Universally harmonious and... whatever, I just wanna watch TV

Short story: I’m looking for a universal remote that’s better than what I’ve got currently, and am seriously considering the exchange of many beans for the Harmony Ultimate Home RF system.

Longer story:

My AV system is a mish-mash of older but quality gear, with lots of separate remotes. I have a learning remote which does the job but is too complicated, especially for my ageing mother to use when she is babysitting.

Anyhoo, the main items in the corner are:

  • a Samsung 46" LCD TV (Series 6, 2008 model)
  • a Samsung bluray player (purchased with the TV)
  • an Onkyo DS595 5.1ch amp (2001 model)
  • a WDTV Live media streamer

I also have a Wii and PS2 which are rarely used but depending on my son’s future interest in Mario Tennis/Kart or Guitar Hero, may factor into this decision.

The Onkyo has an excellent-for-2001 learning remote - it supports 8 devices and even does macros, but it’s a pain in the arse to set up, too complicated for anyone in my house to use (other than me), and its dated button themes mean that to perform more modern concepts (like the Home function on the WDTV) I have to map it to a random button which is very kludgey.

So I started my research with the Harmony 650, has “activity buttons” (such as “Watch TV”) that turn on the required devices and select correct inputs all with one press, but I fear the soft button implementation here may be a bit confusing for my mum.

so I’ve got to thinking about the Logitech Harmony Ultimate One. Looks the goods: controls more devices than I will (likely) ever have, and the touchscreen would make it much easier for Mum (and the wife) to use the thing. Also Logitech’s new setup system makes that process much less painful, according to reviews.

Said reviews also make mention of the way you have to keep the remote pointed at the device(s) for the activity buttons to complete their task, especially if that device has a delay in starting up (our TV takes about 10 seconds to fire up, and the WD would take around 30 seconds). I can just hear the plaintive voice on the other end of the phone: “Your #@*#&^ expensive *&#^@! remote isn’t working properly again!!!~~111” when they have pressed the button and then put it down behind a coffee cup.

This brought me to the range-topping Harmony Ultimate Home which appears identical to the One but communicates with a hub that blasts the signals to your devices. Me likey, but the cheapest I can get it here is around $250pp, which is a lot of cash to drop when a One or a 650 may do the job, albeit with less finesse and with somewhat more angst from the spousal and parental units.

The issues with the remote have been relatively few and the reviews have been good, but from what I’ve read the biggest downfall is the placement of the Play/Pause buttons… which may annoy me a bit.

Anyone have experience with these beasties, or have any alternatives?

I have a friend with a very similar setup (with added gadgets, though).

I’ll ask what he’s using when I see him next.

Excellent - looking forward to hearing about that.

I have a mate who has an older Harmony remote (circa 2008) which cost him a lot of money but he loves it even now.

I’ve had a Harmony since 2004, I think the model is 680, but don’t quote me. I don’t think there were other models back then. It was before Logitech bought them. Anyway, it still works and I still use it. I bought a spare a couple years ago, just in case - guy on ebay was selling them bulk packed, but I don’t remember if they were refurb or new old stock.

I also bought a different model a year or so ago for the then gf/fiance, now wife, because her remotes could never be located when needed. I believe it was the 600, which is the same as the 650, but with a mono screen instead of color. It works good, too, but the batteries will sometimes lose contact if it is jarred too sharply, and the remote will reboot & forget what it was doing. Probably not the remote’s fault, judging by the treatment of other such gadgets by the wife’s children.

The newer ones don’t have as strong, or as many, LEDs as my ye olde one, so they really have to be pointed at the equipment, and they all have notable pauses between signals sent. (I have an IR blaster controlled by my HTPC for changing channels on the cable box when recording, which has a visible light LED to indicate when IR is being sent or received, so I can see the pulses from the Harmony.) It is nice to be able to program in the xx seconds delay, to give the equipment time to turn on and boot up before trying to set the input or whatever, but as you noted, if someone is easily distracted (SQUIRREL!!!) and turns away, or sets it down without clear line of sight, something isn’t going to get the message. But on the newer ones, the help system is better, asking about each component and step in the program (is X on?, is the source set?). From what I understand, the RF models, with the remote IR senders, fix a lot of opportunities for user error. There used to be more than one with RF capability. I read a few reviews of the touchscreen remotes where reviewers missed the tactile feedback of buttons (being able to find pause or rewind by feel), but that it was not a deal breaker.

Anyway, I love mine. It has kept people from fscking up my setting by randomly massing buttons on every remote they can find in Hail Mary attempts to watch something, mostly.

I’ll chime in for the Harmony line. I have an old Harmony One that runs the main system in the living room and another cheaper Harmony running the bedroom. The living room is a lot like yours. TV, Onkyo receiver, and bluray player but I also have an HTPC, Xbox 360 and PS3. I also used to have a sound bar. The simple activities buttons are great for people coming over who don’t know which input is needed to do what. Setup is decent though the software I use for mine could be better. It’s a little confusing the first time I used it but it’s not so bad now. I’ve yet to have to program in a command with the learning mode. You can also do macros for things as well. If my current remote ever died (I had a battery issue a while ago but luckily they are easy to replace) I thought about going with the Harmony Smart Keyboard as I used a K400 keyboard for the computer. I’m not sure I would, but usually we’re watching stuff on the HTPC anyways.

O, I got a chance to talk to my friend with the uber-remote.

It’s a Logitech 1100i. From it he is driving a big-ass TV, PS3, WD-Live TV box, Amplifier, TV set-top box and Foxtel (Aussie Cable TV service).

He has “buttons” programmed (It’s a touch-screen device) to automate things like “Watch TV”, “Play games”, etc.

He said you program it by plugging it into your PC then using Logitech software (he didn’t specify whether it was web-based or PC-based) to set up how you want things to work. He mentioned something about it supporting thousands of different devices.

I got a quick demo of it, and it really is idiot proof. Pick up the remote, point it at the stack of devices and press the button matching the service you want. Keep pointing the remote at the devices until everything is operating. To turn everything off, press the ‘off’ button.

That sounds pretty cool.

Yeah, I used to have a Harmony remote and there was a Windows app you’d use to program it. It even had a wireless unit you could deploy with little IR transmitters so you could control devices that were in cabinets etc.

Very nice, very simple to use. It failed after a few years when it warped and no longer fitted the charging cradle. Don’t know what caused it to warp.

Thanks guys. I was at aforementioned friend’s house the other day - turns out he has a Harmony One which is only 5 years old (he says he didn’t even consider the lower-priced models). He 100% recommends it but also says the setup is a bit of a learning curve, so I think the Ultimate Home is the way to go with its IR-blasting hub and (according to reviews) easier setup process.

I’ve never seen this model before, but it looks interesting.
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