Blogs are a great way to avoid talking with other people. Instead, you can have online conversations in an environment where anyone can listen in. I’m most grateful to avoid having conversations with Grumpy. Even though his office is only a couple doors down the hall from mine, I can’t be bothered. Of course, that’s assuming that it’s one of the two or three days a month he’s actually at work, but that’s a tale for another day.
Yesterday, Grumpy asked Which Remote? If we were actually talking, he might have learned that just last week, I picked up a Logitech Harmony 676 remote. While it’s suggested price (and the price you can buy it at Best Buy) is around $200, it can be had at Amazon for around $120. While it is about 4x the cost of his new remote, I’d say it’s a wonderful remote.
Our AV or “home theater” system is fairly complex with parts from Sony (TV, DVD), Harmon Kardon (receiver), Hughes (DirecTivo), JVC (*cough*VCR*cough*/digital clock), and Onkyo (CD player). Each has their own remote. We have four main devices that we use: the TV, AV receiver, DVD player, and DirecTivo. Three remotes could effectively control these devices. Every-so-often, when the power flickers, we’d need to use the VCR remote to reset the digital clock. Whenever we’d have a babysitter or guests over, we’d have to give a two hour tutorial on how to watch TV or a DVD. We even wrote up a cheat sheet for them to use.
After a while, we started looking at something that could handle everything well and feel nice in the hand too. This is where the Harmony 676 comes in. It’s got that classic TiVo “peanut” shape and is nicely grippy in the hand (unlike normal TiVo remotes). It’s about 1 1/2 times bigger than the TiVo remote and flatter, but it doesn’t feel unwieldy in either my hands or Lisa’s smaller hands.
Most importantly, it controls everything and simplifies what we’d do, even on one remote. If we want to watch something on the TiVo, we press one button on the remote. It turns on the TV and receiver if they’re not already on and makes sure the TV and receiver are on the right input channels. If we want to watch something on the DVD player, press one button and everything’s set. If we didn’t have a crappy CD player, the same thing would apply to listening to CDs. (The CD player doesn’t have a standby mode, so the power has to be manually turned on or off. The remote can’t help with that.) Even unusual functionality can be accessed via the Harmony remote. While at the top, it provides buttons for meta functions (like “Watch TV”, “Watch a DVD”, etc.), you can also get into device-specific functions. At the time we set up the Harmony, our VCR clock was reset due to a recent (for large values of “recent”) power flicker. The clock hadn’t been reset up to this point because I’d have to get out the VCR remote, put batteries in it, then do the normal configuration. With the 676, I went into the device menus and found the correct functions to set the clock, all on my first try.
(There’s another Harmony — the 688 — that’s supposed to be specifically for systems with a PVR, but I don’t like how the buttons run together. I don’t know about you, but Lisa and I tend to push the buttons without looking at the remote, so it’s important for us to get some tactile feedback to determine what button our finger’s over.)
Set up is done via a web interface on the Logitech site where you configure the devices you have and the functions you want the device to do. It can be kind of tedious, especially if you’re a bit OC, like me. (I’ve heard some people say it was easy and done on their first try.) Setting up the DirecTV channels we get and which ones were our favorites was trying, although that leads to a nice little feature where the shows on your favorite channels are listed in the LCD display. Eventually, you finish configuring the device on the web interface and they push out a new firmware file to you that you use their firmware update program to reprogram the remote via USB. Tweaking the config can be a bit tedious too, but if you get stuck, their free tech support is wonderful and friendly.
Finally, if you get stuck and don’t want to continue further tweaking your configuration, the “Help” button on the remote is truly helpful and will usually walk you through fixing whatever problem there is with what you’re currently trying to do.
Overall, while I did have reservations about spending so much on a universal remote that I was unsure we’d like and use, we’re very happy with it and consider the money well spent.
UPDATE: Actually, it’s very close to the size of the TiVo remote, if not slightly smaller.