Perhaps I’m dating myself, but the television in my house when I was young required the viewer to get up and change channels manually. Although it wasn’t very convenient, there were only two channels, and the satisfying ker-chunk of the switch almost made it worth it. We’ve come a long way since then, and now the ubiquitous remote control seems like it’s just part of normal life. But just because something has become normal, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

Harmony remotes have been improving on the standard universal remote control for over a decade, and Logitech purchased the founding company back in 2004. There have been quite a few iterations on the Harmony remote, and the Logitech Harmony Elite is the current top of the line model from Logitech, incorporating the Elite remote, the Harmony Hub, and the Harmony app, into one complete solution for not only remote control, but also home automation.

My previous remote - the Logitech Harmony One

I’ve been a Harmony user for over ten years now, starting with a Harmony 880, then the Harmony One, and now the Harmony Elite. The latest model improves on its predecessors in several ways, but keeps the original brilliance of the Harmony series with a single, easy to set up, and powerful solution to replace the myriad of remotes for all of the devices in your home.

Logitech Harmony Products
Product Harmony 350 Harmony 650 Harmony 950 Harmony Companion Harmony Elite
Maxium Devices 8 8 15 8 15
Display None Color Color Touch None Color Multi-Touch
Control Type IR IR IR IR/RF/Bluetooth/IP IR/RF/Bluetooth/IP
Batteries 2 AA 2 AA Rechargable CR2302 Rechargable
Comes with Hub No No No Yes Yes
Channel Favorites 5 23 50 50 50
Price $35 $50 $200 $150 $300

Logitech created the Harmony Hub a few years back, and was their first play into the game of home automation. The Harmony Hub is the key to the Harmony Elite’s ease of use, and powerful integration with the home. Whereas the remote allows control over IR only, the Hub gets connected to the home network, allowing it to control devices through IP, and it also supports Bluetooth control. This widely expands to capabilities of the remote, from just controlling A/V equipment, to now allowing control of smart home devices like the Nest thermostat, Phillips Hue, Lutron lighting, Sonos, and more. Adding the capabilities of IP control also make the experience no longer require line of sight, and the control is more reliable than IR alone.

But the key to the overall ease of use with Harmony continues to be its unique activity-based control. For those that haven’t used it, I’ll give a quick overview of the concept.

Activities

The original genius with Harmony, especially compared to other Universal remote controls, was that Harmony groups devices into activities. The typical setup would be one remote per device, so if you want to watch a movie, you may need a remote to power on the television and choose the correct input, a remote for the A/V Receiver to select the input and control the audio, and a third remote for the disc player. Then, if you wanted to watch television, you’d turn off the disc player, switch the inputs on the TV and Receiver, and then pick up the cable box remote to change channels. This is somewhat of a worst-case scenario of course. Perhaps the television remote will also control the DVD player or cable box in some manner, but regardless this is how most people operate an entertainment setup. Even the best universal remote control is always some sort of compromise, since inevitably there will be some function you need to perform on a device that will require you to dig out the remote for it.

Harmony dispenses with this silliness. By grouping devices into activities, the remote will perform every function required automatically, and it will then control the correct devices for that activity. For instance, when you decide you want to watch a movie, you can select the activity titled “Watch a Movie” on the remote. It will then power on the correct equipment, select the correct inputs, and automatically switch the remote functions to support the activity. Play/Pause and the like will be mapped to the disc player, and volume control will be for the A/V Receiver. You can customize each activity to suit your individual tastes, and every single button can be mapped to other functions if you need to change any of the functions. Then, when you want to watch television instead, pressing “Watch TV” will power off the disc player, power on the cable box, select the correct inputs, and remap the remote buttons as required.

For any of those rare times where you need to control some obscure feature of your equipment, Harmony also has a Devices mode, where you can pick a single device and get full control of it and all of its features.

The combination of activities and devices make the cumbersome process of controlling several devices into a simple, seamless task. The Harmony Elite builds on this already powerful control that Harmony has always had, but the underlying philosophies are the same.

The Logitech Harmony Elite Remote
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  • Sivar - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    nVidia Shield, projector, pre-amp, amplifier, and Amazon FireTV are just a few items that I use a Logitech Harmony keyboard to control. Just because you no longer own a television (or projector or other device that uses a remote control) doesn't mean they have become somehow obsolete. More than 40,000,000 TVs are sold in the U.S. every year. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    I guess so, but it just seems so behind the times to have fixed-location entertainment devices that largely exist just to play back non-interactive video. I mean, hey it's 2017 so strikes me as odd that we're still basically locked in the 1950s - 1980s with consoles and TV sets.

    In my case, since laptops started shipping with DVD drives, the party's been in my lap the whole time and I can take it with me anyplace I want to go. That's only gotten better with streaming services and devices that can do more than just play video. Nowadays, I can have a party in my hand OR in my lap no matter where I am or what time of day it is. If I get that itch, I can whip out my toys and scratch it pretty much anywhere like say at a public library or at a local Starbucks. If I'm sick of just watching the action, my toys let me do interactive things so I can get as involved as I want all without having a universal remote.
    Reply
  • mjeffer - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    Most people prefer a TV to watching on a laptop. Not only can you get a much better picture and sound with a dedicated AV setup, it's just more comfortable to watch that way. Most people don't want to balance something on their lap or sit at their desk to watch TV. They want to lay back on the couch and relax. No that there is anything wrong with the way you do it if it works for you, but you're certainly in the minority. So yes, people still use lots of remotes. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    Yeah, I realize I'm not among even a slim majority, but I couldn't resist putting it out there like this because I've been waiting for MONTHS (years?) to say something about a party in my lap in Anandtech's comments section. What better context is there than a discussion about a $300 universal remote? My only regret is that it didn't fit the situation to invite others to that party, but whipping it out at Starbucks sort of made up for it. Reply
  • wolfemane - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    it's missing the one key feature to make those parties worth while, a good vibration. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, February 16, 2017 - link

    My goodness yes! So much yes! You can't have a party in your lap without a good vibration. Does this Harmony thing have force feedback or something? Maybe it can compete with an Xbox controller in that department. Reply
  • aapocketz - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    I guess so, but it just seems so behind the times to have hand held/lap entertainment devices that largely exist just to consume content. I mean, hey it's 2017 so strikes me as odd that we're still basically locked in the 2000's with smartphones and tablets.

    In my case, since interactive VR goggles started shipping with motion and eye tracking, the party's been in my face the whole time and I can take it with me anyplace I want to go. That's only gotten better with interactive worlds where you can immerse yourself completely in. Nowadays, I can have a party on the moon or in the ocean no matter where I am or what time of day it is. If I get that itch, I can whip out my toys and scratch it pretty much anywhere like say at a public library or at a local Starbucks. If I'm sick of just watching the action, my toys let me do interactive things so I can get as involved as I want all without holding some tiny screen in my hands.
    Reply
  • Jad77 - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    I dated myself, but I was in my teens and didn't have a clue. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - link

    How'd that work out for you? I could see lovers' quarrels getting a bit awkward in that situation. Reply
  • Jad77 - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    The first rule of Fight Club... Reply

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