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Product Review: Logitech's Harmony 900 Universal Remote

While building a home theater stocked with a variety of electronic components is lots of fun, unfortunately, going the do-it-yourself route often ends with, well, not quite the proverbial Tower of Babel but perhaps worse from your significant other’s point of view – the dreaded Coffee Table of Babel. Those remote controls for the TV, A/V receiver, DVD or Blu-Ray player, cable or satellite set-top box, and other electronic equipment all begin to pile up, making for an ugly mess, and making the home theater appear more complex to operate than it otherwise is.

Back in 2004, Logitech acquired Easy Zapper, a Canadian startup specializing in universal remote controls, giving a firm best known for computer accessories such as replacement keyboards and mice a foothold in the home theater industry.

Under their Harmony division’s moniker, Logitech now produces a full range of remotes in a variety of retail price-points from $29 to $349. While their most advanced remote is arguably the tablet-shaped Harmony 1100, after reading a variety of reviews, I decided to avoid the tablet shape and go with the model directly below it, Logitech’s Harmony 900, which as of the time of this review, sells for $240.99 at Amazon.com.

This is a remote geared towards someone who knows his way around both his home theater and to some extent his PC as well, and who’s prepared to tinker a bit to set up the remote. In other words, expect a bit of set-up time, but once complete, it does make for a rather powerful remote.

Programming the Remote

After installing the supplied software on your PC, the first step is to gather all of your existing remotes, and to write down the brand and model numbers of all of your home theater components. Logitech maintains a database of approximately 5,000 brands and 225,000 devices, which the Harmony 900’s PC interface will search in order to set-up your remote. If you have a component that’s not on there, don’t fret – as long as you have its remote, you should be able to manually program its codes into the Harmony 900 while it’s plugged into your computer via its supplied USB cable.

It’s also possible to tweak the remote to add functions not included in the database. For example, since I do just about all of my TV watching with my A/V receiver on for surround sound, I ended up programming the A/V receiver’s volume and mute controls into the various devices controlled by the remote. Depending upon the amount of equipment you own, and the level of control you’re aiming for, early on you may have to do a fair amount of tweaking to customize the remote to your preferences.

While the Harmony 900 allows control over individual components, its first emphasis is on what it calls (on the remote’s GUI) “Activities.” These typically include watching TV, watching a movie, playing a CD, etc. The Harmony 900 will group together tasks so that pressing one button on the remote will automatically do things such as:

  1. Turn on your A/V receiver.
  2. Switch it to the TV input.
  3. Turn on your TV.
  4. Make sure it’s switched whichever input the satellite TV is on.
  5. Turn on the satellite TV digital set-top box.

And so on. A similar activity can be programmed watching a movie, which switch everything on to watch a DVD. For those with a few pieces of home theater gear that need to work together in harmony (if you’ll pardon the pun), this is a pretty convenient way to begin a few hours of television watching.

The Harmony 900 also supports individual components of course, which it calls “Devices.” The remote’s GUI can be toggled back and forth between devices and activities.