Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
For years I’ve been searching for the perfect universal remote control, one that was:
- Easy to set up and manage
- Able to control all aspects of all of my audio and video components
- Reliable enough that I could throw the device’s original remote in a drawer and never miss it
Over the past few years I’ve tried half a dozen iOS universal remotes that combine an app with a hardware dongle for your iDevice, but not one of them came close to meeting my criteria. While some of ‘em were easy enough to set up, none worked with all of the devices connected to my big screen TVs, and none lasted more than a couple of weeks on my coffee table. So I continued to deal with a large pile of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) remotes until I discovered Logitech’s Harmony family of universal remote control devices.
I’ve been testing physical remotes and the Harmony iOS app on two home theatre systems for over a year now and I can tell you with complete confidence that the Harmony system hits the trifecta — it’s easy to set up, capable of controlling all of my audio and video components (and 270,000 others), and is far more reliable than any app-and-dongle combo I tried.
The bottom line is that Harmony is the first and only system I’ve tested that allowed me to toss my OEM remotes in a drawer and forget them, which means a lot to me.
In my humble opinion, two things make the Harmony products stand out. The first are Activities, which turn on all of the appropriate devices with a single tap, switching each device to the proper input for that activity. For example, my “Watch Cable TV” activity turns on the TV, set-top cable box, and AV receiver, and then sets the TV and AV receiver to the proper inputs for cable TV.
Unlike other universal remotes I’ve tested, setting up Activities for your Harmony Remote couldn’t be easier. Just fire up the Harmony app on your iDevice (or Mac or PC) and specify the make and model of the devices in the activity. Harmony can control over 270,000 devices; in over a year of testing I’ve only found one device (an obscure four-source audio switch that had its own remote) that I couldn’t control via Harmony.
The second awesome thing is that you don’t need to stick a dongle into your iDevice to use a Harmony system you’re your iDevice. And while Logitech offers a handful of Harmony remotes with buttons, touchscreens, and more, with prices starting around $30, you don’t even need a physical remote if you have the free Harmony app on an iDevice.
Harmony app screens used by my “Watch Apple TV” activity
That’s the beauty of the Harmony system: all you need is a Harmony Home Hub ($99.99 at Amazon) — which sends commands from the Harmony app on your iDevice to your home theatre components, using IR, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — and an iDevice. The hub sets up in minutes and works way better than any other universal remote I’ve ever tried.
Next: The Harmony Ultimate Home Remote
Page 2 - The Harmony Ultimate Home Remote
Although the Harmony app for iOS is terrific and full-featured, I prefer the feel of actual buttons for play/pause, fast-forward/rewind, volume, and such. While the less-expensive Harmony remotes have buttons and do the job adequately, I love the Harmony Ultimate Home ($299.99 at Amazon), a complete system that includes a hub, two IR mini blasters (the $99.99 standalone hub only includes 1), and a superb Harmony Ultimate Home remote with most of the buttons you’ll ever need and a 2.4-inch color touchscreen to replicate any other buttons and controls whether you need them or not:
The Harmony Ultimate Home is expensive, but IMHO it's worth every penny
I’ve had Harmony systems running in my den and bedroom for over a year now and all of my OEM remotes are still in a drawer. At least I think they are — it’s been so long I’m not even sure which drawer to look in.
The only issue I’ve had with Harmony systems is that the hub occasionally gets confused and stops working. This has happened at least three times in the past year, and when it does, I have to connect the Harmony remote or Harmony Home Hub to a computer via USB to restore my activities with the free My Harmony app for Mac and PC. While it doesn’t pass the “wife” test — when that happens, Lisa pouts until I fix it — I consider it a small price to pay for being able to control up to 15 individual AV components with a single device.
There is one last thing: Harmony products recently gained the ability to control home automation products including Philips Hue lights, August smart locks, Nest and Honeywell thermostats, and SmartThings and PEQ home automation platforms. So far, all I can tell you is that it works great with my Hue lights, which switch to a delightfully subdued shade of peach and dim to around 30% when I start an activity and then switch off when I end it. It’s brilliant, but I can’t tell you much more about Harmony and home automation control until I have a chance to test some other devices.
And that’s all he wrote…