Media Tools

Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote Control

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Best universal remote so far

[In 2011 we reviewed the Logitech Harmony 700, which is no longer available. — Mark]

In the course of my work I need to test a lot of TV-connected devices for review and evaluation. Two game consoles, two DVRs, and a handful of media streaming devices can become a nightmare to control for myself, much less guests.

To reduce the confusion I’ve always used a universal remote but they’ve always had major drawbacks. Some don’t control everything. Some had to be held steadily pointed towards the devices for minutes to work properly. And of course programming some universal remotes is at best an exercise in tedium.

The best I’ve found so far is the Logitech Harmony Ultimate. It’s not perfect but it has reduced many frustrating problems to mere annoyances and eliminated some altogether.

First the programming is easier on Harmony remotes than almost any other brand. It’s not perfect but easier. You plug the remote into your computer and install some software. Then you tell the software what devices you have. This may take some crawling around on your knees by your TV to read exact model numbers. Also sometimes the model just isn’t there and you just have to pick a close one and hope. Most of the time though everything is there and works. I wish the interface on the software was better designed but it gets the job done.

Once you have all your devices, you set up activities. If you want to Watch TV for instance, you set up an activity that turns on the TV, puts it on the right HDMI input, and turns on the DVR. Same for Watch Apple TV or Play Xbox or any other activity you want to do. Soon it will even add home automation tasks like dimming lights. It handles both infrared and RF controlled devices by the way. So the devices don’t need to be in plain view.

Once you have the remote programmed life becomes much easier. The Ultimate works with a hub that you set up with your WiFi network. The hub takes care of sending commands to your TV. You put the hub by your TV and devices (with an extender if you have a couple shelves) and then you don’t need to point the remote at the devices. In fact you don’t even need to be in the same room. I make use of this when watching DirecTV over Slingbox on Roku in the bedroom.

When all works well, which is most of the time, the thing is a dream. You press a button on the touch screen for the right activity and the remote takes care of the rest. The downside is occasionally something gets out of whack and the wrong input gets selected or a command doesn’t go through. In those cases the remote tries to guess what’s wrong but it’s a very poor guesser. There’s a HELP button that walks you through troubleshooting that can usually fix any issue. I usually just go to the remote’s device menu and take control of the devices myself to put them back in the right state.

If you only have a couple devices, the Harmony Ultimate is probably overkill. But if you have 7 devices hooked up plus a TiVo going through your Xbox One, then this could be a big frustration reducer.

-- Tom Merritt 11/18/14