Sunday, June 1, 2008

Woot! I got my Harmony!

I have been eyeing on a Harmony remote for awhile now but have always managed to held back as I couldn't bear parting more money on a remote than on say a branded DVD player. Until today that is.

Logitech is running a promotion for all its models in the Harmony range and the best bang for the buck offer is the Harmony 525 at 50% off. This is the entry level model and even at 50% off retail prices, still costs a good S$99. Thank goodness it falls just shy of the triple digits psychological barrier which otherwise would have made the purchase a no-go by The Significant Other.

Anyhow, so what's so good about the Harmony you say? Well, simply put, it is a universal remote control with macros. Yes, how we geeks just love macros... to the layman, macros is the ability to program a series of steps with just one shortcut, in this case, button.

In the Harmony world, this is introduced as "Activity". So say you have an activity called "Watch DVD". This macro can turn on your TV, Home Theater system, and DVD player, set them all to the right input source and even eject the DVD tray with just one click of a button.

On top of that, all keys on the remote then get mapped to functions related to the activity which you have just activated. For example, the volume keys controls the volume on the Home Theater, while the navigation keys (i.e. play, stop, forward, reverse, etc) controls those on the DVD player. How convenient!

Another differentiator from other remotes is that the Harmony remote remembers states. So for example, if you are currently listening to CD via your DVD player and your Home Theater, and you decide that you now want to watch TV, clicking on the "Watch TV" activity will turn on the TV and at the same time, turn off your DVD player and Home Theater!

Although this is generally a good thing most of the time, but some times, it does get in the way when it falls out of sync with the real state of the appliance. For example, when you have manually turned on your TV, the remote doesn't know it so when you hit the "Watch TV" button, it will still send a "power on" command to your TV which may turn it off instead if this command happens to be of toggle type. The way around it then is to try programming discrete commands for power on and off, provided that your device supports it of course.

Talking about programming, Logitech tries to make it easier by hosting a central database of devices online where you can select and import into your Harmony remote directly. This will mean that a pre-requisite for owning this remote is access to a Windows PC with a USB port and Internet connection.

All in, I will rate this a good buy and a necessary piece of gadget in any living room setting where you have three or more appliances to control. FYI, I have a TV, Home Theater system, DVD/HDD player cum recorder, MioTV and Xbox (running XBMC)!

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