Enter the Logitech Harmony Ultimate, a remote that's capable of controlling up to 15 devices within your home theater. Logitech has cataloged a database of 225,000 potential home theater devices, but also includes gaming consoles like the PS3, Xbox 360 and Xbox One as well as the Philips Hue line of smart bulbs. But is it truly the answer to all your home theater related prayers?
At first glance, it's easy to confuse this remote with the Harmony Touch. However, Logitech has improved on the rear of the remote by providing a more defined grip when the remote is resting on your forefinger. Beyond that, the front of the remote is identical. At the top, you will find the standard Play / Pause grouping of buttons. Just below that, there are two white icons, a star and a house, that will automatically transition the touchscreen to the channel favorites or the main activity screen.
I have to say, this is one of the first touchscreens that I've actually enjoyed on a remote control. While it's not as fluid as a smartphone touchscreen, the 2.4-inch screen is very responsive and there are a variety of gestures to navigate between the menus. When I'm watching television, for instance, I can swipe to the right to find my favorite channels, TiVo functions and a number pad for entering in specific channels. Of course, if you are used to the tactile response of an actual keypad, this will take a few weeks to get used to.
Below that, you will find a directional pad, volume and channel controls, menu functions and a set of programmable buttons at the bottom. On a side note, the front of the device will attract tons of fingerprints and smudges due to the glossy finish. It's probably a good idea to keep a soft wiping cloth handy for a good cleaning once a week.
In addition to the remote, Logitech also provides a charging cradle which should charge up the battery for several days of use. Logitech has also included a neat feature that puts the remote into sleep mode if it's not in use, and then wakes the remote when the internal sensors detect movement. Also inside the box, you will find the Harmony Hub as well as two IR blasters for your home theater system.
The Hub itself fires IR commands, but you can use the wired connectors if your home theater gear is within an enclosed cabinet. Interestingly, the Hub communicates with the remote over RF, thus you don't even need to be in the same room to use the remote. As an example, this could be ideal if you have a whole-home music system and you want to switch up the track. The Hub also offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support, ideal when delivering updates automatically to the Harmony Ultimate.
Traditionally, there's always been a stigma that's comes along with the universal remote: the dreaded setup process. Many years ago, I can remember cracking open a new remote control and going through the process of testing numerous number codes to find the one that controlled my television and other gear. It could easily take an hour to find all the right codes, especially if you were also adding components like receivers and cable boxes. Exciting at the time, but now a nuisance in the age of smart technology.
Thankfully, that stigma is being washed away by the Harmony line of remotes as the Harmony Ultimate is definitely a breeze to setup. Setup is routed through the Web using myharmony.com and tied to a specific user account to save your current setup, ideal if you ever have to reprogram the remote. After connecting up the Harmony Ultimate with the provided USB cable, the software walks you though adding devices. You will need the model numbers of your components, thus it's a good idea to peek at the back of your home theater system to write all those down before you get started.
After setting up all the devices in your home theater, you can then start to assign activities. For instance, Netflix is a staple in my home, thus my most used activity button will fire up my television, switch the HDMI input to my Roku 3, turn on my speaker system and then I can have Netflix running in seconds. The setup process also allows you to specify which device should correlate to the volume buttons, thus you can assign those to your receiver or soundbar while still flipping channels on your cable box.
If you subscribe to a premium cable or satellite provider, you will be able to enter in your zip code and choose your local service. This allows you to set up a list of favorite channels with corresponding logos that appear on the remote's touchscreen. This is a faster way of hitting your favorite channels in succession rather than relying on your memory to punch in channel numbers or accessing the guide on your cable box.
When you have setup a handful of typical activities, you simply sync the remote with the settings in the software. Activities appear on the touchscreen and can be quickly accessed the moment that you pick up the remote control. If you replace any of your home theater equipment, it's also easy to jump back into the setup process and set up new devices within the myharmony.com software.
After testing the remote for a couple months and going through a variety of hardware changes, I can safely say that this is one of the best universal remotes that I've ever used. I haven't had any issues operating any of my home theater gear. I love the fact that I don't have to actually point the remote control at the home theater system to turn everything on. I used to hate the older universal remotes that would send commands in succession and ultimately miss one when I moved the remote away too soon.
One particularly awesome feature is immediate support for the Xbox One console, making it unnecessary to wait for Microsoft to release its upcoming Media remote. It controls all the media applications fairly easily, thus I can bounce around from Netflix to Hulu Plus without a problem.
If I had one complaint about the Ultimate, it's that I frequently spend small portions of time adjusting the remote to be aware of the current state of my devices. For instance, if I use the Kinect voice command to turn my Xbox One on or off, I have to make sure the remote is aware of what's going on if I happen to switch to it. Also, if you happen to use a smart power strip that supplies power to your devices based off the power state of your television, be aware that sequencing is very important when setting up activities.
Logitech offers a free mobile app for iOS and Android devices that will duplicate the touchscreen menu on the Harmony Ultimate. After downloading and firing it up, it basically looks for the Harmony Hub on your home's wireless network. Upon locating and registering, an identical touchscreen interface appears and you can stick with your smartphone to control your home theater. There's not a significant advantage to using your smartphone over the Harmony, but it can come in handy when you're just too lazy to get off the couch and find the remote. It's also useful when pranking someone else in the room by changing the channel unexpectedly.
The Bottom Line:
Be aware that the major red flag here is the steep price tag, a $349 MSRP with occasional sales in the $299 to $320 range. If you are somewhat price conscious, you may want to consider the Harmony Hub as a standalone product for $99 and pair it up with your smartphone. There's also the Harmony Smart Control, a $129 product that offers tactile buttons over a touchscreen as well as the Hub. You can also pick up the Harmony Touch without the hub for about $199 or less. That being said, the Logitech Harmony Ultimate is definitely a fantastic remote and is a worthy successor to the large screen Harmony 1100.