Through an employee purchase partnership, I managed to acquire a (Logitech) Harmony 880 remote yesterday to replace my Home Theater Master MX-500. In truth the MX-500 worked fine, although the dog got a hold of it when a puppy and cracked the LCD a bit. But those of you that have one of these know that it isn't the most *graceful* remote out there, and the joystick/thumb button is pretty annoying to accurately click. Anyway...The Harmony retails for $249.99 at Best Buy and other similar stores. It's a pretty new device, so finding it cheaper is rare, but I've seen it refurbished on ecost.com for $179.99 a couple of times.Initial impressions:The remote comes with a recharging cradle which is convenient if you have a place to put it near where you usually sit to watch TV; the lithium battery charged up initially for me in about an hour. Assumably, if you keep the remote in the cradle, you shouldn't need to worry about battery life.A motion sensor in the remote (configurable) switches on the backlight whenever you pick up the remote. This is very cool--the MX-500 required a button press to activate the (battery sucking) backlight). The keys seem to be uniformly backlit as well, although some of the labels on the keys are quite small.The screen is a color LCD, and gorgeous, but it is NOT a touch screen. Like the MX-500, you press a button adjacent to the option on the screen that you wish to select. These buttons are easily differentiated from each other, even by feel, so this is not a difficult procedure.Setup:This is where the 880 differentiates itself from any other remote I've tried. You install a small bit of software on your Mac or PC, which then takes you to the Harmony website to register. You plug the Harmony into your computer via a USB cable, and answer a series of questions about your home theater. These questions involve telling it what equipment you have--yes, you'll need the specific model numbers, which you can select from dropdown menus once you enter the brands--and what inputs things are connected to. You also will answer questions like, "When watching TV, is your volume controlled by your TV, or by your Receiver?" Thankfully, I have a Mac laptop, and didn't have to run back and forth from the TV room to the study to answer these questions. Once you have all this data put in, you can choose from a list of "Activities" that you wish to have the Harmony control for you: Watch DVD, Watch Satellite, Watch PVR, Listen to CD, Listen to Radio, Play Videogame, etc. You pick the order they appear on the remote, and you can omit or add them as you wish.Further, you can choose themes, add a slideshow, change the background, etc. Once all the settings are done, you click "Update controller" and the settings are saved in your account and downloaded to the Harmony. This takes about a minute.Use:The Harmony has two main modes--Activities, and Devices--which are selectable by two semi-large buttons on the face of the remote. In Device mode, it acts just like a normal remote--you control one device (TV, DVD player, PVR) at a time. Nothing fancy here, really.Where the Harmony *really* shines is in Activities mode. Full-color images appear on the LCD with the activities you have selected above. Push "Watch a DVD" and the Harmony plays a macro that turns on your DVD player, receiver, TV, and sets them all to the appropriate inputs. But suppose something went wrong in your programming, and it isn't working. The Harmony checks with you, saying, "Is everything working properly?" If not, you push "Help" on the remote, and it walks you through troubleshooting the Activity with a series of questions. You answer yes or no to each question ("Is the TV on?" "Is the DVD player on?" "Is the TV set to input AV2?" etc.) and it will take actions depending on your answers. This is extremely useful for DWs, guests, and relatives. The downside is that it doesn't fix errors you may have made during setup, like telling it to use the wrong TV input or receiver mode; those errors have to be corrected back at the webpage and downloaded to the remote. As a first-time user, I had to do this twice more to get everything exactly right, but then again I probably have a more complicated setup than most people.Oddities:The remote is not state-aware. That is, it doesn't know if your TV is on or off. When you start an activity--for example, if you want to watch a DVD, and you are already watching your PVR--it assumes that all the equipment is turned off. Thus, if your TV is already on, it will be sent a power signal as part of the "Watch DVD" macro, and will shut off. I haven't seen any remotes that get around this problem. In this case, you can either use the macro, then use the troubleshooter to fix the problem, or you can switch to Device mode and correct it manually.When you hit the power button in Activity mode, it shuts all devices off that are associated with that Activity. This can be handy, but if you have a standalone Tivo/Replay and a Satellite receiver, for example, you don't want your Satellite receiver turning off (if it is off, the Tivo/Replay won't record your shows). There is a way to manually change the mapping on any button, for any device or activity, but I haven't tried that yet. I may map the Satellite power button to some function that isn't used at all.Conclusion:This is a great remote. My wife *loves* it already. At $250, it's pretty expensive, so its value will depend on the value of your home theater setup and who is often using it. At my discounted price of $125, it was a no brainer.
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