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Product Review: Logitech's Harmony 900 Universal Remote

Harmony 900 Plays Nicely With DirecTV

Whenever I shop for a universal remote, one of my considerations is how DirecTV’s DRV-based remote control will match up with the new remote. The DirecTV remote is itself a well-designed control, featuring color-coded buttons for that match-up with DirecTV’s on-screen GUI to record shows, advance the on-screen guide, etc. Fortunately, the Harmony 900 replicates these functions, right down to matching color coded buttons. The remote’s array of up, down, left and right and buttons match-up well with the DirecTV’s remote’s controls. Within a day or two of using the Harmony 900, I was able to put my DirecTV remote on a shelf without missing it.

RF to IR Transmitters Feel Slightly Cheesy

The Harmony 900 generates both infrared and RF (radio frequency) signals, allowing it control devices inside home theater cabinets, and in other rooms. Unfortunately, the design of the IR receivers may be one of the minor weaknesses of the remote. For at least 15 years or so, high-end home theater systems have relied on a fairly standardized system of small IR receivers to convert RF into infrared signals. These IR transmitters can be placed directly on top of the infrared input of each home theater component, often with their own supplied self-adhesive tape. Unfortunately though, the designers of the Harmony 900 chose to reinvent the wheel. The remote is supplied with a kludgey-looking main RF module, which connects to a small A/C adaptor, and two IR blasters, which are themselves larger than necessary. Perhaps Logitech didn’t want to risk marring a component with the gunk from adhesive tape, or were worried that it would take inexperienced used some time to position their blasters. But once the blasters are positioned, they work fine, if not as small and aesthetically pleasing as they could be.

Powering the Harmony 900 is a rechargeable lithium ion battery which must first be placed inside the Harmony 900 once you remove the unit from its box. The Harmony ships with a cradle to place it in to automatically charge the battery when it’s not being used. Logitech promises the Harmony 900 will run for about a week on that battery, but most users will likely return the unit to the cradle after each session in the den or media room, ensuring that it’s fully charged before each use.

As C/Net noted in their review of the Harmony 900, beyond the step-by-step activities commands, the Harmony 900 doesn’t support macros, which may cause some power users to eschew this remote:

Like the Harmony 1100, this model doesn't support customized user-programmable macros. To be clear: the activity-based programming that has long made Harmony models a favorite of ours is still here. So, when you hit "Watch TV," you can have your TV, AV receiver, and DVR power up and toggle to the preferred input and settings. But you cannot program separate custom multi-step commands. So, home theater enthusiasts who are used to programming the lights to come up whenever they pause the disc player (for instance) will now need to handle that sort of duty manually (with one or two additional keystrokes). We don't think it's a huge loss, but the absence of custom macro programming on such an expensive remote is notable. If it's important to you, you'll want to look elsewhere.

All in all though, this is well-thought out and highly functional remote control. If you’re comfortable doing a little of the set-up work via your PC, and you’d rather not spend four figures for the high-end version of Philips’ Pronto, and/or go the custom route and have a home theater professional integrate your system, for under $250 at Amazon.com, the Logitech Harmony 900 is an excellent universal remote.