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Logitech Harmony 680 & 880/885 Review

How many remotes do you have in your house?

You've got a TV, Cable/Freeview/Sky box, VCR, DVD Recorder, Hi-Fi and Home Theatre Equipment? Imagine setting up your home theater system or Media Center PC to watch a DVD movie with full surround sound… listening to your CDs in full stereo… or enjoying your favorite TV shows. How many remote controls would you have to cycle through? Do you remember the button sequences to perform these activities?

Which remote do you pick up?

Get a Logitech Harmony Remote Control and make life easy for your family!

No more figuring out which one to pick up to do what. Read on for my personal opinion and research.




Is the Harmony 880 / 885 the Best Programmable Remote Control?

Last Christmas my wife and I purchased a new TV, Freeview box and 5.1 Surround Sound / DVD Player system. With the other home entertainment system items we owned, we now have 6 remotes, and my missus was doing her head in. Ok, I admit it, sometimes I was too!

So I spent pretty much all of Christmas and the first week of 2006 researching the best one for my money. You will see from my other review page on the best universal remote control that I narrowed the choice down to 3 different makes.

Logitech has won a total of eight Industrial Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) in the past two years, including five of Japan´s prestigious 2004 Good Design Awards.

After choosing the Logitech Harmony product range as being what I considered the best featured, I then had to make a decision as to exactly which Harmony model to go for, and it may suprise you to learn that it was not the latest and best model, which at the time of writing is the Harmony 885 !

My budget was to be a maximum of £100 (US$176), and after scouting around various online shops for the best deal I eventually bought a Logitech Harmony 680 unit for £88 (about US$153), and that included VAT and delivery charges, and gave me a far superior product than if I had spent just £15 less on a more budget make and model (which I very nearly did, and was glad I took the time to do the research).

So here you are - hopefully this page will help you understand how and why I decided on the Harmony 680 from all the other makes and models, and I will also, I hope, reduce some of your time in deciding which remote to get. First I will cover the Harmony 880 / 885 as it is currently the latest and probably the most hyped of the Logitech range.

Logitech Harmony 880 Advanced Universal Remote

The Harmony 880 Advanced Universal Remote looks great. It puts you in control of your entire audio-video system with just one button. It´s home entertainment the way it should be—simple.

Optimized for complicated HDTV and PVR systems, the Harmony 880 helps you tame tough configurations like switching your television between video aspect ratios depending on the program source. The interactive color display lets you quickly choose a 16:9 ratio for movies and HDTV, or a standard 4:3 ratio for basic television programming.

High-end systems deserve a high-end remote. Designed with brushed chrome and charcoal accents, a color LCD display and a low-profile recharging station, the Harmony 880 Remote will match your most advanced audio-video components perfectly.

Logitech Harmony 880 Remote Control

Featuring a comfort grip shape and a centered directional pad, it fits easily in your hand and naturally guides you to the most frequently used controls. The buttons are sculpted too, helping you locate them by feel, not sight.

The patented Logitech Smart State Technology allows the Harmony remote to completely control an entertainment system by knowing how to control each separate component while tracking the current state of up to 15 devices simultaneously. In other words it remembers which items are turned on or off, and which inputs were selected.

Both the Harmony 680 and 880 have a unique Internet approach to setting them up - the Web Wizard. You will need a computer (with Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP or MAC OS X 10.2 +) and Internet connection (I use Broadband) to access the web site, which leads you through setting up, and a standard USB cable (supplied) plugs into one end of the remote, and the other into your computer.

After setting up, the Web Wizard uploads a program containing all your settings into the remote, and voila, you can control your system. You just repeat the process if you want to tweak any settings. We found it to be easy to learn and use.

The Harmony range use dual infra-red emitters at the front. These provide a powerful beam up to 25 feet. In use I can casually point the remote kinda "roughly" in the direction of the fireplace, and magically it operates ALL of the items correctly, even from across the other side of the room. Before buying I was wondering about this because our DVD Recorder was a fussy little thing about how you pointed the original remote control at it. Not a problem now!

 

Color Display

The Harmony 880´s color LCD is both functional and stylish, with user-customizable backgrounds, button icons and text, it makes the Harmony stand out from the crowd.

Pretty, yes, but is it just a gimmick you are paying good money for?

