Reviewer: Anthony Fordham
Universal remotes are designed to control multiple devices, and can learn the functionality of many other remotes, but they don’t necessarily simplify a multi-device setup. Activity-based remotes, like Logitech’s Harmony 1000i, take the fiddle out of AV by executing a series of commands at the touch of a single button. And the Harmony aims to be the easiest to use of the lot.
No, it’s not a media player or PDA, it’s a remote. The display is a 8.9cm touchscreen that changes to reflect the current activity being used. Tap ‘watch a DVD’ and the remote switches all your AV gear to the appropriate inputs, then displays familiar DVD-style controls.
The hardware buttons on the right of the unit control common features such as volume or channel select, and also include a navigation wheel for access to more advanced settings such as picture control.
The remote has two infrared ports. One sends a signal to the AV rack, the other accepts a signal from factory remotes to help it ‘learn’ some of the fiddlier controls. With a lithium-ion battery inside, the 1000i sits on a cradle to recharge when not in use, and has an accelerometer that activates the display when picked up.
This is the most complex part of owning a Harmony 1000i. Connect the remote to your PC via USB, then tell the included software the brand and model number of each device in your AV stack.
You then program a series of activities, such as ‘watch a DVD’, ‘listen to radio’ or ‘watch TV’. If you have basic equipment, the remote will probably guess the right settings automatically, and everything will run smoothly.
If you have more idiosyncratic tech, like this reviewer’s Philips home theatre system, further manual fiddling of the activity programming will be required. This can take an hour or so to get right, and the ability to think laterally about how your devices work with their own remotes is a distinct advantage. You may even have to shoot the Harmony with your existing remote to help it learn the IR codes.
If you fancy yourself a bit of a whiz at programming VCR timer recorders, setting up the Harmony 1000i will be a doddle. If figuring out how to change the input on your TV to watch a DVD is beyond you, it’s time to enlist a clever niece or nephew.
The Harmony 1000i is the kind of device that invites cynicism. With so many TVs and home cinema systems and PVRs and set-top boxes on the market, how can it possibly work?
Remarkably, it does work. If your device has a remote of its own, odds are it’s somewhere in Logitech’s impressive 175,000-plus unit library. Obviously, you do need an Internet connection to download the IR codes.
Oddly enough, while the Harmony was as fast as the factory remote with some of our devices, others responded more sluggishly. Pressing a button too many times results in commands ‘stacking’, and tasks such as changing the volume on some devices can be a bit fiddly to get accustomed to.
Patience is the watchword here, and if some feature isn’t working properly, it’s worth stepping back to see if it’s the user, not the remote, who’s not approaching the task properly.
Logitech has done considerable work to make the setup process as simple as possible, and if you can program the Harmony 1000i properly, it massively simplifies the experience of a modern AV rack. Forget grappling with three remotes to watch a DVD: just tap a single icon. It’s almost like magic!
The only real negative is the price. At the cost of a decent hard drive recorder, you do need to be really, really sick of having remotes lined up on the coffee table to justify this. Either that, or everyone in the house except you keeps whining “why has the TV setup changed again?”