Review: Logitech Harmony 900 Universal Remote Control

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All things in life, as with the Force, have a Light Side and a Dark Side. The Logit­ech Har­mony 900 Uni­ver­sal Remote Con­trol has both.

A bit of a back­ground
I have a his­tory with Logit­ech Har­mony remotes and cur­rently own a Logit­ech Har­mony 720. I’ve always found them chal­len­ging to pro­gram and set up. As well, in my exper­i­ence, Logit­ech has nev­er really suc­ceeded in pair­ing ‘Activ­it­ies’ (watch­ing TV, listen­ing to streamed music, etc) with my devices or com­pon­ents. My wife sets up and main­tains our cur­rent Har­mony remote — I get frus­trated with it. :smileyvery-happy:

So, when I was offered the chance to take a look at the Logit­ech Har­mony 900 I was curi­ous. Has Logit­ech been able to address my con­cerns? Let’s find out…

What’s in the box

  • Touch­screen IR / RF remote
  • Rechargeable bat­tery
  • IR Blaster
  • Two Mini IR Blasters
  • Two power sup­plies
  • Rechar­ging base/cradle
  • Man­age­ment soft­ware disc

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A tale of two com­puters
The first part of set­ting up a uni­ver­sal remote con­trol usu­ally con­sists of installing some sort of remote man­age­ment soft­ware on your com­puter.

In this case, Logit­ech provides a disc in the box. I promptly ignored it and went to the web­site to make sure I had the latest ver­sion of the installer — which turned out to be two ver­sions new­er than the one in the box.

#Pro­tip: Always check for new installer ver­sions online first. Often times you’ll save your­self a head­ache.

 

OSX You Say?
So, OSX installer safely down­loaded and installed on my cur­rent-mod­el Mac­Book Pro. Fire it up, fol­low the dir­ec­tions, con­nect the Har­mony 900 remote to the MBP with the handy included USB cable and.…

Noth­ing… oth­er than what you see in the troubleshoot­ing screen below. After mak­ing sure I didn’t have a fire­wall inter­fer­ing, and attempt­ing to con­fig­ure the USB drivers as indic­ated…

 

Troubleshooting Harmony 900, 1000, or 1100 connection issues with Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) and Lion (10.7) - Logitech FAQ.jpg

Noth­ing. Same prob­lem per­sists. Ok, roughly 1.5 hours gone by now. Lucky for me that I have anoth­er option avail­able, so, let’s see how this works under Win­dows XP.

Old, but stable Win­dows XP
I really wanted to keep the remote man­age­ment soft­ware loc­al­ized to my Mac­Book Pro laptop, so I decided to install it on the Win­dows side of my unit. #Side­bar: Yep, I run Win­dows XP on my Mac­Book Pro. I use a handy vir­tu­al­iz­a­tion pack­age called VMWare Fusion which cre­ates a vir­tu­al Win­dows com­puter inside the Macin­tosh. Handy for play­ing some Win­dows only games, or work­ing on things like this.

And, in this case, the install­a­tion went flaw­lessly. Des­pite the fact that I was run­ning XP in a vir­tu­al ses­sion inside OSX. The com­puter found the remote, did all the appro­pri­ate grunt­ing and wheez­ing, and then we walked through the remainder of the setup pro­cess.

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The Set Up
And, Logit­ech wins. They’ve finally got the device setup and activ­ity par­ing pro­cess drop-dead easy. Yes, even a frus­trated tech­ie should be able to set up most devices by answer­ing a simple set of device and activ­ity-related ques­tions. If you’re famil­i­ar with the ‘Wiz­ard’ concept you’ve got the pic­ture.

My setup is a bit more com­plex than simply try­ing to con­trol a home media centre. I have a small TV in my kit­chen, that gets TV sig­nal from a Set Top Box in anoth­er room around the corner and down the hall.

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First let’s talk about the hard­ware usage and place­ment. Since the Set Top Box that con­trols the TV sig­nal is in anoth­er, I’d be con­trolling it using the RF / IR blaster when I’m in the Kit­chen and chan­ging chan­nels.

