6505 Kaiser Dr.
Fremont, CA 94555
Logitech Audio Group
We reviewed some time ago what was at the time Logitech’s top universal remote – the Model 880. Now at double that unit’s price, Logitech has a touch-sensitive 3.5″ display screen-using new model which is designed to offer the ordinary consumer an alternative to the $2000-and-up touch-screen remotes which normally come with complete home electronic systems and require an expensive consultant to come in and program especially for you. They call it the most intelligent evolution of simple, one-touch control. The idea is make it the center of your entertainment system, so that anyone in your family can easily set up all your electronic components to watch exactly what they want to watch or listen to what they want to listen to. Another of this advanced remote’s slogans is “Simplicity you can touch.” Well, that is true once the remote is programmed and you have relegated all your various remotes to a drawer to keep only for emergencies. However, you must do the programming yourself, and to get to that point is probably not going to be an easy route for most users. Hopefully, my frustrations and discoveries may make it easier for those who want to try it and have the satisfaction of meeting the considerable challenges, plus saving $1500 or more.
Many readers undoubtedly have what is now euphemistically referred to as “legacy” equipment. Some of that gear – even units manufactured today such as turntables and tube amps and preamps – will have no remote controls. Then it’s understood that they cannot be controlled by a universal remote or any remote, and must be turned on and off and operated manually. Next is the category of components which have their own remote controls but they cannot be used to turn them on and off. In this category are many tape and CD players; I have a CD changer, a laserdisc player and a cassette deck in this category. So you will not be able to turn them on remotely and will have to do so manually before you hit the Activity button on the Harmony 1000. In my case I have a turntable, phono preamp, manual tape/turntable switch, three tube monoblock amps, a side-axis amp and a stereo amp for the surround speakers which all have to be manually turned on. I had a special situation with one component which came without any remote at all and the suggestion that you find one of your other remotes to select its different inputs. That provided quite a challenge in programming, and I never was able to find a command to turn it on or off remotely and just had to leave it on.
Another aspect of the universal remote comes into play if some of your equipment is located behind closed doors of cabinets or in another room. In that case you won’t have line-of-sight infrared communication from the Harmony 1000 to the components’ IR sensors and you will have to purchase and set up the additional $150 Harmony RF Wireless Extender. It receives the commands put out by the 1000 remote and then transmits radio frequency signals that make it thru the doors, cabinets and even walls to your components’ sensors so your components can be located anywhere. Fortunately I didn’t have to use the Extender, because I’ve heard it can take additional effort.
The Model 1000 comes with a base station which charges the unit, an AC adapter, a USB cable, and a software CD. Its battery is Lithium-ion and must be recharged frequently. It takes about eight hours to initially charge the battery. I found the supplied CD-ROM was already supplanted by an update available online at the Harmony web site in early November, and I downloaded it.
The goal of programming is to set up a series of actions for which you will use all your AV equipment. Not only will this save time and accessing of different remotes each time you want to watch or listen to something, but it enables all members of your family to easily touch off all the actions needed to listen to a CD, watch TV and so forth. My list of what the Harmony calls “Activities” is seen above as displayed on their web site.
Of course you must have a computer with a USB input, and a broadband DSL or cable connection – believe me, you wouldn’t want to go thru the programming using a dialup connection. But before you go to the Logitech web site you must make a list of all the components you want to control that have their own remotes, noting down their exact model numbers and perhaps listing all the commands on their individual remotes that you regularly use. If there are commands you seldom use – such as Subtitle on my DVD player – you can either map those commands to some of the later “pages” on the web site for the unit (some of my components have as many as eight pages), or don’t bother with them, and use the original remote you put in that drawer when you absolutely need that particular command.
You will be amazed at the extensive database Logitech has built up on various components, including some extremely rare ones. There are long pop-down lists of various commands for each one; the commands come not only from the manufacturers but also from various users who have programmed that component into their Harmony universal remotes. This list can be extremely confusing: it can contain commands that may have been on a very early version of the particular component and are not any longer on the version you have. They can also be odd names which users have given them which may not make sense to you. Logitech should have translations of many of these commands posted. For example, I had to ask their very helpful phone support people what commands such as PSM and DBS/BD stood for. And one function may have several different commands which may or may not work with it: For example, to turn on a component there may be Power Toggle, but also Power On and Power Off, and perhaps one called Startup. You may have to test different ones to find out which controls your particular component. And of course the more different components you have in your system, the more complicated the whole procedure will be.
The 1000 is supplied with a large foldout sheet with step-by-step instructions in several languages, but it would be much better as a standard multipage user manual, and a number of vital points are omitted both in the printed instructions and on their web site, which I discovered the hard way. As another user pointed out in their review of the 1000, it’s not a job for someone in a hurry! After you have registered on the web site, you will have your own page on which to set up all your equipment. You should then plug in your 1000 using the USB cable, so that as you make selections you can click on the button in the upper right of the screen to download the programming to your remote. This normally takes a few minutes. One of the major frustrations of working with the web site – at least during the time I used it – was that after a certain amount of time (which seems to vary greatly) you are automatically logged out without any warning on the screen and have to log in again on the home page to continue. This means you may have added many complex commands and buttons and have lost them all before you were able to download them to your remote. The web site clearly needs a longer period before cutting off users and then a clear warning that this has occurred.
