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9/26/2005
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Review: A Do-It-All Remote Control Device

The Logitech Harmony 880 Super Remote -- at a cost of $249 -- will handle all of the items in your entertainment center.

Over the years, I have been on a quest of sorts. A quest to find one remote that will handle all of the items in my entertainment center. This search ended after using Logitech’s $249 Harmony 880 remote.

The 880 is the current high end device in Logitech’s series of advanced remote controls. Unlike the earlier and entry level models, the 880 is the first to feature a full color screen and rechargeable battery. While these features and layouts set this one apart from its siblings, the core functions of the Harmony devices are the same. So an existing user can plug in a new remote and instantly transfer all of his settings into the new device.

It becomes obvious very quickly when you open the box and this is not a typical remote control. Included in the box is the 880 remote, charging stand, USB to Mini-USB cable, and the Harmony software.

One of the first steps in setting up the 880 is to create a user account on the Harmony member web site. This web site walks you through the process of adding all of your devices in your entertainment center, as well as configuring the remote to handle the various activities of the devices. For example, when setting up the “Watch A DVD” activity, you are prompted with questions like what input on your TV the DVD player is connected to or what device should control the volume of the audio.

The setup of the 880 was almost entirely painless. In fact, the hardest part of the process was getting to the back of my TV to get its exact model number. Unlike standard universal remotes, the database of codes for the Harmony is exact to the model of the device, not just the manufacturer. The database extends beyond typical components to include Windows Media Center PC’s and media servers. All of the devices in my entertainment center functioned with 880 on the first try.

After the configuration is complete on the web site, all of the information is sent to the remote itself. On the PC or Mac, a small application is installed that essentially links the web site to the device. The same app will also check and update the firmware of the device. After a minute or two to transfer the settings, the remote is restarted and ready to go. Ideally, the host machine is close to your entertainment center, as I did go through a couple iterations of fine tuning the settings online, hooking up the remote, and testing the result. One word of warning, however, the Harmony web site and the client application only supports Internet Explorer on a Windows machine, and I did run into problems having Firefox as the default browser.

The remote itself is actually only a slight departure from a typical remote control. There is a central color LCD screen, surrounded by eight buttons. From the screen, you are presented with a number of activities, such as “Watch Tivo” or “Listen to CD’s”, based on the devices configured. Picking an activity puts the 880 in action, turning on devices, switching them to the correct input, etc. In daily, the activities covered the functions I wanted, but special functions like picture-in-picture or some audio settings were not quickly available, but instead were buried several menu layers deep.

The 880 also features what Logitech calls “Smart State” technology. Essentially, it remembers what state it put your devices in, for example, it remembers that it turned the TV or that the DVD is currently off. So if you decide to watch a movie while you are watching TV, the 880 will leave the TV powered on and only switch on the DVD player. This works flawlessly when the Harmony is the only remote in use, but the 880 gets out of sync when another remote is used or a component is powered off manually. A bit of intervention is required to get your entertainment center back to the state that the 880 thinks it is in.

Despite these few minor quirks, the Harmony 880 raises the bar for universal remotes. From the easy to follow online configuration to the day to day use of the device itself, this is the easiest and most complete control I have ever had over my entertainment center.

The Good

• Almost painless to configure • Easy to use • Works with both Windows and Macs

The Bad

• Not all browsers supported by the software • Device-specific functions can be hard to get to

Logitech Harmony 880 advanced remote, $249

http://www.logitech.com

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