Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Logitech Harmony Ultimate remote control
Customise this universal remote to your every need, at a price
- Extensible, easy physical setup
- Smartphone app control
- Bluetooth, IR support
- Complex software setup process
- Missing high-end features
Logitech’s $349 Harmony Ultimate remote package is made up of a Harmony Touch remote and Smart Hub receiver, which combine to let you control a huge range of TV and home theatre devices. It really is the only remote you need, but you pay a correspondingly high price.
Price$ 379.00 (AUD)
If you’ve got a home theatre that’s any more complicated than just a TV, you’ll know the annoyance of juggling several remote controls. The Harmony Ultimate is Logitech’s most complete attempt so far to control everything simply, and the addition of control via your smartphone brings the remote control kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Logitech Harmony Ultimate: Design and setup
The Harmony Ultimate Kit is more than just a candy-bar remote control. It reflects an age where there are a multitude of different ways to control various aspects of your home cinema, and tries to wrap all those up in a simple and easy-to-use interface device.
In the Ultimate retail package, there are two key devices. The first is the touchscreen Harmony Touch remote control, which is largely identical to the retail package of that remote control, including the recharging dock. Both are finished in a glossy black that looks great while taking perfect impressions of your fingerprints. We’d recommend you read the Harmony Touch review for a full account of the remote’s ergonomics.
Alongside the Touch remote and cradle, though, there’s a squat, hockey-puck-esque black box called the Harmony Hub. Its smooth curves are largely featureless, with a single micro-USB power port, and two 3.5mm connectors for infrared extenders to communicate with any far-flung home theatre components.
What the Harmony Hub does is communicate over Logitech’s proprietary UNITY RF radio with the Harmony Ultimate’s remote control, translating your combined remote control inputs into a variety of infrared signals and Bluetooth commands to control multiple pieces of equipment simultaneously. You could hit one macro command on the remote’s touchscreen and have your PlayStation 3 (Bluetooth) and TV (infrared) turn on, switch to the correct input and wait at the movie menu for you to choose a flick.
To get everything working seamlessly, you’ve got to run through a simple physical setup process — plug the Harmony Hub into power, place it in a position that’s line-of-sight with your TV and home theatre components, using the infrared repeaters if said components are hidden away, and find a place to store the charging cradle and remote control that’s easy to reach when you want them — but the software side of things is far less intuitive.
Setup is achieved through Logitech’s My Harmony website, and what is a generally simple and straightforward procedure is hampered by imperfect communication between the remote control, your PC, and the website. If you follow instructions to a tee, you might not have any issues, but expect to run through the entire process a couple of times just in case. Our issue was that once we had set up our home theatre components list, and mapped out macros for activities (watch a movie, watch TV, turn everything off, and so on), there were a few instances where the My Harmony website wouldn’t actually communicate this to the phone. We repeated this on several different PCs, installing the My Harmony software and following procedure each time, so we think the problem exists or existed on Logitech’s website — easy to fix, but annoying nonetheless.
Logitech Harmony Ultimate: Features and performance
We set the Harmony Ultimate up with a Pioneer PDP-LX509A plasma TV, a Cambridge Audio Azur 351A amplifier, an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player, and an Xbox 360 games console, controlling everything over the infrared component of the Harmony Hub. You can also connect to a PlayStation 3 or Wii U over Bluetooth if you have either device. We’d also expect that Logitech will update the Harmony Ultimate’s firmware and remote protocols to allow it to communicate with the next-gen PS4 and Xbox One when they’re released.
For basic control, the Harmony Ultimate’s simple setup procedure works well — there’s plenty of buttons on the remote itself, as well as the customisable touchscreen for anything the initial setup missed. We did find that especially with the Oppo Blu-ray player there are quite a few commands that aren’t mapped to their most logical buttons by default (the Back command didn’t work out of the box, for example), so we spent the course of a week fine-tuning the remote and touchscreen to be as seamless as possible. Once it’s set up, it works very well, but be mindful of the fact that it’s not an entirely trouble- or exertion-free experience getting the Harmony Ultimate ready to go with your full home theatre setup.
The amount of control that the Harmony Ultimate allows is extensive. As well as the widely customisable Harmony Touch remote, you get an almost equally powerful smartphone or tablet app for both Android and iOS devices, which offers the same button control or macro creation, also letting you set up more complicated single- and multi-finger gestures to change volume, channel and other adjustable functions. If you think that you might want to exclusively use your smartphone to control your home theatre, check out the Harmony Smart Control, which does away with the Touch remote for a simpler non-colour-touchscreen model for a $210 saving.
Since the Harmony Ultimate represents such a significant price rise from the Harmony Smart Control, we were hoping it would be able to fulfil some of the features of a more specialised home theatre control device like a Control4 system. But without any 12V triggers, power control features or RS-232 serial support, the Harmony Ultimate is largely limited specifically to a TV-based home theatre setup — anyone with a projector setup or automated home might be left a little disappointed.
Logitech Harmony Ultimate: Conclusion
The Harmony Ultimate is a very customisable remote control. If you can take the time to optimise its commands and get it set up correctly for your home theatre setup, it’s great. It is very expensive though, and if you plan on using your smartphone whenever you’re watching TV or movies, we’d consider the cheaper and more focused Harmony Smart Control as well. Considered alone, it’s powerful but pricy.
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