Logitech Harmony 1000 Review - My $0.02

Posted by Garth on Saturday, June 16, 2007

For starters, if you want detailed reviews including lots of pretty pictures, go here or here. My $0.02 will be nowhere near as detailed nor cover all the aspects and features. It's more about how well it fits into my vision of the perfect digital life.

First Thoughts
The remote is big. Definitely not intended for one-handed use, except possibly when doing basic navigation. However even that is restricted to right-handed use as the navigation buttons are on the right side of the remote. Not cool.

The RF extender is not included with this model, but it is included with the 890 which costs $100 less (but doesn't have a big touchscreen). I hope to take a look at the 890 as well. This means that this remote has no multi-room capability without an additional purchase. Boo.

From reading what I've read, it seems that this remote does not support any sort of PC interface other than IR (i.e. using a USB-UIRT on your PC). This means you have to have line of sight to your PC to use this, or purchase the missing RF Extender. It also means that it'll take some work (and probably Girder) to make this remote actually DO anything on your PC. Also, unless the RF Extender does more than just encapsulate IR signals, there's no support for bi-directional communication to your PC. This means you couldn't, say, browse through the MP3 albums stored on your PC without an external display device. IMHO, this is a waste of a perfect display available right on the remote.

First 5 Minutes
The demo available when you turn on the device is nice, quick and explains the concept of "Activities" (macros) well. At the end though, it doesn't provide first steps. I would've liked something along the lines of "to begin using the remote, install the software on the accompanying CD and plug it into your PC via the provided USB cable when prompted", or something along those lines. So at this point I was forced to open the manual just to make sure I didn't screw something up. The manual told me to charge it for 8 hours and that it would take at least 30 mins to set it up after that. Felt too long to me, but I figured I'd throw it on the charger for a bit anyway. The shape of the remote charger is slick. It slides nicely into the charging cradle and feels snug. And I like the blue lighting.

2 Hours Later
Since I was installing the software on Vista, I downloaded version 7.3 (7.1 was included on the CD). When I removed the remote from the cradle the area around the connectors was quite warm. Nothing alarming, but definitely more heat than I've ever felt from a remote control.

So, I started going through the setup software. Thinking I'd be clever I selected SnapStream from the PVR dialog. Kinda wanted to play dumb user, but then I suppose anyone running SnapStream isn't really a dumb user. At any rate, it backfired. When I selected SnapStream as my PVR I put in USB-UIRT as the model # (what else was I supposed to put?). I figured if it realized I had a USB-UIRT and SnapStream that maybe it would magically start controlling the latter via the former. After this it asked me if I had a remote control that it could learn from. Stupidly I said yes because I'm using a SnapStream Firefly... however that remote is RF, and the Harmony only learns IR. Then it told me to start sending IR commands that it could learn, but I couldn't. The problem here was that it wouldn't let me back up and change my choices. It was forcing me to teach it. So I just sorta said Next, Next, Next and it finally took me to a place where I could review my choices, so I deleted the SnapStream PVR.

At this point I decided to call it quits for the night and get some sleep.

Next Morning
Upon relaunching the software it picked up where I left off. Nice feature. It started asking me about my cable box, but it was a little odd. It asked me how I input channel selection, and I told it "Numbers then Enter". But it didn't seem to know which button Enter was. So it started asking me to teach it. This made me think it didn't understand which box I said I had and that it would ask me to teach it every button (I had put "Explorer 3100HD" and the example said "Explorer 3250 HD", so I figured since I didn't have that space it was misinterpreting it). I desperately looked for a way to back out, but to no avail. So I just did the Next, Next, Next thing until I got to a place where I could delete that device. Then I recreated it using the preferred convention of "3100 HD". What happened you might ask? It listed it as "3100HD". In other words I was just fine before. I had read that the Logitech software for this remote was idiot proof, but apparently the people that wrote that haven't met ME! This time around instead of saying "Numbers then Enter" I just said "3 Numbers". Didn't ask me for Enter and the wizard progressed. So, I wasted a bunch of time and proved that the software wasn't really idiot proof. Yay me!

Activities Setup
After completing that wizard it auto-created Activities for me based on my devices. Those Activities were:

  • Watch TV
  • Play Game
  • Listen to Satellite
Which it selected from these devices:
  • Sony Projector
  • Logitech AV Receiver
  • Scientific Atlanta Digital Set Top Box
  • IBM Laptop
  • Nintendo Game Console
I have NO idea how it came up with "Listen to Satellite". Nowhere in that list is there anything that mentions satellite or is even satellite-related. So I deselected that option.

First Use
[A caveat here before reading any further... I do not have a standard A/V setup/layout. My projector is ceiling mounted above the couch. My A/V receiver is at the back of the room beside the couch. My cable box is under my A/V receiver. In other words, unless I stand at the front of my room facing backwards, the IR signal has to bounce off the wall to all my devices. And since they're not all in the same general location the spread would have to be quite wide for it to hit all of them in one shot. And since there isn't the option for multiple "shots" when running an Activity, I was pretty skeptical that this would work very well.]

The first Activity I ran was "Watch TV". It failed miserably. Nothing happened when I was holding it as I would sitting on my couch. I selected "Help" and it asked me if my tv was on. I said no so I tried sending the on command to my projector. The second time I did this I pointed it directly at the projector and it came on. Great. Then it asked me if the receiver was on. I said no, so it sent the on command for that... but since the Logitech Z-680 has the worst IR receiver I've ever seen on a device, I had to hold the remote pointed directly at the IR receiver and about a foot away. It turned on. Cable box is always on, so now I'm set up to watch TV, right? Not exactly. Turns out that it didn't set the input on the projector when it turned it on, so I hit "Help" again and after going through a couple of prompts it set the input correctly.

I'll be the first to admit that the Help system in here is great. And would work quite well for non-technical people. Definitely a good feature to have in a complex remote.

Changing channels and interacting with my cable box was flawless, so kudos there. However since I use SnapStream for my PVR functions, this was totally bypassing that system and would cause conflicts if I didn't spend more time to set it up properly (i.e. interfacing with the PC as described above).

Final Thoughts
As I suspected, there's really no native way to interface with my HTPC. I could theoretically set it up to talk to my USB-UIRT and have Girder listening, or even possibly SnapStream listening directly to the USB-UIRT, but this solution is weak for a few reasons:
  1. It's IR, not RF. That means line-of-sight to my PC. I've had an RF PC remote for at least 5 years... switching to IR at this point is a step backwards.
  2. There's no bi-directional communication, so I couldn't stream audio/video to the remote or even browse a playlist on my PC.
  3. This method would most likely require setting up Girder, unless the ONLY function you used your PC for was SnapStream. But an HTPC is much more than a PVR, so the remote would have to interface with every HTPC app available.
Overall this is a great remote control... for my mom. It's designed as a universal remote in the traditional sense, that being that it's meant to control A/V components in a more "standard" setup, sans HTPC. Now, my mom has digital cable, satellite, multiple TVs, multiple receivers, etc. And in her setup everything is in a cabinet at the front of the room. I plan on giving it a run-through at her place this weekend in a condition more like Logitech intended. However, even if it works flawlessly there, I'll be very disappointed. For $500 this remote should do far more than it does. In fact, for $500 I could buy a Pocket PC with IR, Wifi and Bluetooth. It may not be designed as a remote control, but i'd be able to control a helluva lot more with it than with the Harmony 1000.

Next Remotes I Want to Try
Logitech Harmony 890
URC MX-3000

(Not necessarily in that order)


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