Recharging Station

The Harmony 880 includes a sleek docking station that keeps the remote fully charged. Your family will always know where to put the remote—and you´ll always know where to find it! You need never replace batteries again.

This is a great idea, but read on.... other owners of the 880 have said that there is a design fault with the charger cradle, which unless particular care is taken in placing the remote into the charger means it doesn't make a proper connection and so it does not charge up!

And will the rest of your family actually remember to put the remote into the charger - properly? Most people have the remote either on the coffee table, or on the armchair within easy reach, and you certainly don't want a wire trailing across the floor to the charger base on your coffee table.

Just a minor point, but something worth considering depending on your household and who will actually be using the remote. That being said the remote only requires a couple of hours charging every 3 or 4 days.

Easy To Set-Up

You connect the Harmony remote to your computer and the Web wizard walks you step-by-step through a simple set up. Enter in your model numbers for your components, then answer a few easy questions about how you “Watch TV” or “Watch a DVD.” You´ll be controlling even the most complex system without any of the hassles of elaborate macro-programming.

I got the main components of my setup working in about 30 minutes (all the Harmony remotes use the same Internet Web Wizard method of setting them up regardless of model), although you will continue tweaking things until they are how you like them for a while longer. Personally I think it is this tailorability that is part of the fun of this system.

Once you have configured the settings using the Web wizard, it just takes a 2-minute upload of the configured program into the remote, and then you can test your settings. If something doesn't work right just fix it in the Web wizard, and upload into the remote again. Repeat as many times as necessary until you are happy with it!

Easy To Use

The Harmony Remote is the world´s only remote with Smart State Technology®. Just press one of the Activity buttons, such as “Watch TV” or “Listen to Music,” and your Harmony Remote automatically sets up your entertainment system, without you ever having to learn about or program a "macro".

Easy To Find in the dark too! You can set the 880 remote to light up all the buttons when you pick it up. The light stays on for a set amount of time (determined by you) before ging out again.

Easy To Get Help

With the Harmony remote, you don´t have to know anything about your entertainment system to operate it. No sound? No picture? No problem! There´s even a handy “HELP” button to guide you through simple troubleshooting and get you back in control. Everyone from the kids to the babysitter can now enjoy the full home theater experience.

Never Out of Date

The Harmony Remote device database is constantly updated with new components and fine-tuned settings. Simply connect it to your computer using its USB interface, and your remote is updated automatically!

This is a great concept! The Harmony remotes can learn the infra-red codes for new TV's, satellite boxes, recorders, lighting controls, etc in case the central Internet database does not know about something you have (although the database is absolutely massive and you usually can find something similar for a starting point). And because anything new is handled by the central database, it means that new equipment is then available for other people.

880 vs. 885

The main differences between the 880 and the 885 models are that the 880 is targeted at USA markets, while the 885 is for the European market which has different Teletext options. Basically the page up and down buttons have been replaced by four Teletext (Fasttext) colour buttons. The European model therefore gives you two extra buttons to play with. There will likely be a price difference between the two as well.


Logitech Harmony 680

This is the one for me! As I explained it's not the top of the line and considerably more expensive flashy Harmony 880 detailed above.

It also uses the Smart State Technology to remember current equipment settings.

And it has a Help button to guide you through troubleshooting. Mrs. P has used this on a couple of occasions when things have got out of sync, and she is very happy now!

For example, sometimes when the grand-children come round, rather than use the remote, they turn off the TV or DVD player using the actual Standby button on the front of the TV/DVD. Before this she would simply have shouted me to come and sort it out, very frustrating when I am not available!

So why did I choose the Harmony 680 instead of the 880?

  1. Cheaper, and within my budget.
  2. Although it is an older model it is still perfectly adequate for my setup.
  3. Has the same activity based features.
  4. Out of the other Harmony models, I preferred the harder, jewel style buttons of the 680, as compared to the rubber style buttons of the other models, such as the 659, 676 and 688. Also they are more raised and tactile than the plastic buttons on the 880 and 885, meaning you don't have to look at the control as much because you can feel the shape and layout of the buttons, and this was another main reason why I prefer the 680.
  5. With kids around I felt this model would be more robust.
  6. I had concerns about the remote not seating on the charger properly, and preferred to use my own charger and spare set of batteries.