There are two main sections: Activities and Devices. You begin by setting up each of your devices in that section. However, you should not set up the buttons in this section; that is best done in the Activities section. I spun my wheels considerably because I customized buttons in Devices and it wasn’t until the third support person I spoke to that I was told that was only for later troubleshooting. After finishing all the basics for your various components in Devices you should download to your remote again, then move on to the Activities section. Here is where you set up a complete action – similar to a macro on your PC. Let’s take my Listen to SACDs activity. I need to send commands to turn on my SACD player, open its tray, switch my multichannel switcher to Input 1, and switch my Sunfire AV preamp (which I always leave on) to 8-Channel. I also need a command to switch the preamp to the DVD input in case I’m playing a stereo-only SACD, and to also change the audio modes if I want to select ProLogic II or another variant. For the audio modes I programmed the left and right arrows of the hard buttons on the actual remote body for all activities. There are three buttons for each Activity: Settings, Troubleshoot, and Customize. Troubleshoot sends you to either a phone call to a support person or filling out an email form. (Better fill out that form fast – I was logged out before I was finished and lost all my questions that had been entered.) There is also a button at the top of the touch screen labeled Help. It was able to select the proper input on one component where a single command cycled thru the inputs; however it was ineffective at bringing into play commands which were not properly assigned in the programming to begin with.
This is the place to customize the command buttons. There are two columns: Standard Buttons and Additional Buttons. It’s best to make use of the Standard ones if possible. Put the most-used commands up front on page 1. Page 2 is usually the joystick area for components such as CD and DVD players. Unfortunately you won’t see the diagram of the joystick on the web site – only on your 1000 remote. So you have to program the buttons you need that may not be set up as you first see the Standard Buttons. For example on most of my activities there were no Next Track or Previous Track (with DVD players also called Chapter Next and Chapter Previous). I had to select those. And after trying out the commands, I discovered the Pause command failed on two of the activities, and I had to redo those by bringing down the pop-down list and selecting them again across from the first column with the commands labeled. The names of the first several buttons on the first page of the Standard Buttons cannot be changed by the user as with other buttons. I don’t know why, because it would be nice to replace those that are useless – such as Mute for a DVD player – with commands that you use frequently.
One of the pages on all the activities is just numbered buttons – from 0 to 9 plus an asterisk and a couple other symbols. These can also be programmed for different commands from the pop-down list in the next column over; however, you will need to make a list of what commands go with what buttons to keep track later. I had to use this option with some of the less-used DVD player commands, such as Angle, Subtitle, Still, Audio, etc. Don’t get confused by the similarity of some of the command names – try each one out at your components if you’re not sure. For example the database had an Audio command for my DVD player, which brings up Dolby, PCM, etc. on the TV display, but it lacked an Audio-Only command, which turns off the video circuitry for enhanced sound. So I had to “teach” that command to the database and to my 1000. (See below.)
A considerable amount of running back and forth between your computer and your AV system is required to test each of the activities. If you have a laptop it would be wise to use it to stay in the same place to test the 1000 without having to move. And if you have to seek phone support – and you probably will – you will need a cordless or cell phone, and a headset mic would also be a good idea.
You may find that none of the commands stored in the database control the action your want to control on your component. That means the 1000 remote will have to learn the command from your original remote for that component. You select that action on the web site screen, hold the original remote a couple inches from the sensor of the 1000 and press the button. The PC screen will indicate it received the command and it worked. If testing the command in front of your equipment – using the Devices setting for that component – shows that it works, fine. However, it may not, requiring you to go the next step: learning the command using Raw Data. That is set up in a similar way on the same page of the web site, and usually does the trick, though there was one command I simply could not get to operate. There was also a bug in the Logitech software which showed a couple buttons as properly mapped but they refused to work on the 1000. One of the support staff mapped the buttons to the hard button marked Channels on my 1000.
It certainly is a pleasure to press just one area of the 3.5-inch touch screen and have a whole action be set up automatically. You do have to be patient and hold the 1000 pointing directly at all your components so as to get clean command signals. Some devices will take some time to warm up before they switch to the proper input. For example, I couldn’t have my Blu-ray player tray open automatically when it came on because it took so long to boot up I wouldn’t want to hold the remote facing it for that long. And I see I have my Samsung TV waiting too long during the warmup period before switching to the proper input, and have to go to the web site again to shorten that. While the various activities will be a godsend for the technically-challenged members of your family, when you want to depart from the usual sequence for your special needs, just go to the Devices section – it’s a tiny wrench icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen – and work with the particular component directly. Or you could add more pages of special commands for the device in Activities.
A marketing director for Logitech said that the average setup time for users of the 1000 is from a half hour to 1.5 hours. He said it depends how familiar you are with your AV equipment. Well, I’m very familiar, but I will admit I had some odd ducks to program and nine different devices to cover – even though several others could not be programmed at all. I went thru this process once before with the Harmony 880 remote. I noticed right away a number of improvements in the web site and programming process, but there are more that could be made. Better written instructions from Harmony would result in a more harmonious installation. I’m hoping my honest story and tips will make the effort go more smoothly for those of you with the latest gear that should be simpler to work with. And after all, your financial savings over the professionally-installed universal remotes could be quite extensive.
– John Sunier