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Review of Logitech Harmony 880 Universal Remote

April 19th, 2008 by Maxim · 2 Comments · 6,850 Views

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I owned this remote for almost 2 years now and I loved it. Why? Because it replaced the 7 remotes that I had to use to control my home theater. Mind you, 2 years ago it was selling for about $250. Who in the right mind would pay so much for a remote when some DVD players 3 times cost less? But I talked to other owners and they talked me into buying it – it’s worth every dollar. Today Amazon.com sells it for $150, so if I was thinking about replacing 7 remotes with one, I’d be silly not to get it.

So what was my experience with this remote over the past two years?

Who needs Universal Remote? The case for buying a universal remote:

  1. If you don’t have a TV, you don’t need it :)
  2. If you only have a TV, or a TV combo with VCR and DVD in it, the remote you have will do the job.
  3. Every TV or home theatre component comes with its own remote, unless you’ve got a really bad deal. In majority of cases the remote you get will be programmable. What it means is that it will have buttons to switch between components the remote is to used with to control, but since each component manufacturer uses their own set of commands, the remote will usually have a sheet containing manufacturer codes. You’d then press a special sequence of buttons on the remote to enter the programming mode and enter the codes for each of the components. Again, if all you have is a TV, a cable or satellite box and a DVD player, the remote that came with your cable/satellite box will almost certainly be programmable and there’s nothing wrong with using it. I used to do it, and it worked. So to watch a DVD, I’d have to press the “TV” button on the remote, then “Power” button to turn it on, then press the “DVD” button on the remote followed by the “Power” button to turn DVD player on, and then I’d repeat the sequence to turn on the amplifier. Then I’d press on the “Input” button on the remote to cycle through the TV inputs until the DVD input was selected. Depending on how the components are connected this procedure may be more or less complicated then described above, but the point is that turning components on one by one and switching inputs is tedious. The more components you have, the more tedious is the job of turning them on and off and switching inputs on them. And you thought having more components would mean more fun… Also these programmable remotes tend to be quite large and still they won’t have all the buttons necessary for the activity (if you can call watching a DVD an activity) you plan to enjoy. For example, most cable box remotes won’t let you switch picture modes (normal, sports, movie etc.) on the TV or let you switch scaling mode. Then you end up using two remotes: one for turning stuff on and switching inputs and occasionally using second to do something first remote doesn’t do.

What about learning remotes? Well, from my experience, they are awful because often times if your component is not in its internal database you’d have to learn dozens of commands by pressing each of the buttons on the new remote and pointing it at your new learning remote. In other words, it takes a long time to teach a learning remote all the commands the other remote knows.

The looks and ergonomics

The remote is not large, fits nicely in the hand, and although some buttons are rather small it doesn’t bother me at all. The color LCD display is large enough and easy to read, and every activity has large icons as well as clear text labels. The remote has a tilt sensor, so as soon as you pick it up it will turn the LCD on and beep to indicate that it’s ready to serve you. The help button is extremely useful when you are trying to get used to the interface or when you don’t have patience to point the remote at the equipment long enough for the remote to do its job. It also may help and guide you through the setup process, which is very intuitive and verbose.

How it works

After your remote is set up, all you do is select the activity on its LCD, such as “Watch DVD”, “Play CD”, “Watch Photos”, “Play Game” and it will turn on the needed components and switch them to the proper inputs – with one push of the button! Just keep the remote pointed at your home theater until the activity starts. If activity didn’t start properly, press Help button. The remote will ask you a series of yes/no questions, such as “Is your TV on”, “Is you TV on now?”, “Is everything working correctly now?” and it solves your problems virtually all the time. If it doesn’t, you probably didn’t configure it properly in the software.

Does it work with PlayStation 3?

No. PlayStation 3 uses Bluetooth remote of it’s own. It is not compatible with Logitech Harmony. So if you have a PlayStation as part of your home-theater, you’ll have to use both remotes – Harmony for your home-theater and Sony’s remotes for your PlayStation.

The brand

Logitech has been making computer accessories since the 1980s. Good brand.

