by Mike Shea on 19 April 2010
Home theater systems are hard to buy, hard to set up, and hard to use. Luckily the Logitech Harmony One remote solves one of these problems. With a sleek feel, simple setup, and some excellent features, it builds your home theater system around functions, not components. A good Harmony universal remote is a required feature for any good home theater system. At just shy of $200, the Harmony One remote is worth your money.
It's been a long time since I wrote regular home theater component reviews but after having refreshed my basement screening room (don't forget, when you call it a screening room you enjoy it more ), that might change.
When we're piecing together a home theater, there's a pretty standard check list of components. We have the TV, the receiver, speakers, a DVD player or Blu-Ray player, maybe a subwoofer. Secondary items like speaker stands and cables come next. What many people forget to consider is the remote. People often cheap out on the remote, figuring it is a throw-away item they can pick up for twenty or thirty bucks. I think this is a pretty poor philosophy to take.
The remote control is your interface to your entire system. It's the device that helps your entire family enjoy the system you spent so much time and money putting together. Don't cheap out in it. Give it the money it deserves.
That's where the Logitech Harmony One. This single remote control is built around the single ideal of making your system easier to use. Unlike other trends in technology (see the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod Touch), the home theater system is still way too complicated for most people to buy and use. Too many standards tie together too-complicated components. And it gets worse every year. I spend significant time trying to figure out how to use a home theater system and I still couldn't tell you what DTS Neo:6 is.
Luckily the designers of the Harmony remotes know that home theaters are just too freaking hard to use. That's the core of this design.
The key to the usefulness of the Harmony One remote is the concept of building around function, not components. Instead of having buttons for your DVD player, TV, and receiver, you have functions such as "watch a blu-ray" or "play my Xbox 360". When you activate these functions, the remote sends the right instructions to the right components and next thing you know you're doing whatever it is you wanted to do.
The Harmony has a wonderful troubleshooting feature tied to a "help" button that first tries to solve whatever problem might have occurred and eventually walking you through some questions to identify what went wrong. When you're training your family to use the system, teach them about the help button. We've grown accustomed to ignoring such labels (thank you Microsoft) but in this case it's really useful.
Unlike less expensive Harmony remotes, the Harmony One's color LCD touchscreen ties you even closer to the functions of your home theater system. You can customize the labels, the icons, and directly touch the button on the screen to activate the function.
The layout of the other controls is logical and easy to use. Though it isn't exactly completely simplified, everything you would expect is on it and works. When you press channel up and down, it knows to change the channel on your cable box. When you press volume up and down, it knows to change the volume on the receiver. Pause and play will send commands to your DVD player. All of this is built in once you've set it up.
Setting up the Harmony One remote might be a little daunting at first. We might make the assumption, as Logitech might have done, that one person in the family has the know-how to hook up a home theater system and is likely the one to set up the remote.
Setting it up requires hooking it up to a computer through a USB plug. The software is on both Macs and PCs and isn't nearly as horrible as most third-party hardware software. It loads up a huge database of devices, including a few really archaic switches I had before my new TV came in, and walks you through the process of explaining how your devices are interconnected.
Going through the full setup requires about 20 minutes of time assuming you know how your system is set up. When you're done, the instructions are all sent to the remote.
The Harmony One is an excellent remote but, tied to the terrible usability of standard home theater equipment, the whole still has some problems.
For example, not every system has dedicated "on" and "off" buttons. Because it toggles, it might get out of sync and your TV might turn on when you meant it to be turned off. Old cable boxes are notorious for this since cable providers often go for the cheapest boxes they can buy.
Other more complicated devices like receivers might not have dedicated buttons for various sound settings. My Onkyo receiver, for example, doesn't have a dedicated button for THX Game as opposed to THX Cinema. If I'm playing a game on a Playstation 3 vice watching a movie, it can't know. I got around this by custom programming a THX button on the remote so I can manually switch to the right mode. Many people might not bother to do this and they might not care that much in the first place.
For the Playstation 3 in particular, the Harmony One remote won't work out of the box. For $50 you can buy the Logitech Harmony Adapter for the Playstation 3 or the cheaper Blu Wave Remote by Nyko that includes a USB IR adapter. Having tried the Blu Wave adapter for about six months, I'm likely to sack up and buy the official Harmony adapter instead due to the poor response and lack of dedicated powering of the Nyko unit.
You might have bought a great widescreen HDTV. You might have a great receiver and some kick-ass speakers. All of that is wasted on your family if they can't get it to turn on. Don't cheap out. When you're setting up your budget, put $200 aside for a really great remote control like the Harmony One. Every time you use it you'll know where your money went.
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