Review: Harmony Elite Remote

Though my wife enjoys the fruits of technology, she despises the wires, the clutter, and the learning curve.  "How many remotes do you need?" she'd mock when we first combined our households. When I would explain that she needed one to turn on the TV, another for the cable box, a third for the amplifier, and a fourth to turn the lights down in the room, she would glare at me.  I would actually draw up detailed instructions: 1) turn on the tv, 2) switch inputs, 3) make sure the cable box is on, etc.  "I just want to watch TV!", she would cry, "not fly to the moon."


That is when I decided we needed Harmony in our married life; Logitech Harmony that is.


Harmony's line of universal remotes tames your electronics, taking its cue from the motto of the United States: E pluribus unum, out of many, one. 


Once setup, you can basically put all those extraneous remotes in the trash. (OK, I keep my remotes in box, just in case, you never know...But, the point is you won't really need them any more.) While the original Harmony remotes were setup by a desktop application, the current models can be configured completely by a well-designed smartphone app.


Here's how it works. 


After plugging in the rechargeable remote and hub to power, you get guided through the setup via a smartphone app.  (The only difficulty most will have with setup is remembering the password on their home network.  At my folk's house, for instance this caused much mashing of teeth: "Oh, I don't know that", my father said.  "Why would I know that?" The short answer is because the Harmony uses your wireless network to get your commands to the hub. The shorter answer with a belligerent parent: "Because I say so!"  Feels great to use that line on them in a stunning reversal of roles.) 


Anyhow, next you add the devices you want to control to the app.  This is done by specifying the manufacturer and model.  You may have to do some scavenging through your past Amazon orders or the back of the electronics to find the actual model number.  You'd be surprised how few put that information on the front of the box these days.


Finally you set up "actions" in the app.  These are the steps to turn on the TV, for instance, including power to the cable box, tv, and setting appropriate inputs. Actions can have lots of steps controlling many devices.  Using the smartphone they can eve be triggered remotely, so you could for instance set the lighting and temperature of your home, and even turn on some relaxing mood music. 


Remote Control

What's great is that you can control your devices with the supplied remote or with your smartphone.  The remote has a color screen, and lots of dedicated buttons, but as often as not I just use the app because the phone is always nearby.


The database of devices the Harmony can control is huge.  You'll be hard pressed to find aan IR controlled component that is missing. 


This year the system can go even further into the realm of the Internet of Things.  Harmony now integrates with Alexa, WeMo, Lutron and many other system.  However, not all of those "things" made by the other companies can be controlled, or fully controlled, by the system.  Older models of third party devices may not work, and you may need to add third party controllers to add the functionality.  For instance, my Serena blinds don't work with Infra-red, though some models do, so Harmony doesn't control them.  I can't control my Lutron dimmers without adding a Lutron Bridge, a $99 item!


Of course, this limitation is not a function of the Harmony, but of the other devices.  Likewise, the most common problem I encounter with Harmony is because the technology that most devices use, IR, is ancient and a one-way street.  Harmony doesn't know, for example, if the TV has properly responded to a command it has issued. As a result, I sometimes get plaintiff calls from my spouse complaining that the TV is broken.  Solving the problem is no more than the press of a button away. Though the solution is simple, it is unfortunate that in the 21st century we're still stuck with a protocol from the 1980's.


On Amazon despite receiving four out of five stars, the Harmony Elite still receives one star reviews about ten percent of the time (as of this writing), a surprisingly high percentage.  As you might expect from any device that claims "universality" there are going to be situations where it comes up short.  The problems tend to arise for users with less common equipment, and those who received units with defects.  I would not be too deterred by these reports.  Get the unit, test it out, and if it doesn’t work return it.  I’ve been using Harmony since it first came to market with virtually no need for support.


I can only say from my use, there is no better remote solution than the Harmony Elite.  Setup is easy and the control it gives is unparalleled.