Sunday, April 22, 2007

Logitech Harmony 890 Remote Control Review

I purchased the Harmony 890 a few months ago after programming one for a client. I was impressed with its ease of setup. I was especially interested in its Smart State feature that remembers the input and power states of your components. This is very helpful when a ccomponent doesn't support discreet commands for power and input. Many products lack discreet code support, most notably cable and satellite boxes.

The reason I haven't written about this product until now is I wanted to give myself time to thoroughly learn all its secrets before forming an opinion. The truth is, it's easy to do a basic setup but troubleshooting is less than intuitive. You begin by installing the included CD to your computer. You can use the front end software provided or log in via the Logitech website. Either way, you have to install the CD. The web front end is much faster however. Use the CD to create your account, then log in from the Harmony website. The software runs through a setup wizard to configure the remote. Logitech's IR code database is the largest in the business, over 170,000 components. In the unlikely event you have something that's not there, you can learn the codes from the factory remote. The wizard walks you through Activity setup where you program how things are to be turned on and set for different functions like Watch TV, Watch DVD, Listen to CDs, etcetera. You can also create custom buttons for each activity with labels shown in the LCD screen. There are 8 buttons available and multiple screens if you have more than 8 custom buttons. You can also set any hard button on the remote for any function from any component in the activity. Once you've programmed everything, it's time to update the remote via USB. Here's where I have a major complaint. The 890 includes a Remote Extender which supports RF control and sends the IR codes to the components via stick-on emitters. Every time you update the remote, you also have to update the extender. You can't have it plugged in the wall when you do this. This is a colossal pain especially when first programming since you'll want to tweak your setup at least a few times.

Once I had things working the way I wanted, the Harmony worked well for a few weeks. Then I started having trouble with Activity startup. Components would not always turn on or switch to the right input. This seemed to be random. It's like each component would take its turn not coming on. One positive here is the remote's Help key. If something unexpected happens, press help and answer the questions on the remote's screen. Usually, it will fix itself and you'll be back in business. To address this, I adjusted the various delays for each component. You can adjust the power on delay, input delay, inter-key delay and inter-device delay. Tweaking the inter-device delay seemed to fix the problem although it still happens occasionally.

Another major issue I have with this product is the ever-changing software. Logitech frequently updates both the front-end software and the remote firmware. Usually this results in some problems being fixed, new problems being created, some features added and some features removed. For several weeks, the Favorite Channel feature was disabled for no apparent reason. I can't imagine why Logitech can't stabilize this package and stop messing with it.

The bottom line with this product: for the price, it can't be beat. No other universal remote offers this level of functionality for less than $300. I like the physical design. I like the software interface. I don't like the random and unexpected glitches. I don't like the frequent software updates. I don't like having to unplug the extender every time I want to update. I want to love this remote. If Logitech would stop messing with it, I think I could. I do plan to keep using it. I can't justify dropping 3 or 4 times the money on something better.