Left to right: Harmony 880 / 688 / 680 / 676 / 659

More Info on the Logitech Harmony 680 Universal Remote Control


A Closer Look At The Harmony 680

With the Logitech Harmony 680 advanced universal remote control, a single button is all it takes. That's right: Just press “My Videos,” “My Music,” or “My TV” on your Harmony 680 and all your equipment turns on and automatically adjusts to the right settings. It´s called Smart State Technology®, and it will put you and your family back in control of your home entertainment system.

Plus, the Harmony 680 lets you seamlessly integrate your Media Center PC with your Home Theater setup. Right out of the box, the Harmony 680 is pre-configured for Windows® XP Media Center Edition. To program the remote to work with the rest of your home entertainment components, simply log on to the Logitech Web site and use the Web Wizard to set up the remote. Once the set up process is complete, everyone from the kids to the babysitter can enjoy the full Media PC entertainment experience.

I shopped around and bought my Harmony 680 for £88 including VAT and delivery charges!

The Harmony 680 does eat batteries for breakfast particularly during your first couple of weeks while you set it up, tweak it, and generally play with it, so I would recommend you buy a seperate charger for the four AAA batteries. I picked up a mini-battery charger for just under £5 from my local Dixons store, plus a couple of sets of batteries. Once you settle down to normal use of the remote the batteries last considerably longer. Generally I have found they last 2 or 3 months between each charging, but we don't have kids constantly using it.

Harmony Remotes use Activity and Device Based Operation

Devices

Initially you set up each individual "device" that the remote will operate (it can store up to 15).

For example your TV, Freeview box, and DVD Player/Home Theatre 5.1 Surround Sound System, your Video Recorder and DVD Recorder. All of these 5 are considered individual devices.

Basically I found it best to ensure the Harmony knew about every single button that was on the original devices remote control unit. This way you know that you can control every aspect of the device without having the old remote control. Once all these buttons are known by the Harmony (either from the online database, or by the Harmony learning new infra-red codes), you can assign the functions to ANY of the buttons on the Harmony remote.

Press the Device button and a list of your devices will show in the LCD display. Select one using the arrow keys at the side of the display, and then you have independent control of just that single device. In normal operation you very rarely use the Device button. It is only necessary if you need to access some of the more unusual functions for that device, e.g. the TV setup menu, which is normally just a one-off task when you first get your TV.

Activities

Activities are where the Harmony remotes become interesting, and are the whole point of having a universal remote control. This is how you combine the operation of several devices into one activity. So to "Watch TV", you combine the TV, the satellite/freeview box and your surround sound system (3 devices) into one Activity.

The Web Wizard program leads you through this with sensible defaults. Then you tell the Harmony which devices are assigned to which buttons in the Activity, so let's look at just a couple of buttons as an example .....

Volume Up/Down, Mute, is assigned to the Surround Sound Amplifier
Channel Up/Down and numeric keypad, Guide, Info, Menu & Exit buttons are assigned to control the Satellite box

Sound & Picture

There are also two other important buttons called Sound and Picture which toggle an additional mode of operation.

For example I have programmed my remote so that pressing the Sound button displays commonly used "sound" related functions in the LCD display, so that I can select Soundfield on my 5.1 Surround Sound Amp which changes between all the modes like Dolby Pro Logic, Movie, Music, Stereo, Rear Virtual Speakers, etc.

And for the Picture mode, it displays "picture" related functions that I frequently like to change, like the brightness on my LCD TV can be switched thru Standard, Soft, Strong and Custom, or the picture ratio can be switched thru 16:9, 4:3, Panoramic, Zoom, and so on.

Activities are incredibly flexible, you can create 256 different Activities, and each one has a basic mode, sound mode and picture mode, each of which can have pretty much ANY device function assigned to ANY button. Again the system defaults commonly used button combinations to reduce the amount of initial setup work you need to do.

I found the best thing to do was to "play around" with the Web Wizard configuration program so that I got the hang of it all before I started making fine adjustments. The programmability of the remote is what really appealed to me, and I quite enjoyed getting stuck into making it all work. Like I said, you can get your basic device functions up and running really very quickly (like on/off, input selections, channel hopping and volume control) , i.e. sufficient to keep people happy initially, then you can tweak the setup in your own time improving the way you like your system to operate.

