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Today’s Show:

Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote and Hub

If memory serves, the very first product review we ever did on the HDTV Podcast was a very early Harmony remote.  Back in the days before Harmony was acquired by Logitech. Before the touchscreen models came out. But the remote was revolutionary in how simple it made it for anyone to control even a complex home theater with a single remote, and often just a single button.

Continuing in the tradition of changing the game for home theater enthusiasts, the newest member of the Harmony family, the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote and Hub ($334) is the next generation of what Harmony started several years ago. As a side note, we paid $299 for it at Amazon when we bought it, so the price fluctuates. If you wait a little while, it could come back down.

About the remote

From the Manufacturer:

  • One remote easily controls entertainment devices plus connected lights, locks, thermostats, blinds, sensors, and more
  • Intuitive color touch screen: Simply swipe and tap to control channels, movies, 50 customizable channel Favorites and home automation devices such as Philips hue lights or Nest Learning Thermostat
  • Harmony app turns iOS or Android smartphones or tablets into a second, personal universal remote control
  • The Harmony Home Hub lets you control devices in closed cabinets
  • Simple setup on computer or mobile app for control of 15 home entertainment devices and unlimited home automation devices: Works with over 270,000 devices, including your TV, satellite or cable box, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, Roku, Sonos, game consoles, Philips hue lights and more.

Setup

Getting the remote up and running is pretty simple. Getting it dialed in to exactly what you want takes a bit more time. The remote itself, just like the iOS or Android app, doesn’t send any commands directly to your devices. It sends the command to the Hub and the hub relays the commands to your devices. So to get started you plug in the remote to start it charging, plug in the Hub and position its two included IR blasters to transmit to your home theater devices. That step takes about a minute.

 Next step is to download the app to your smartphone or tablet. Once you have it installed, the real setup begins. If you’re used to programming harmony remotes, you can skip the app step and program it directly with your computer. Or if your smartphone or tablet doesn’t have bluetooth. But we went the new user route and did it all through the app, for the full experience. The app itself is very clean, simple and intuitive.

First step is to connect the app to your Hub using bluetooth. When the app prompts, you press a button on the back of the hub to pair the devices. Once paired, you can connect the Hub to your home wifi network. After you get the Hub on wifi, you’re ready to start doing the real programming. This step took a couple minutes, but mostly waiting for devices to connect.

When the hub connects to wifi, it will automatically discover a bunch of compatible devices and make them available for you to control. Ours found a few Sonos players, and a few streaming boxes like the Fire TV. That was pretty cool, but not what we needed to setup the home theater, so we left them alone and manually added our receiver, tuner box, blu-ray player and projector. All of the devices were instantly recognized. That took another couple minutes.

If you’ve ever programmed a universal remote, you know that the next step is activities. The app does a good job of walking you through a step by step wizard to configure each device for the various activities like Watch TV, Watch a Movie, Listen to Music, etc. In many cases, you’d be done after this step. We have more complicated HDMI issues, so we had to do some fine tuning, but all told, it took about 15-20 minutes to get up and running using the app to program the remote.

Performance

The Ultimate remote has the same form factor as overall usage style as the Harmony Touch Universal Remote ($178) we reviewed a couple years ago.  The remote maintains a few hard buttons, but really wants you to drive with the touch screen.  It feels nice, but has some shortcomings on usability. For full details on the remote itself, read our review of the Touch fromEpisode 554. It’s a great remote, but not perfect.

The addition of the Hub is really great for some use cases. Removing the requirement for line of sight to the devices eliminates issues you may have if you want to store your equipment in a cabinet, have a coffee table in the way, or constantly have people walking in front of you when you’re trying to use the remote. It really cuts down on the number of times you have to hit the help button. We liked that quite a bit.

The app worked pretty well, but we found that it had issues at times connecting to the Hub. It would search the wifi network for the presence of the Hub and report that it was missing. We had to manually reconnect them several times. This somewhat diminished the usefulness of the app. It would have been nice if they fell back to bluetooth, but we never saw that happen, nor do we know if its even a possibility. When connected, the app was a pretty cool quick way to control the theater.

Automation

Perhaps the biggest differentiator about the Ultimate Remote and Hub is the ability to also control home automation devices. To do this with most home theater remotes you have to buy an IR module for your automation system, program the IR module to control the devices and teach your remote how to send the correct IR codes. All doable, but all very rigid and sometimes very painful. With the Harmony Hub you get a lot of this built right in.

 The Hub supports a multitude of wifi based devices such as those from from Nest, Lutron, August, pēq and more.  They claim support for 270,000 devices from more than 6,000 brands but it isn’t clear how many of those are home theater components and how many are home automation devices. A yet-to-be released add on module call the Harmony Home Hub Extender will allow for even more automation possibilities by connecting the Hub to ZigBee and Z-Wave Plus devices.

But the Hub isn’t designed to be a true automation hub.  One big catch, for example, is that it currently isn’t possible to access the Hub from the Internet. You could probably cobble your own VPN system together to allow you to get to it, but it wouldn’t be trivial. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of the Hub as an automation device. Having control of your home: lights, door locks, leak sensors, from anywhere in the world is a key feature. Without it you can do some cool things to augment the home theater experience, but it isn’t a very robust automation hub.

The Hub also doesn’t provide the automated programming with timers, triggers, and scenes that you need from a true automation server or Hub.  So let’s not bill it as something it isn’t, it’s a cool home theater remote that can also control some of your automated devices. You won’t use it to control your automation, but you can use it to make adjustments, like dimming the lights when you hit play, or adjusting the thermostat if the room gets too hot.

We tested the remote at Braden’s house and he’s all Insteon all the time. He has an IR module, but we know that works, so we didn’t take the time to get it up and running. So if the Hub controls some devices you have, or you can adjust what devices you plan to purchase to align with what the Hub supports, it could work well as in interface into your automation equipment. If not, you’re out of luck.

Conclusion

As a concept, the Harmony Ultimate Remote and Hub is awesome. Taken as its component parts, it’s cool, but perhaps not the next big thing.  Removing line of sight is perhaps its biggest selling feature. After that, if you have the lights that it works with, being able to dim and brighten lights as part of the home theater experience is pretty compelling. It’s a great remote, not the best Harmony has ever made, but not bad either.

Download Episode #681


Posted by The HT Guys, April 2, 2015 10:47 PM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.