The software

USB drivers come on the CD along with configuration software, but you can always get the latest version of the setup software on Logitech’s website. Installing it is straightforward. After software is installed, it will ask you to connect the remote through USB cable to the computer and register your remote. You will go online and create an account which will be associated with your remote. After that you will go through a remote setup process, which is as easy as selecting your components from the list of thousands of components Logitech has profiles for. At the time of the first setup two years ago I chose my model of Sony TV, Samsung all-in-one home-theater, cable box, DVD-player, VCR and D-Link multimedia player that I use to play music and video files from my computer on the TV. That’s the end of the setup for the 99% of users: once the software knows which components you have, it will add all related activities. In my case they were “Watch DVD”, “Watch TV”, “Play Music”, “Play CD”, “Play Computer Video”, “Photos”, “Watch Video”. I also had to tell the software which inputs to use for each activity. Actually, not for each activity, because the software knows the default inputs for each, but in my case for example, I had both VCR, media-player and DVD player connected to the home-theater, and the defaults didn’t work for me. Now the setup was done, and the software once again asked to connect the remote via USB cable and upload the configuration changes from the website to the remote (the great thing about web-based configuration tool is that you can always access it and see which model of the component you are using). At that time the software also detected that the new version of firmware is available for the remote and suggested to upgrade it, so I did too. The software is very easy to use, understand and navigate. If the remote is connected to the USB 2.0 port, the speed of synchronization is very good. But if you connect it to the old USB port the process of synchronizing the remote with the software is rather irritatingly slow.

After the remote us synchronized, the software will ask you to test the configuration. The LCD display on the remote will guide you through the wizard of testing your remote by asking simple yes/no questions. If something doesn’t work as you expect, you’ll have to go back to software and update your configuration until you get the desired result. For most of users the default configuration will be enough. But in my case I had to make some custom adjustments. I have to say that practically any aspect of remote programming can be changed through this versatile software. When my remote was turning D-Link DSM-520 media player, which has a 10 second start-up time, the remote would send infra-red commands to it such as POWER_ON immediately followed by INPUT_PHOTO (or INPUT_MUSIC), but the media player was still booting up and would not respond to the INPUT_XXX command, so I had to go into configuration software and set a 10 second delay after POWER_ON command. That’s all.

When I got the 46″ Sharp Aquos TV, new Onkyo TX-SR705 THX-Select2 Certified Receiver and Toshiba A35 HD DVD player, the old Sony TV-set, DVD player and Samsung all-in-one home theater system were retired, and the remote had to be updated with the new configuration. No problem: start the software, delete all home-theater components and add the new ones. Since I deleted the old components, the associated activities were deletes as well, but after new components were added the software offered to add those activities back. All of the default settings satisfy me; I only had to tell that HD-DVD will use HDMI-1 input, D-Link media player will use HDMI-2 input and the cable box would use HDMI-3. Uploaded the configuration, tested it, and voila. I press “Watch TV” and the remote turns on the TV, turns on the receiver and the cable box and switches TV to HDMI-1 and receiver to HDMI-1.

The price

I paid $250 two years ago, but as of this writing it’s $150 on Amazon.com

Quality and reliability

About a year after the remote was bought, the most-frequently used buttons, CH+ and CH- used to change channels on the cable box, stopped working. It’s beyond the warranty, so I can’t replace it. But I have an easy workaround: I press Guide button to invoke the Cable Guide and then use up/down buttons to select channel and “OK” to select it. Considering the abuse I give to the remote, it’s holding up pretty well. I still love it and still think it’s worth every dollar I paid for it.

** Update ** Even though warranty has expired, I contacted Logitech technical support and asked to replace the remote because CH+ and Vol+ hard buttons are not always working and after a few diagnostical emails they mailed me a replacement remote.

Support

Easy to get support in the Logitech’s website in support forums or by emailing or calling the help line.

Performance

Great battery life. Charge it only for 8 hours (overnight) once a week.

Summary

If you have 3 home theatre components or more, you will love this remote. At $150… heck, at $250 even, it’s worth every dollar. Get it, go online to setup your connected equipment and it does everything for you: turn components on and off and switch them to appropriate inputs – just tell them what you want to do. Press “Watch DVD” or “Play Game” and it will turn on your TV, amplifier, DVD player or Game console and switch them onto appropriate inputs – all that by pressing just one button on a single slick remote rather then manipulating three ugly remotes for each component.

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Tags: Additional Articles · Hardware · Home Theater

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