Harmony remotes

So I’m looking at the pile of remotes on my coffee table, and looking at the Harmony remotes (thanks for the tip, John Dvorak).

I have a JVC half-broken surround sound system, Xbox (may upgrade to a 360 within the next 6 months), Comcast DVR, an old VCR!, and a JVC TV (will probably upgrade to HDTV in the next month).

Does the XBox Harmony remote do anything really special, or will the standard ones be just fine? I won’t be doing the XBMC thing, I have a Mac, thank you (I’ll buy an iTV!). I’ll want to use the XBox or XBox 360 as the DVD player (lack of inputs on the broken SRS system) for the time being.

Is there a way to look at the Logitech device support – their website doesn’t have a “browse all the stuff we work with right now!” section.

Any other comments? Are they the holy grail of remotes? Can I buy them for parents as well as myself?

They really are the holy grail. I’ve had a couple, and the 550 (I think that’s the one I have - it’s the newer rectangular one that looks like the 360 remote, but is black) is awesome. It’s got all the buttons you need for DVRs and cable boxes, plus it’ll work with your 360.

Harmony works with everything I’ve thrown at it. I would be shocked if you could find something that they don’t have in their database, and even then you can program the buttons manually.

I don’t know how tech savy your parents are. I’m sure parents will appreciate their functionality, but I’m not sure all parents would be up for the initial setup. I don’t think it’s anything too complicated, but I can see some people just seeing it as one more thing to figure out, one more complication.

My only complaint with the one we have is trivial, it doesn’t keep time. I don’t remember ever picking it up and finding the batteries completely drained, but somehow every time I set the clock, it’s off by 6 or 7 hours again in a couple days. That doesn’t actually affect anything (as far as I know), it’s just always wrong.

The Xbox 360 Harmony remote has ABXY buttons that are the same color as the 360’s controller and they map to the 360 ABXY buttons which is kind of useful for navigating through the dashboard and stuff like that. I’ve got the 360 version of the Harmony and like it quite a bit, but AFAIK all of them work with the 360. I can also verify for sure that the Harmony Xbox 360 remote I have works with the Xbox 1 (assuming, of course, you have the Xbox DVD dongle since the Xbox 1 can’t receive IR otherwise).

As mentioned already they have a huge database of devices, they support pretty much anything that works with any other universal remote.

The setup software is some kind of shitty web based applet thing that really sucks even if you’re an expert user. It is hard to use, not because you need to be technically savvy, but because the UI is just completely horrible. But luckily you don’t need to set it up too often, so I’m willing to overlook this based on how well the remote works once it is set up.

Question for the Xbox 360 Harmony owners: does the Harmony have a mute button that can be changed to an “overwrite” or “universal” mute? That is, pressing the mute button will always mute the same device, regardless of what state the remote is in?

The reason I ask is that I often use the mute function on my current universal, but I have to switch over to my receiver first, then press mute. I then need to switch over to CBL to change channels, or switch to TV to change video inputs, etc. I’ve been searching for years for that one universal remote that can meet my picky needs, but they’re too expensive to just buy on whim now. TIA

You can program “activities” for the Harmony. You define all your devices first (like, tell it what tv you have, what cable box, what dvd player, what av receiver) and then you can create custom “activities” such as “Watch TV”, “Play Music”, etc. For each activity you can define which devices are used for what. For example, for all of my activities my 5.1 receiver is used to do volume control (both up/down volume and mute). The Harmony is really quite slick in this regard, and will even change all your devices to the correct inputs for each activity (like on mine, if I choose “watch tv”, it’ll switch on the sound receiver, switch on the cable box, change the sound receiver to the input from the cable box, etc. Then if I choose “Play Xbox 360”, it’ll turn on the xbox, switch the tv to the xbox 360 input, switch the sound receiver to the 360 input, etc. The only downside to all of this high tech coolness is that the remote can get confused about the state your devices are in if you turn them off/on with means other than the Harmony remote. This generally isn’t a big deal though, as there is a help button that allows you to quickly sync everything back up if this happens.

Thanks for the reply CCZ. Aren’t there two versions of the 360 harmony remote? Which one do you have, and do you think it was worth the price, all things considered?

I have no idea which version it is, wasn’t aware of there being multiple versions of the 360 unit. It cost like $90 and is labelled Logitech Harmony 360 Remote Control For Xbox 360. I think it is worth the price but you kind of have to buy into their whole “activities” system or else the controller will frustrate you. It took me a couple of days to get used to it because previously I had a very basic universal remote with simple device toggle so my brain was hardwired for that. You can use the Harmony like that if you want to fight it but it does a worse job than a basic universal remote if you go down that route. So YMMV, but I really like it now. The remote control just feels nice to hold too… I can’t really objectively describe why, but if you ever hold one, you’ll see.

I’ve got a programmable remote for my den, using it to run my DVD player, receiver, TV, etc. - everything except my DirectTV-Tivo. The reason I have not replaced it: I can’t find the original remotes, and I programmed this one via the original remotes (the old place them end to end and let it learn from the original.)

Is there a place where I can look up my specific components and see if Harmony has them covered before purchasing?

Just found this – if you go to the Logitech site and “take a tour”, you can drop through all the brands of equipment.

The harmony software and configuration is fantastic, but I really hate the ergonomics. I love my mx500. In fact, I just bought another one. Not because my 6 year old mx500 broke, it still worked fine, just because it was grimy and nasty from years of constant use.

I must live in your bizarro world or vice versa, because I love the ergonomics of my Harmony 360 remote and absolutely hate the configuration software.

Tres cool - thanks.

If you hate the harmony’s software, then you must not have tried, well, everybody else’s. It’s by far the best. By a HUGE margin. My mx500 doesn’t even have software. The original config took me an hour or two to get perfect with all my macros, etc.

Harmony ergonomics are terrible compared to my mx500. Important buttons are close together and tiny, not discoverable by feel, transport buttons aren’t reachable without moving your hand, etc. It sure does look purty though.

I love these things and so does the wife

For those interested, SlickDeals has the Harmony 880 remote for about $115 from Dell. Hell of a stocking stuffer!


Test drive for the 880.

Take a look at the button layout carefully. I’m on my third 659. It is the closest I’ve found to the Tivo’s layout.

The database even supports some random brand DVD recorder I bought.

The web interface to setup is a bit slow at times and too “wizardlike” for power users like Xpav, but it’ll do the job.

The harmonies store device power information - that is the harmony remembers what input the TV is supposed to be in, whether it was on or off, etc. I keep the TIVO on the UPS, and everything else on a power strip. Shut off to save standby power, save the earth and all that. Problems occur if you manually shut stuff off without going through the remote.

HIDE ALL THE OTHER REMOTES so they don’t use them. If the remote gets confused I find it’s easier to just hit “OFF” on the remote and then hit whatever activity you want. It’s faster than going through the prompts one by one to see what device isn’t right.

Another tip: if you got a tivo I suggest adding a command to the switch to tivo function. Add MENU or NOW PLAYING command. it will force the tivo to wake up from standby.

MX500 has a lot of buttons but it’s stupid. It’s big, and a major PITA to program.

You can tell the harmony not to put the tivo in standby. Standby doesn’t actually do anything anyway.

The mx500 is a pain to program, and it is less intelligent than the usage-based harmony. It’s also more difficult to pick up and use if you don’t know what you’re doing. But the ergonomics are so much better that it’s worth it to me.