Well, I did it. I didn’t think I would, at least for a while, but I did it. I bought the big screen LCD TV, I bought the DVD player, I bought the AV receiver and home theater speakers, and I ordered digital cable. It was a sad day for my wallet, but a happy day for me. It’s something that I’ve always wanted – a top notch mini home theater of my own.
I soon found out that there was an issue with controlling all of these devices. Four components makes four remotes. It’s not that four remotes is confusing – it’s annoying. If you need to make an adjustment to your television and all you’ve got is your cable remote, on go the lights, and a search party begins. I needed a universal remote – but a good one, an intuitive one that could bring all of the advanced functionality of my componentry into a simple and centralized place. I turned to Logitech and their Harmony 890 Advanced Universal Remote.
Logitech recently revamped their entire line or universal remotes to be more sexy, more powerful, and more user-friendly. They have three models right now that I consider to be “higher” end – the 880, 890, and the 1000. The 880 and 890 are very similar, the main difference is that the 890 can control devices via radio frequency (RF), meaning that you don’t need line of site to operate certain devices (more on that later). The 1000 is their top of the line unit that has a touch screen.
Inside the box, you get a lot of items, and the above shot doesn’t include the remote and the cradle. Contents include: IR blasters for the RF extender, one RF extender, a miniUSB plug, a Lithium Ion battery, software, quick start guide, and power adapter for the RF extender.
What’s unique about the Harmony 890, and other newer universal remotes on the market, is that all the configuration is done on your computer. After you install the software on your computer, you’ll be stepped through a process, the first of which prompts you to enter the model numbers of your components. Logitech’s database of remote codes is massive…if you have it, they have codes for it.
When I first started the software, it updated itself to the newest version, and also updated the firmware on the remote (after prompting me to attach the remote to my computer). Very neat and easy!
From there, you begin to program your “Activities.” An Activity is like a macro – for example, for TV viewing: “turn on tv, change to input 1, turn on AV receiver, change to TV input, turn on cable box” is a macro, but in the case of the Harmony 890, it’s set up as an Activity. Here, the wizard asks some questions about which components need to be on to take on various Activities. In order for this to work, you’ll have to have a solid working knowledge of your multimedia setup, meaning, you’ll have to know which input your TV needs to be on to watch a DVD, and so on.
Once you change all the settings from your remote, you click on the update button. From there, the software will ask that you plug in you extender first, then the remote itself using the provided USB cable. Even if you’re not using the RF extender, you must update it or some reason, which is a bit annoying. The extender update takes about 1 minute, while the remote update takes about 4 minutes.
Ok – now let’s talk about the extender. The extender is for people that 1) have components that are out of sight, such as behind a wood cabinet, etc and/or 2) people who want to control components in another room. What the RF extender does is receive a radio signal from your remote (which can go through walls), and turn it into IR (which your components can “understand”). The idea is that you place the RF extender inside of your cabinet, for example, with the IR “blasters” pointed at the IR receiver of your component.
What’s great is that you can add many RF blasters to the system if you purchase additional ones. Each RF extender can control 8 devices via the 8 IR blasters that are included.
Confused? Well let me explain further…
Here in the device settings on the software, I can choose if I want a component to be controlled with the remote, or with radio frequency. In the above case, all of my devices are controlled using the remote.
After setting up everything, I decided to use the RF to control my television, because my center channel speaker covers up the IR port on the TV, so in order to get the TV on, I’d have to bend my arm up and around the speaker to get line of site…I wanted to be able to control the TV without line of site.
So first I placed the RF Extender out of site, but within the vicinity of my TV.
And second, I connected the IR blasters to the back of my center channel, firing towards the IR receiver near the base of my TV, almost like setting up a permanent remote. From there, I simply changed the settings in the software to control the TV with RF, and after updating the remote and the extender by plugging them into the computer, it worked like magic.
If you have problems setting up any of your devices, the software has terrific trouble shooting – it’s mostly question-based, so it’s very intuitive. There’s also an in-depth help section.
The remote has a cool blue ring that glows when the remote is not docked. Good touch! Regarding how long the battery lasts — with daily use, expect to charge your device every 5-7 days.
And here’s a front shot of the review, in-hand. It’s a very tall remote, but in order to fit so many functions, it has to be. The remote has enough buttons to be able to control every aspect of your multimedia center…a number pad on the bottom, DVR buttons above them, a D-Pad, plus volume, channel, page up and page down buttons, and the eight soft keys. Each soft key is programmable, so if there is a function that isn’t automatically assigned by the software (such as MyDVR or a custom AV receiver setting), you can make this change in the software.
Regarding the build quality of the remote — it feels solid in hand, but the buttons feel a bit cheap. Logitech isn’t about super high-end products – they create practical, affordable electronics, which means that they’re unlikely to spend extra time and effort to add chrome accents to their remote, or to weight the keys to get a high end “feel.” This was a moot detail, though…many friends who have used the remote don’t quite agree that the buttons feel cheap. Oh well.
And here is the Activities menu – this is what you see when you first pick up your remote, which, by the way, has a motion sensor that will switch the screen and button backlights on. I found the motion sensor to be a bit less sensitive than I would have liked – perhaps a sensitivity setting would be a good addition.
Here are what the programmable buttons look like. You can access these by pressing the Activities button twice. Notice the quality of the screen…it’s clear, but a bit grainy, and the whites aren’t very white (more like very very light grey), meaning the brightness is a bit low.
The Harmony 890 also has a help button at the top right of the remote. This guides you through a wizard that asks questions. For example, let’s say that my television didn’t switch on when it should have (which happened occasionally). Instead of getting out the TV remote, I press the Help button. It then asks a serious of question, one being “Is the TV on”. To the that I answer “no,” and the remote attempts to turn the TV on. It’ll then ask if the problem has been fixed…if not, the remote will try to change the input on the TV to achieve the desired result.
Overall, I’m impressed with the remote. It’s the kind of device that can be basic if you want it to be, or it can be your multimedia companion if you take the time to program all of the buttons and customize it to your liking. As you’ll see below, the MSRP of this remote is very high, at around $400. Fortunately, the remote can be had for much less through other reseller such as Amazon. If you’ve got a dedicated nook of your entertainment room where you keep a stack of remotes and would like to shrink the mess down to just one device, you’ll achieve Harmony with the 890.
The Logitech Harmony 890 is available from Amazon for $240 or from Logitech for $399
What I Like: Very easy setup, advanced options for those that like to “play,” fantastic software, excellent compatibility
What Needs Improvement: Remote buttons feel a bit cheap, display is dim and lacks vibrant color, pricey