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After looking at Harmony remote controls for a few years, and suggesting them to friends and family that do the "remote shuffle" (that juggling act that one has to do with multiple remotes to turn things on, switch inputs, etc.) every time they want to do anything with their entertainment system, I finally decided to give one a try myself. After all, how good can my opinion be if I've never actually used one myself?
The gold standard of remotes from an ease of use standpoint is the TiVo "peanut" remote. A simple search of enthusiast sites will result in lots of people gushing over the design of this remote. When you watch TV with a TiVo, that remote fits like a glove and serves up every function exactly where it's natural to use. While you can program the "peanut" to control the power and/or volume for your TV/receiver, it's not possible to control the power for both, so at least one more remote is necessary to power your equipment on and off.
I have a Philips Pronto TSU-3000 touchscreen remote which is infinitely customizable. Custom buttons, custom displays, and it can do any remote-controlled action you can imagine. This remote is a mainstay in my home theater, and is set up to control every component and is customized to deliver activity-based functions, such as dimming the lights, playing a movie trailer, and then starting the feature presentation, all with one button press of the remote. Very cool, indeed.
There are two primary disadvantages to the Pronto remote, however, that keep it from being used by my family on a daily basis. First and foremost, the touchscreen is much less tactile than a remote with distinct buttons. Plus, it is difficult to use with one hand, and pretty much impossible to use without looking at it; two functions the TiVo peanut must have been designed to do from day 1.
I have been using the Pronto for almost two years and have tweaked the functionality of the tactile buttons that are available and tinkered with component configurations and displays, and I still haven't come up with a combination that works as well for controlling the TiVo as the peanut does. The flip-side to the extreme customizability of the Pronto is the sheer amount of time that one can sink into getting the configuration just right. This is great if you have the time, but frustrating when you just want something to work without hours of setup.
Second, any house with children makes a touchscreen remote a dicey proposition. No matter how careful kids try to be, remotes inevitably get sat on, dropped, squashed by books, and other treatments that are not touchscreen friendly. Add to that a pricetag that starts at $300 for the latest model (TSU-3500), and you can see why using the Pronto in a daily family situation is not a good idea.
Enter the Harmony remotes. They promise activity-based functionality (Watch a Movie, Watch TV, Listen to Music, etc.) with the ease of programming through a web-based application that asks simple questions and auto-configures your remote for you through a USB connection. The remote then takes care of turning the right equipment on at the right time, switching to the necessary inputs, and making the necessary functions available, all from one remote, and with one button press.
While the upper-level Harmony 880 has an eye-catching color display and rechargeable batteries, the 670 model was my choice. Its layout places the TiVo functions where they can be used with one hand (either right or left hand) while still providing the activity-based functions that are a hallmark of the Harmony remotes. Its price was also very attractive, as Amazon.com has it regularly for $99.99 (other retailers ask as much as $150).
I've only been using the remote for two days, so I don't have extensive experience with it yet, and my fingers haven't completely adjusted to not having the familiar TiVo peanut to control. I have found that the remote is just as easily used with the right and left hand, and I'm quickly getting spoiled by being able to control things with just one remote. I'm already coming up with ways to customize my Pronto to make it more Harmony-like!
Of special note is the "Help" function on the Harmony. If something doesn't happen the way you wanted it to, like the TV just turned off when it should have been left on, or your receiver didn't catch the command to switch inputs because someone walked in front of me when I hit the button, the "Help" button asks questions and gets everything back on track. Very, very cool.
The configuration software also allows for a lot of tweaking if the stock setup isn't enough for you. You can control what components are to be left on at all times (the TiVo's don't need to be "turned off/placed into standby") and you can customize the actions nearly each button does, including the six dynamic buttons at the top of the remote by the LCD. Programming is pretty easy and I don't expect to spend nearly as much time in the configuration program as I have with my Pronto.
It's going to take a few days or longer to get completely weaned off the familiar TiVo peanut. While the Harmony isn't the remote to replace every single function on every remote for every component, I think it's very capable of providing the functionality that you use every day. (If you feel the need to adjust the surround delay of the "Sistine Chapel" DSP mode on your receiver, you'll need to break out the receiver's remote, but how often does that happen?)
It's very possible that the Harmony 670 could serve the necessary functions that my Pronto currently serves, as it is capable of controlling lighting systems, multiple devices, etc. Imagine a $300+ programmable touchscreen remote getting slapped around by a $100 remote that you program over the web?? Some would say it's ridiculous, but I say it's quite possible.
I'll follow-up with another post with more comments after I've used the Harmony 670 some more, but I can already say that if you are still using multiple remotes to do the most mundane and common tasks in your entertainment system, this remote could be the best $100 you've spent in a long time!
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