The Web Wizard program also walks you through some potentially tricky issues like timing and synchronization problems, and telling the remote which of several different methods your equipment uses to select inputs. For example, the TV might take a certain amount of time to switch to different inputs, so the remote must allow enough time for this to happen before sending the next infra-red command to cycle to the next input. Also some TV's require you to press the same Input select button repeatedly, while other TV's have seperate Input select buttons for TV/AV1/AV2, etc.

Logitech also provide an excellent Helpdesk & Support Line to help you through any problems, although I never had to resort to this. I just know from various peoples experience that they spoke very highly of the assistance they received from the customer service department to iron out any wrinkles.

Theatre Lighting in your Living Room

Now how cool is this? Ok, so it's the height of laziness, and yet another gadget, but I love it. I just recently purchased a Varilight® Infra-Red Dimmer control (details of their Infra-red dimmer control units can be found at Varilight.co.uk), wired it to operate the two sets of lights in our living room, and configured my Harmony Remote to operate it (true to form the Harmony web site knows the settings for the dimmer).

The Varilight dimmers are easy to use. Click here for a page to learn more about this remote control lighting dimmer, and also the Lutron Maestro IR Dimmer which works on 120V AC.

The dimmer unit works really well with the Harmony. Again its dead easy, and it passes the "wife can work it" test!! I had wondered whether I would have to twist round to point my Harmony directly at the dimmer unit to make it work, but my Harmony will operate the lights faultlessly even if I point the remote unit at the opposite wall, even though the actual Varilight dimmer is on the wall behind me. Just shows how good and powerful the IR transmitters are in the Harmony.

In my Harmony I set up three button actions, which I added into every Activity; 1) Main Lights for my main room wall lights which are theatre-style uplighters, 2) Standard Lamp for our vertical standard lamp which stands in a corner of the room, 3) ALL Lights, this button operates both dimmers at once (a bit of fun is to set one light on dim, the other on bright, then press+hold ALL Lights, and both lights cycle in opposite brightnesses to each other, totally pointless but might be useful if you had a disco in the room - only kidding!).

I think these are excellent little units, and even though a bit expensive, well worth the money if you like the lighting to be "just right" depending on whether you're eating, reading or settling down for a good movie. Sweet. Oh, I'm so lazy!

VARILIGHT REMOTE CONTROL INFRA RED DIMMER

It is a revolutionary new range of touch and remote control dimmer switches.
There is a touch sensitive button in the centre of the plate and a tiny lens in the centre of the button so as to not spoil the overall look of the product.
You can dim the lights using touch control or remotely.

In learning mode, it can be taught any button of most existing infra-red remote controllers. i.e. use a spare button on your existing TV, VCR or CD remote to dim the lights before settling down to a good movie.

Click here for more information on this and other infra-red remote control lighting dimmers.

Conclusion

I think the Harmony Remote Controls and the method of working them are an excellent system, particularly now that I have been able to use it and play around with it. There are a few idiosyncracies within the Web wizard which you soon become accustomed to, however the beauty of this system is that, being an online system, Logitech have full and instant control over the central database and any software updates can be downloaded instantly and uploaded to the remote control, therefore making it future-proof so that refinements to the way it all operates can be readily implemented.

If you have a laptop computer handy, I would recommend using that while setting up the remote. Keep it in your living room to reduce journeys which might otherwise occur between your entertainment system and your PC in another room while tweaking the remote.

I chose the Harmony 680 because I felt it was more family oriented and was within my budget. There is a side to me that secretly wishes I had got the Harmony 880 instead, had circumstances been different, but regardless I am very pleased with my purchase, which by the way was from www.scan.co.uk, who provided an excellent sales and delivery tracking service, and also were at the time one of the cheapest and reputable suppliers I could find online.

Where Can You Find More Universal Remote Control Information?

There is a massive amount of choice available, and some very good online reviews and user forums, which is why it took me so long to decide on the best learning remote control I could get for the least (or sensible) amount of money.


2000 Live TV channels? Amazing! PC on TV!

I think the best and most detailed review site can be found at www.remotecentral.com

There are many excellent resources available on Google.com, simply perform a search for "logitech harmony 680 review" or "harmony 880 remote control" and you will find an oasis of useful information.

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