The Har­mony 900 would basic­ally use IR to talk to the Kit­chen TV to turn it on, and adjust the volume. Then it would use RF to talk to the IR blaster, telling the IR blaster to send the cor­rect IR sig­nals to con­trol the Set Top Box.

Anoth­er use for the IR blaster and mini IR blasters is if your equip­ment is hid­den behind a cup­board or wall pan­el. This tech works great and allows you to use the Har­mony 900 in a multi-room con­fig­ur­a­tion, as I did.

So, in my setup, I’d be using the Har­mony to man­age the fol­low­ing Activ­it­ies:

  • Watch Kit­chen TV
  • Watch TV (in the oth­er room)
  • Stream movies via Apple TV
  • Watch DVDs or listen to CDs
  • Power up & basic con­trol for Xbox

Lots of dif­fer­ent things to do, with a few dif­fer­ent devices, and the Logit­ech Har­mony 900 soft­ware walked me through activ­ity and device con­fig­ur­a­tion quite eas­ily.

I was a bit con­cerned that the Har­mony 900 wouldn’t work with the Apple TV 2, but no wor­ries, it did.

The only real con­fig­ur­a­tion hitch was when try­ing to con­nect a HDMI switch. The device wasn’t in Logitech’s data­base, and the remote was pre­vi­ously used as a dog chew toy and totally des­troyed. So there was no way to ‘teach’ the Har­mony 900 to con­trol the switch.

Usage
The Har­mony 900 is a large remote; about the size of a large tele­phone hand­set. Being a rechargeable remote, the base and remote unit do have a fair sized foot­print, but will eas­ily fit on a shelf or cof­fee table and take con­sid­er­ably less room than the three to five remotes it replaces. A good tradeoff if you ask me.

I really liked the bright col­our dis­play touch­screen, though the touch­screen does col­lect fin­ger­prints quite eas­ily.

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Many Rooms. Many Devices
I also liked the abil­ity to use it as a multi-room remote with the IR Blasters. My con­fig­ur­a­tion is a little non-stand­ard, yet it worked as I had hoped it would.

If you have mul­tiple rooms with mul­tiple devices, you can eas­ily con­fig­ure vari­ous device and activ­ity com­bin­a­tions so that you really only need one remote for your entire house­hold. The Har­mony 900 will con­trol up to 15 devices, and the learn­ing cap­ab­il­ity means that you can really con­trol any­thing that is IR, even a fire­place or air con­di­tion­ing unit.

Though that’s less prac­tic­al if you’ve got a fam­ily doing dif­fer­ent things in dif­fer­ent rooms at the same time. Which leads me to anoth­er niggle — each remote needs to be asso­ci­ated with your Har­mony account. It’s a minor thing, but all your remotes need to be registered with a Har­mony account. In oth­er words, you can’t use the Har­mony remote if you don’t have an Inter­net con­nec­tion.

Con­clu­sion
I’m con­ver­ted. Kinda.

The fact that I couldn’t setup and con­fig­ure the Har­mony 900 using my Mac­Book Pro under OSX is a prob­lem. Logit­ech is aware of the issue, and have a work­around in place — which seems to work for most people.

Some think its a Java issue or 32bit/64bit issue. I’m not sure why it didn’t work in my case, but I don’t think I’m unique. If it says ‘Mac OSX 10.3 or later’ on the box, it should work and I shouldn’t have to do a few hours research on the issue online to get it to work. If I didn’t have a Win­dows option avail­able, this review wouldn’t have happened.

Upside!
Once I did get it set up though, I was very pleased by the improved setup and use exper­i­ence. The real ‘win’ for me was the ease of device con­fig­ur­a­tion and the integ­ra­tion of the IR blaster hard­ware. It allowed me to con­trol RF devices that aren’t in line-of-sight with the hand­held remote, which really increased the usab­il­ity of the remote in my home situ­ation. Basic­ally, it does what any good appli­ance should do — it makes life easi­er.

So? Do you have exper­i­ence with the Logit­ech Har­mony 900, or oth­er Har­mony remote? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the com­ments!
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