Bottom Line: Logitech’s high-end universal remote is well worth it if you’re tired of juggling a multitude of controls just to watch TV.
Verdict: Highly Recommended.
Can a universal remote really change your life? Probably not, but the Logitech Harmony 880 Remote Control can have a significant impact on how you spend your time in front of the TV. With the increasing complexity of home AV setups, it doesn’t take much effort to accumulate an array of remotes, each of which only serves a few functions. You’ll start off with a TV remote. Then maybe you’ll add a cable box, which will come with its own remote. A DVD player? A third remote. A AV receiver? Now we’re up to four. A TiVO? You get the idea.
While several attempts have been made to create universal remotes that can replace the typical living room coffee table clutter, most of these suffer from one of the several failings. In attempt to cover all possible functions, some remotes develop into two-handed monstristies which are more like miniature computers than remote controls. Others err in the opposite direction, with devices that appropriately resemble conventional remotes but, in their effort to look normal, end up clumsy and complicated. The setup up stage, in which the remote is configured for your personal setup, can be a particular challenge
The Harmony 880 gets around this problem by starting with a slender device that can be operated with one hand. A bright color screen with relatively clearly labeled icons is the centerpiece of the remote and guides most interaction. Buttons to the side of each icon control the major functions of the device. The remote operates around the notion of “activities” such as “Watch a DVD”, “Listen to Radio”, or “Watch TiVO”. When one of these is selected, the 880 sends a flurry of signals to your various devices and configures them all appropriately. For example, pressing “Watch a DVD” will turn on my TV, set its video to display input from the DVD player, turn on my DVD player, and set the audio input on my AV receiver to DVD mode. Various controls (play, stop, pause, etc.) on the remote now control the DVD player. If I get bored of watching a movie and instead decide to “Watch TiVO”, the remote turns of the DVD player and appropriately changes the settings on my receiver and TV. All the controls on the remote are now TiVO-centric, including pause, play, etc. which only moments earlier were DVD controls. The display now changes to offer TiVO-specific commands such as a button to watch Live TV.
Once you understand the “activities” approach, the remote becomes obvious to use, but this is not where the truly unique aspect of the remote becomes evident. In the past, users have taught universal remotes their setup by manually entering a series of obscure codes referenced from the manual or going through a laborious process of manually teaching each remote’s functions one button at a time by pointing the remotes towards each other and having one remote “learn” the infrared signals of the other. The 880 does away with this through a relatively intuitive web-based interface on your desktop computer. You define your AV setup and the desired behavior on the computer, and the Harmony software downloads the information to your remote via USB.
The 880 uses a rechargeable battery and comes with an elegant recharging cradle. It saves power by dimming the screen when the remote is not in use. A motion sensor detects when you lift the remote from a table and turns on the remote on que. Before you rush out and buy it, make sure that you don’t have one of the few home theater systems that use RF rather than IR to communicate, such as the Bose Lifestyle 50. While a product known as a C-1024 exists to translate IR signals into RF that the Bose can understand, the support for this device by Harmony is not yet clear. There are a few reports of people getting it to work, but it may be worth contacting the folks at Logitech before you make the purchase.