Advantages Great ergonomics, flexible functions, anti-obsolescence
Disadvantages Slow software, need broadband to set up, some glaring omissions
|Ease of Use|
|Value for Money|
I've had my Harmony for a few months now. It works fine, exactly as I had hoped and I am now extremely pleased with it........BUT, I thought I had better write a review before I completely forgot how nearly I could not get this thing to work, and I am IT and AV literate.
I have had three 'learning' remotes in the past, none of them satisfactory. They were either too uncomfortable to hold, too battery intensive or just not good enough at learning. I was aware of the brilliance of products like the Philip's Pronto but its prohibitive expense and my now deep lack of trust in such products meant I could not justify getting one.
First impressions were excellent. The remote feels lovely to hold (and I have very large hands). It is beautifuly balanced, and although long, has finger supports on its reverse just where you need them so you never lose grip when stretching for more distant buttons. The finish is a good quality mix of black, chrome and grey plastic. The buttons have a good positive feel, although one or two need quite a firm press to get them to work. The backlighting is reasonable (I have seen better), but does at least stretch to every button on the handset.
It turns out that, rather than installing a huge amount of software on your own machine, it creates a personal web page for you on Logitech's own website. You have to be online to get this remote to work and need to remember your user name and password for future editing. It is the online aspect that really slows things down though, even with my 2MB broadband connection. I was really twiddling my thumbs sometimes as I waited for the mouse click I had just made to take effect. It became even more frustrating when I accidentally clicked more than once and found that I had paged several times too far ahead into the setup.SELECTING YOUR HARDWARE
Once you've taught it about all your hardware, it asks you 'how' you go about various activities. For example, if I want to 'Watch TV', I need to turn on my TV and set it to AV2, turn on my VCR and set it to AV1 and turn on the set-top box. It asks you all these questions in the form of multiple choice and all possible combinations seem to be catered for. It then asks you which machine you use to change channel, which to change volume and so on. I was even able to programme two DVD watching options - one through the TV, the other through the AV system and projector, the latter including a light-dimming function! I noticed I could even have included motorised screens and various gaming consoles.
So, my experience so far had been fairly straightforward if frustratingly slow. With great trepidation I approached the Living Room and sat infront of the TV. There is a button at the top of the Harmony labelled 'Activities' and on pressing this, all the activities I had programmed appeared on the LCD, four at a time with scroll buttons at the bottom to reach other pages. Great! They were all there!
It is possible to edit the order in which each activty appears and to chose their names. You can also programme the two 'soft' buttons at the base of the screen to activate certain functions not present elsewhere on the Harmony. I pressed 'Watch TV' and the VCR and set-top box both came on to the correct channels, but the TV stayed stubbornly silent. A signal had obviously been sent to it as the red LED on the set blinked, but it was either not the correct signal or perhaps the correct one but not for right length.
I tried another tack: there is another button at the top labelled 'Devices' that brings up a list of all your hardware. As soon as the particular machine is selected, all the Harmony buttons control that one machine. I duly selected 'TV' and pressed the power button. Fortunately this did the trick and the TV came on. I found that all the functions from the original Panasonic remote, even obscure tuning, aspect and setup functions, were available, which impressed me. Things were clearly not working as they should though, so I followed the main manual's advice and plugged the Harmony back into the USB.ONLINE HELP
The final recourse was to contact the Logictech team via an e-mail link from the home page, filling in which component I was having trouble with and what nature the fault was. There was a promise to get back to me within 24 hours.SIX HOURS DOWN THE LINE
Eureka! The TV came on, so did the set-top box and VCR! At last! AND I could control my lighting. With a smug grin, I decided to try the Hi-fi and selected 'Listen to CD' from the Activity menu. The VCR and set-top box turned off and the amplifier and CD player came on... but the TV was also still on, and it soon dawned on me that the 'off' control for the TV no longer worked.FOUR DAYS DOWN THE LINE
This is the crunch though - my TV is an extremely common Panasonic wide-screen model, only three years old. It is hard to accept that the Harmony had managed very obscure and high end components with ease, yet not this basic model. I wondered why the 'duration' parameter was not available by default with the software. I could adjust almost everything else manually, including how long to wait between each signal is sent and what frequency the signal is sent at, and I could teach the Harmony individual commands direct from the original remotes, but never was I able to adjust duration without contacting technical support.To be fair, the Harmony learnt every other function perfectly, including a frighteningly complicated Lexicon AV decoder, and ancient InFocus projector, not to mention the afore mentioned remotely dimmed light switch.
I came tantalisingly close to having a very positive experience setting up this product and I can see how close they are to getting this right. If it wasn't for the sluggishness of the online homepage and the language barrier between the Harmony and my Panasonic's power controls, my experience would have been perfect. I pity the person with less patience or techno-knowledge than me, and only hope that Logitech have learnt the pitfalls of Panasonic's power protocols through my sore experience.
The handset still looks and feels great and is as good as new. Not once has it missed a beat since my final visit to the setup page, being used daily and still on its original (4 x AAA) batteries. It even wakes up in the morning, somehow detecting my vibrations as I walk in to open the curtains! It is clear that the Harmony will remain up-to-date for as long as the Logitech database continues updating signal codes, no matter what new equipment I invest in.I can thoroughly recommend this handset, just get someone else to set it up for you!
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Logitech Harmony 525 Advanced Universal Remote Control
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