If your TV watching reality includes a basket filled with six or seven different remotes, then I understand your pain. That was how things were at my house before Logitech sent their Harmony Elite Remote to review. I have to say that after a relatively painless setup, the results of consolidating have been so worth it.
The idea behind the Harmony Elite is that not only can you consolidate all of your remotes into one smart remote, but on top of having a universal remote ready to use, you can use your iOS or Android device as a remote, too. We’ll explore all of those options shortly, but let’s start with the hardware.
Inside the box you’ll find the Harmony Elite remote (with rechargeable battery), the Harmony Hub, two IR mini-blasters, a charging station, a USB cable, two AC adapters (one for the remote’s charging station and one for the Harmony Hub, and user documentation.
This is the Harmony Hub. On the back, there is a reset button, a microUSB charging port, and two ports for the IR mini-blasters. The Harmony Hub serves as a go-between for all of the devices that you want to control and whichever means you wind up using to control them — whether it is the Harmony Remote, your iOS or Android phone, or your iOS or Android tablet. Because the hub accepts both Radio Frequency waves and Bluetooth, it does not need to be in the line of site of your remote.
There are two IR mini-blasters.
Here’s the Harmony Hub with IR mini-blasters attached. Exciting, right? 😉
Setting up the system is a multi-part process. If you have an open cabinet system, you can set the Harmony Hub just under the television, but if your cabinet is closed it can go inside the cabinet or near the majority of your components, and you can use the mini-blasters to extend the hub’s signal.
The Harmony Hub uses Infrared to speak to your audio-visual components, so “IR signals sent from the hub will reflect off of walls and other surfaces before reaching your devices. Direct line of sight is generally not required.” It also used WiFi and Bluetooth, which is how it is able to communicate with your phone, tablet, or components that don’t use IR.
The hardware setup is pretty easy — get the hub and the mini-blasters situated and plugged in, and you’re done. Now comes the time-intensive part — setting up the software and remote. At this point, you should make sure that your remote is in its charger, so it will be ready when you need it.
Moving right along …
In order to start setting up your devices to work with the hub and remote, you’ll need to download the Harmony app to your iOS or Android device. There is no app for Windows phone, but you can also do it from your PC or Mac by going to setup.myharmony.com and following the onscreen setup instructions.
Now it’s time to set up the individual components, which I did from my iPhone. Select the “Set Up New Hub” option, and then follow the directions …
After you’ve done that, you’ll be asked if you already own a Harmony remote; this is a great timesaver if you’ve owned a Harmony remote in the past or you’re upgrading to the Elite. Of course, I had to “set up new”.
The first thing I did was scan for WiFi connected devices it can control — my Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV boxes popped right up. You can also scan your Home Control devices, like the Nest thermostat, Philips Hue bulbs, Honeywell WiFi thermostats, etc. Under Entertainment Devices, you’ll enter all of your audio-visual equipment. Rather than having to beam a signal from your old remote or doing any other kind of IR guesswork, you enter the device’s name and its precise model number. Once that information is entered, the Harmony Elite will know exactly how to interact with that particular component.
So these are the six basic components that make up Kev’s and my television setup (our Xbox is our DVD player). As each one was set up, the Harmony remote had me check to be sure that they operated as expected when I used the remote; if not, the remote and I troubleshot together until they worked correctly.
Once all of your devices have been entered and are working properly individually, it’s time to create activities — such as “Watch Fire TV”, “Watch TV”, or “Play Xbox One”.
As you set up each activity, you’ll have to tell the remote which devices are used for that activity, and then you’ll go through the setup process of making sure that the right HDMI is called up when you do a particular activity, or making sure that all of the correct components power on when you press the activity’s button.
While this is a time-consuming process, it isn’t difficult, and you will only have to do it once. On your mobile device, these are examples of what components’ remotes will look like.
DirecTV DVR Remote
Vizio TV Remote
So even though you’ll have simplified “activities” that you can do with grouped components, the ability to fine tune each component without breaking out its old remote is never far away. This is super convenient, believe me.
Next comes setting up the Harmony Elite remote itself. For this, you’ll have to unplug the rubber stopper at the base of the remote to expose the micro-USB port that you’ll use the included microUSB cable to connect with your computer.
Once your Harmony Elite remote has been tied into your home network, it will download your Harmony Hub settings including the activities that you’ve already created, and it will be ready to work for you in place of your iOS or Android device.
After your Remote has been synced with your settings, you can do all of the things from it that you can do from your iOS or Android device. The key buttons here are the Activities and Devices buttons at the bottom of the touchscreen — these allow you to toggle between the activities you’ve set up and the individual components.
Another feature of the remote is the ability to tie one of the four colored oval buttons to a specific activity. The five buttons at the bottom can be ” used to control supported Home Control devices. For example, you can map a button to turn your hue lights on and off and use the +/- button to adjust the bulb’s brightness.”
While the Harmony Elite has taken care of our out of control remote situation, there is one caveat we’ve discovered: since we live in a home with kids who like to turn devices off at the power button, it makes the remote fall out of sync with the individual components at times. We’re working on breaking the girls of that habit, but in the meantime, it’s not too difficult to turn on an individual device from our phone or the remote to get it back in sync with the programmed activities.
I’ve asked the kids what they like or don’t like about the Harmony Elite system: You can’t turn it off at the device anymore, the volume control for the ZVOX doesn’t always work, and the biggest inconvenience is that it doesn’t come with a Windows Phone app (one of our girls is using the Lumia 830). They like that it puts all of our remotes into one — you don’t have to worry about losing one of the remotes in the couch cushions anymore (that used to be a big problem for us — especially with the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV remotes), and they like that multiple family members can control settings from their phones, so it never falls to one particular person to raise or lower the volume when needed. It’s the little things, right?
Kev and I like the convenience of being able to use our phones or tablets to control or AV components, plus being able to click one activity button — Watch Fire TV, for instance — and having the TV go directly to HDMI 5, the Amazon Fire TV box switched on, and the ZVOX speaker switched on without us having to individually turn on each component … that is convenience at its best! We used to worry about our smaller remotes being lost (the Apple TV remote was the biggest offender), but now that is no longer a concern. Perhaps the biggest convenience is that watching TV no longer means sitting on the couch with an array of remotes by our side — totally love this!
If you’ve been putting off buying a universal remote because you didn’t think it would be easy to program, or you thought it wouldn’t make that much of a convenience difference — lay that fear to rest. The Logitech Harmony Elite is a universal remote control that works from anywhere in the room rather than needing a direct line of site to the individual components. Best of all, if you have a sluggish remote that you curse at every time you use it (that was how we felt about our DirecTV remote), this takes care of that issue!
The Logitech Harmony Elite Advanced Universal Remote and Hub retails for $349.99, and it is available directly from the manufacturer as well as from other retailers including Amazon (for $299.99) [affiliate link]
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: All remotes are now consolidated into a single remote control; We can also use our iOS or Android phones and tablets to perfectly control our components; Smarthome components can also be added and controlled; Activities can be created that consolidate individual componant commands into groups for dedicated activities; No need to sit at the couch with an array of remotes by your side anymore
What Needs Improvement: No Windows phone app; Devices can get out of sync if they are turned off at the device rather than through the remote; it’s not cheap