I just spent the weekend cleaning out my home theater room. Would you believe I discovered more than a dozen remotes hidden away in drawers and cabinets? I haven't used some of them in years mind you, but the point is as more and more technology enters our living room so do the number of remotes.
For years Harmony has tried to reduce the number of remotes in our living rooms by creating high end universal remote controls. Now the company is taking simplicity a step further by getting rid of the remote all together, replacing it with your smartphone or tablet.
Many home theater devices use IR (infrared) signals. Since most smartphones (and most tablets) don't have IR capabilities, the Harmony Link from Logitech acts as bridge between your phone and devices. Your phone communicates to the Harmony Link via Wi-Fi then the Harmony Link shoots out IR commands to your devices. Voila! Your devices are controlled via your Smartphone or tablet!
Setup is fairly easy but can be quite time consuming. First you must connect the Harmony Link to your PC or Mac, then go to the Harmony website. It will ask you to create an account. Don't worry, it's free. Once your account is setup you are ready to pair your devices with the Harmony Link.
Once your account is setup you must pair it with all the devices in your home theater via the website. You'll have to enter the make and model number of each and every device. Once all of that is entered you will create "Activities". These can be anything from Watch TV to Play a DVD. The next step is to tell the Harmony Link which devices you need for each activity. For example in my case to watch TV I use my Projector, satellite receiver and audio receiver. The Harmony Link needs to knows each and every time I choose Watch TV that it must turn on my Projector, Satellite receiver and audio receiver. You must program activities for everything you want to do in your home theater such as Watch a DVD or Play a Game.
Now that the time consuming portion is done, you can fine tweak your settings. For example if you want to ensure your satellite receiver never shuts off you must specify that. It can take time before all of your devices are working properly in conjunction with eachother.
Once everything is set up you can place the Harmony Link near your components in your home theater. Since it works off Wi-Fi you can use the Harmony Link behind a wall, perfect for a theater system where components are hidden in another room.
After using the device for a few days I can say the Harmony Link is really quite slick. I had no problems controlling devices from my iPad or iPhone. (Android devices are also supported). The IR beams from the Harmony Link bounce off walls so you don't have to place it directly next to your components. The signals even hit my projector, something other devices similar to this one failed to do.
While controlling my home theater via my iPhone worked well I much preferred using my iPad. You get a much nicer user interface plus you get a program guide for TV. You can see what shows are on different channels complete with thumbnails, read a synopsis, see how much time is remaining in the show and then switch to that channel if it's something I was interested in. The guide rivals what satellite and cable providers currently offer. You can even lock out channels via parental controls.
It's important to note not all devices will work with your Harmony Link. Playstation and Xbox consoles will not turn on through your smartphone. This should hardly matter as the wireless controllers will turn them on without the need for a universal remote. Other issues I ran into was with a power on/off issue. To turn my projector off I have to press the power button twice. The Harmony Link will turn the projector off but for some reason will not turn it back on without me hitting the power button time and time again.
I also found I had to remember to bring my phone or tablet with me when I went to watch TV. Yes, many of us have our smartphones with us at all times but there is the odd time you'll sit down only to get back up and track down your phone or iPad.
The bottom line is the Harmony Link is a great way to rid your living room or home theater room of clutter, it just takes some tinkering to get it working properly. I really put the device to the test by installing it in my home theater room to control a number of devices. Most people would be happy to use it for a simple television / DVD setup. Don't get me wrong, I actually like the device but just keep in mind the more complex your setup is the more complex the Harmony Link will be to install.
Logitech's Harmony Link is available at Future Shop for $99
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