Living in Harmony

A living room in today’s world often consists of much more than just a television. TiVos, sound systems, game consoles, VCRs, DVD players, and things like Apple TV now grace the shelves of many entertainment systems.

One result of this is often a coffee table with four or five remote controls on it. Another result is confusion and frustration, particularly for those who are not necessarily technically proficient.

My coffee table had the following:

TiVo remote – used for TV power and watching television
TV remote – used to control aspect ratio and sleep timer
Stereo remote – used to control volume, power and mode
Cable remote – used to navigate and buy on demand programming
Apple TV remote – used to control Apple TV.

I was skeptical that all five of these could possibly be combined in to a single, easy to use remote control. At the suggestion of my pal Brad Wilson, however, I gave the Logitech Harmony 880 a try and I’m really glad I did. It replaced ALL of the remotes I mentioned and works perfectly now that it’s set up.

The remote comes with a rechargable battery, which is nice. It also has an accelerometer in it, which means the screen and button lights turn on when it is moved. The only problem I’ve had with it is the set up and configuration. Before I get to that, I will say this: I have been able to get the remote working exactly how I want. It just took a while to get there.

Logitech provides a web interface (through software provided in the box) to configure the remote, and requires you to create an account on their web site. Once this is complete, you can enter the manufacturer and model number of the devices in your living room. The software will attempt to find these devices and download the remote control codes for you. It will suggest button assignments and “activities” for you, but these suggestions often miss the mark.

Once you set up your devices in the software, you choose your “activities” to create. The software will suggest some activities for you based on the devices you selected. Mine only suggested two activities – watch TiVo and watch a DVD. Unfortunately, I had to create two “generic” activities to handle on-demand from my cable provider and Apple TV.

Once your devices and activities have been set up, it’s time to customize the buttons on the remote control for each activity. If I’m watching TiVo, for example, I don’t want the remote to send signals for Apple TV. Similarly, I want to assign the commands to the buttons I’m used to using. Because the Harmony 880 is laid out very much like a TiVo remote, it was important that things were in familiar places.

Something of note: The “Watch TiVo” activity it created for me would automatically turn off the TiVo machine when I switched to another activity or powered everything down. This is obviously foolish, because the nature of TiVo is to be always on to record programming you’ve selected no matter when it airs.

It took several tries to get the remote configured just the way I wanted it, and that’s unfortunate. I believe that to be a drawback of the software and the online site. Logitech should COMPLETELY overhaul this experience to make it more … well … Apple-like.

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