watching a movie, those same buttons are automatically remapped so that they control your Blu-ray or DVD player.
Logitech's software makes it easy to add as much control to any activity as you can imagine. You can send custom commands when an activity is entered or exited. You can also use it to troubleshoot when things don't work out right. For example, if your devices aren't correctly detecting remote control operations, the software contains wizards that can help you diagnose and fix the problem. No special knowledge is required.
The remote itself also contains troubleshooting features. If a particular activity doesn't work correctly, simply pressing the Help button on the remote will usually fix the issue automatically. If not, the remote will walk you through a series of steps to correct things. Problems for me have been limited to situations where the power state of a device gets out of sync with the remote. For example, if one of my kids turns on my AV receiver by pressing the power button on the receiver, the remote won't know that it's turned on. Then when I tap Watch TV, instead of the remote turning the receiver on, it will turn it off. Fixing that kind of thing is as simple as pressing Help and letting the remote fix things on its own. It's almost magic.
Harmony One versus Harmony 900
The Harmony One and the Harmony 900look identical. They are, in fact, identical in operation, but the 900 adds RF (radio frequency) control. That means that the Harmony 900 can control devices in a closet or inside of a cabinet. It does this using an infrared (IR) blaster. When you press a button on the Harmony 900, it sends a signal to the IR blaster and the IR blaster sends the signal to the equipment.
The 900 comes with a main transmitter and two repeaters so that you can control multiple devices in just about any setup imaginable. You can choose which devices use RF and which devices use line-of-sight IR from the remote. For example, in my setup, all of my equipment is located in a closet, so only my television is configured to use IR from the remote. When the remote is turning the television on or off, I have to make sure it's aiming at the television. For everything else, it doesn't matter where the remote is aiming because it uses radio frequency to control all of my other devices.
All Harmony remotes (including the Harmony One and Harmony 900) operate using a rechargeable battery pack. The Harmony One and Harmony 900 include an attractive dock for the remote. When you're not using the remote, placing it in the dock keeps the battery charged. Unfortunately, the battery pack is specific to the Harmony remote, so you can't run down to your local Radio Shack if you need to replace it. However, you can find replacement battery packs (should you ever need one) from Amazon for a nominal amount. When my battery started swelling after a couple of years, I purchased this one and it has been working great ever since.
There are plenty of choices in universal remotes, but none is better than the Harmony remote controls. Even if you have an AV setup that includes only a TV, a cable box, and a DVD player, you can benefit immensely from the Harmony remote control. No technical knowledge is required to get it up and going, and operation of the remote is so simple and trouble-free that you'll wonder how in the world you ever lived without it.
If anything ever happens to my Harmony 900, you can bet that I'll buy another one. Even though it costs over 200 dollars, it's well worth it to me. Simply having a remote that my wife and kids can use without any problems is worth well more than that to me.