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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  • JeffS - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    We have had a Harmony Elite in our home theater for a year now, and it has been a really fantastic product. My wife was basically afraid of using the system until we got this remote, and now she has no problem using it even when I'm not home. The hard buttons are all intuitive, and the touch screen really makes it work. We don't have a particularly complex system and are probably the perfect target customer for the product, but it is complex enough to require multiple remotes if you don't use the Harmony. There's an Epson projector, an Integra AV receiver, a TiVo Mini, a current-gen Apple TV, and a Blu-ray player. The activities on the touch screen are straightforward- "Watch Apple TV," for example, does everything you'd expect. The IR blasters flood the entire room and are so powerful that even reflected IR from the walls controls components. When you're done, the hard "off" button shuts everything down cleanly so that the projector isn't left idling and using up bulb life.

    We have a lot of tech gadgets in our house. This one is near the top of the list for reliability and ease of use.
    Reply
  • fanofanand - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    I'm trying to imagine how ticked off I would be when my kids misplaced a $300 remote. Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    So, $300 is way more than I'm willing to spend. But I'm intrigued by the hub part which can be purchased separately ($96 on Amazon). Anyone using just the hub and the app without the actual remote?
    As to the limitations mentioned for the app, I have an older (from 2013) Android phone that doesn't have cell service and continues (at least for now Its android 4.4.4) to run current apps. So if I use this old phone as my remote, or my tablet for that matter, I'm thinking I wouldn't really need the actual remote.
    Anyone actually tried this?
    Reply
  • rmack350 - Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - link

    I also have a Harmony Companion and feel that the Less is More aspect of it works really well. But the specs listed are wrong.

    The Companion is an RF remote with a coin battery. The coin is supposed to last a year but mine has lasted longer. No recharging required. You can use it anywhere and don't need to be within line of sight, and the remote is simple. The basic learning curve is really short. Honestly, I just use it for TV/STB, TV/Roku. and TV/BlueRay. It has three function buttons for that and you could assign different functions to them for short and long presses but I just skipped the long presses. I bought the thing to simplify the remotes, after all.

    The cool thing here is the hub. It's actually the IR emitter and it just flashes the signal at the entire room. It's pretty much always got line of sight this way and it makes the remote more reliable. The problem with a universal remote is that it has to send a set of codes to each device it's controlling. Very often the user would set the remote down out of line of sight before it was finished. Pushing the signalling to the hub gets rid of that fail point. It's very reliable.

    There are very few flaws to the Companion remote, except that the buttons are small and unlit. If it weren't for that the companion would make a great gift for elderly people.
    Reply
  • CircuitWizardry - Thursday, February 16, 2017 - link

    The lack of a hard number pad is a major fail in my opinion. I much prefer to quickly type in the 3 numbers of a channel I want to go to, than use a guide, or a favorite channel list, where I have to look down at a screen on the remote.

    In my opinion, they had the physical layout correct with the Harmony 900, and it included a blaster. I own three aging 900's, and the IP control would be a nice addition for several devices, but I'll deal with the occasional issue, in exchange for having the numpad.

    The real competitor to Harmony is URC, but they won't allow end users access to their programming software... so my money goes elsewhere.
    Reply
  • ceomrman - Thursday, February 16, 2017 - link

    This whole thing makes me feel old. I used to love this hyper-complicated stuff. I had a Harmony back in the day, but now I use the stock TV remote only, 100% of the time. I have a very good 2.1 system plugged into a mid-range AVR plugged into a smart TV that has Plex and Netflix and Youtube apps. I press "on" and everything fires up. Two presses later and I'm looking at an app menu or watching TV. No need for a hub, since the line of sight to the TV is never a problem. I can adjust my LED lights with their free app. I do sometimes miss the AVR remote for changing the sub level, so I do have to twirl that little knob a couple times a year. Sometimes we put on the radio, but usually for a party or cleaning or something, when using the input knob is no more PITA than using the remote. Sound modes and stuff are gimmicks. I listen to the sound how it was recorded, or admittedly down-mixed if was encoded only in surround. Why would you want to listen to a club mix in Stadium mode? If the movie should have rumbley bass, it'll have it. I've never had any complaint beyond the occasional crappy over-compressed file quality. When we want TV, pressing the "on" button on the remote automatically preempts the radio. I just can't think of what I'd do with a disc player, or what else I'd like a universal remote to do for me. I suppose it'd be nice to control a Roku, but what I'd really like for that (and for the other SnartTV apps, actually) is QWERTY, which Logitech doesn't help with. Reply
  • Kakureru - Friday, February 17, 2017 - link

    Ug, still using that garbage "cloud" based software. I need it to 1' work entirly offline without an harmony account, 2, a way to manipulate the codes directly as the software keeps misinterpreting what actually is learned in. Reply
  • Kakureru - Friday, February 17, 2017 - link

    Also, I require ACTUAL macros that control my devices AND the remote itself. The "activities" thing does not do what I want. Reply
  • beyondtool - Saturday, February 18, 2017 - link

    I cannot fathom why the battery life is still so abysmal. It's definitely the sore point of my Harmony one, over the years there have been many frustrating hours waiting for the damn thing to charge its special battery. It's enough to go back to multiple remotes, rather than pay $300 for this replacement... Reply
  • stangflyer - Saturday, February 18, 2017 - link

    I use my Harmony and hub along with an Echo dot to do everything by voice. Now I can pause, forward, reverse anything from my Tivo,UHD player and Roku Ultra. The only thing I have to do is put the disc in the tray as it automatically opens and closes the tray after 10 seconds. Reply

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