Summary: The Logitech Harmony 880 is a capable remote that works well. The software to program it (the same software as all the Logitech Harmony remotes use) is fairly intuitive but can be challenging when trying to create more advanced sequences. When evaluating different Harmony remotes, look for one with a charging station as the battery life makes changing batteries constantly a nuisance (and the charging station avoids this.) The Harmony 890 adds RF support for use when line-of-sight isn't possible.
For me, it was the lights. Having a tv-tray full of remotes was a pain, sure, but I could survive…What got me was the thought of integrating my lighting scenes with my tv activity. Pressing one button to watch a movie and having the lights dim, projector and receiver turn on, and the pvr display the available movies on screen is one of those geek nirvana moments. It’s the kind of moment where others go “ooh, ahh” and marvel at your technical prowess to coordinate such an orchestra of technology.
The Harmony remote is one such offering that allows this consolidation of remotes, and from most accounts it’s the best out there. I did my research before purchasing a Harmony, and that included talking to anyone I knew with one about the pros and cons. I quickly discovered a common trend among those that had it – The advice they gave can be summed up in two points:
1. Get one with the rechargeable battery and cradle. 2. It can’t do everything you think it should be able to do.
The first point was easily understood, the remote is going to be the one and only touch-point for all of your entertainment needs, and that means the batteries are going to be replaced every few weeks unless you get the rechargeable models with base cradle (Harmony 880 or above). This made sense and was sage advice that has proven itself true.
The second point was a little more disheartening – Was I being told that this glorious panacea wasn’t able to address all my problems in one fell swoop? As I would soon find out, the issue isn’t that the remote can’t do the more complicated scripts and activities, it’s just that it’s quite a headache to perform some of these tasks with the Logitech web-based software. As an example, I wanted to dim the lights with my “Watch TV” action using the X10 IR543 however to accomplish this with the X10 infrared receiver you need to send:
Housecode A Device 5 Lights on Dim Dim Dim Dim
Probably a few more dim commands in there too – each one dims the light about 5% or so, so to get it to the appropriate level can take quite a few clicks in the web interface. It’s a one-time setup mind you, so once you’ve taken the time it works fairly reliably. I’m using my X10 infrared receiver with Insteon devices, and the ability to directly input dim-levels is admittedly an X10 limitation, not a Logitech Hamony limitation, but it’s an example of the challenges that one may face on the way to geek Nirvana.
The Harmony works by collecting the model numbers of all your devices (usually printed on the front or underside) and then inputting them into the Harmony application on the computer. The infrared commands are known for thousands of devices and once input the software will begin to setup all your basic operations like “Watch TV”, “Play a game” and “Listen to music.” The wizard is intuitive and if you’re strictly interested in condensing three (or four or five) remotes into one, then everything will likely work flawlessly with little effort.
Working to integrate home automation devices and other lesser-known infrared receivers requires a bit more creativity. Insteon has recently come out with an infrared receiver (IRLinc) that will accept direct percentage inputs for lighting levels, so one could conceivably enter “Device 5, 32%” and have it dim to that exact level. The Logitech people are in charge of a rather large database of infrared commands, and as such are a bit behind in terms of adding the latest devices. As it turns out however, the latest device shares the same infrared commands as a Pioneer CLD79 laser disc player, so adding a device of this type, and using the volume setting to control lighting percentage works perfectly as a workaround until the Insteon infrared receiver gets added to the Logitech database.
Occasionally, a signal will get missed – This happens once in a while with our projector, as the Optoma H27 we have takes two presses of the power key to turn off, and the second sometimes gets missed. The intuitive help system on the Harmony takes care of this with little hassle. When I notice that the projector has the “Power off?” screen up and it’s waiting for the second press that didn’t quite make it, I just press “Help” on the remote and it sends the missing signal, powering off the projector and then shows “Did that fix the problem?” on the remote. I press the “Yes” button on the remote and all is well. My guess for a permanent fix is simply that I need to adjust the timing in the Harmony software to be a bit longer of a delay between presses for the projector, but I haven’t tested this theory yet.
I opted for the Harmony 880 due to it being the cheapest Harmony with a rechargeable battery & dock, however if you have a need or desire to use RF signals to broadcast between rooms the Harmony 890 is the step up from the 880 that offers this feature. Both the 880 and 890 have color screens and you can even do things like put pictures of your self or family as the ‘screensaver’ on the remote, if that’s the sort of thing that makes you happy.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the Harmony 880 and after some initial tweaking it has worked very well at controlling 5 devices and ensuring that whatever activity I’m trying to perform is done with a minimum of frustration. As with most of the items I review, when products work well and I’m happy, friends and family usually purchase them shortly thereafter. With the Harmony, my retired parents purchased an 880 for themselves and have also had nothing but good things to say about the overall experience. So, while the computer interface could be a bit easier for establishing scripts, the one-time tweaking hassle is offset by the hassle-free regular use and as a whole it’s a great remote at a good price.