I recently bought the Logitech Harmony Smart Control remote for my entertainment system, and after playing around with its settings for a few weeks, I really like it.
My entertainment system consists of 6 components and 5 remotes: TV, receiver, cable box/DVR, Apple TV, a Blu-ray player, and a remote-less Chromecast. There was hardly an activity I did with my system that would require less than two remotes, and I have been eager to consolidate my remotes but was having trouble deciding what to do and how much to spend. I finally decided it was time, did some research and concluded that the Smart Control system was the most forward-thinking and future-proof remote system on the market at my price point, so I gave it a try.
The Smart Control system actually consists of three components: a Harmony Hub, a simple remote, and iOS and Android remote apps. They whole system takes some time, patience, and basic understanding of how entertainment systems work to set up properly, but once that is done it works very well and I find it so nice to only have one remote to deal with. It can control up to 8 devices and retails at $130 ($100 without the simple remote).
The Harmony Hub:
The Harmony Hub, sitting slightly bigger than an Apple TV, serves as the connection between components, remotes, and the internet. It has WiFi (to connect with the Harmony component database, the user’s account settings, and the remote apps), IR (to connect with most components), Bluetooth (to connect with PS3, PS4, and Wii), and RF (to connect with the simple remote).
To control the system, you program activities, such as “Watch TV” or “Watch a Blu-ray,” and then when a given activity is selected on a remote, the Hub then cycles through the programmed commands to make that activity happen. For example, when I press “Watch TV” on a remote, the remote tells the Hub to run the following commands: 1. power on receiver, 2. power on TV, 3. power on cable box, 4. select “TV” input on receiver, 5. select “HDMI1” input on TV, 6. select “tuner” input on cable box, 7. delay 3 seconds, and then select “standard” audio mode on receiver. While this may sound complicated, once the activities are programmed (Logitech guides you through the setup for most common commands), it is just a press of one button on the remote and then the Hub does everything else without you even noticing. It also remembers what components are on, and shuts the unnecessary components off when switching activities, and shuts everything off automatically when turning the system off.
I was very skeptical that the Hub – which is designed to sit on a shelf alongside the components it is to control – could send IR signals away from the entertainment center, have those signals bounce off walls and furniture, and then return to the front of the components, where the IR receivers are housed. I was pleasantly surprised to find it worked flawlessly. The system comes with a separate IR blaster in case components are stored in separate cabinets (you can add a second IR blaster if you want), and I set it up on another shelf, even though it seems unnecessary. My setup has my components on open shelves, but having the capability of storing components in closed cabinets or even in a nearby closet is a really nice feature.
The Simple Remote:
The simple remote works very well and is more than adequate for almost everything I need. It is thinner and smaller than a traditional remote, and has a soft textured backing that feels good in the hand. A really cool feature is that since it transmits using RF instead of IR, it does not matter in which direction it is pointed and it works without a line of sight to the Hub. Two criticisms it has received in reviews is that it only has 6 activities and that the buttons aren’t backlit. Both are valid criticisms, but I don’t think either seriously detracts from the overall experience. Logitech clearly tried to keep the remote compact, so they probably did not want to take up space with more activity buttons, and it is said to last a year on a small battery, which wouldn’t be possible if it was backlit. For $350, you can get this system with a touchscreen remote instead of the simple remote, although I don’t think it’s necessary.
The Harmony App:
The Harmony App for Android works well, though the couple of seconds it takes to load hurts its usefulness. I have not tried the iOS app. While I use the simple remote most of the time, I find the app to be convenient for when I’m in the kitchen and want to turn the volume down or if I’m lying on the couch and have my phone on me but not the remote. Plus I use it to access the seventh activity – the one that can’t fit on the simple remote – and it really came in handy when programming the system for the first time.
My favorite feature of the app is the favorite channel layout with channel logos, which taps into my cable provider’s channel lineup and makes switching channels much easier than entering the channel number. Overall there is a lot of switching screens in the app though, like between the favorite channels screen to the volume screen, and also it is harder to use the app without looking at it. Logitech promotes gesture input to address that, but I think most people would get more use out of the simple remote than the app.
* * *
Overall, I am really happy with the Smart Control, find that it works as advertised, and is night and day better than my old setup. It took me two hours to setup and program the activities, and then I had to go back into the settings several times to adjust activities (like adding three presses of “menu” and two presses of “down” on Apple TV to make sure the “power off” signal was delivered when on the Apple TV home screen, and adjusting the delay on the receiver to make sure commands weren’t given until it had fully powered on). Once setup it is a real pleasure to use, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to consolidate remotes and who is open to trying something new.