Logitech Harmony 720, an easy-to-use universal remote

  • September 3rd, 2007

Despite the fact that I had managed to keep my home entertainment system "clean" and free of exposed wiring, I was still juggling three different remotes (depending on what I was doing) – one remote for the Toshiba 42HL67, a second for the digital cable box, and a third for the Mvix MX-760HD. Although both the television & cable box remotes claimed to be "universal", neither offered complete control and functionality for both devices. The home entertainment also includes an XBox Elite, Nintendo Wii, and Apple Mac Mini. Although the XBox & Wii have their own game controllers, a true universal remote would provide [at minimum] basic controls for iTunes or Front Row on the Mac Mini.

Logitech Harmony 720

Being a fan of Logitech (check out the diNovo Edge), and after receiving recommendations from others, I decided a Logitech Harmony was my best bet for controlling most if not all of my electronics.

Hunt for special deals – online and local

After a day of online research, I had settled on the Logitech Harmony 720. CNET awarded the remote with an 8.3. With a suggested retail price of $169, the Harmony 720 is not cheap. Fortunately, Costco offers the remote with a $50 mail-in / instant coupon discount bringing the price down to $119. Once I had ruffled through the included documentation, I inserted the installation CD-ROM (Windows & Mac OS compatible software), and began the remote control programming process.

Gone are the days of seemingly arbitrary device codes

At some point in time, we’ve all had to deal with feature-limited IR remote controls. Chances are high that you have all spent time trying to program remotes using device codes for your electronic components. If none of the device codes worked properly, you were essentially SOL. Remember these?

1. Turn on the device that you wish to control.
2. Point the remote at the device and hold down the Code Search button.
3. Hold down the button [on the remote] which corresponds with the device to be programmed. Release when the LED blinks 3 consecutive times.
4. Enter one device code at a time. Press Power to test whether or not the code works. If the device powers off, you have the correct device code.

Oh the good ‘ol days. Unintuitive, time consuming to program, and unfriendly for the average consumer. Fortunately, universal remote technology has improved just as any other electronic device has improved. The Logitech Harmony 720 is one such remote which offers far more feature-wise than its predecessors, yet manages to deliver in a package which is easier to program and use.

Farewell device codes, hello visual programming guide

Manually entering device codes is a thing of the past. Logitech went to great lengths so that customers could spend less time scratching their head [programming], and more time operating all of their components from a single universal remote. How does Logitech accomplish this? Rather than requiring that device codes be manually inputed and tested on the remote, Logitech uses desktop software (Windows XP / Vista & Mac OS versions included) + a USB cable to program the Harmony remotes. That’s right, it’s 2007, and everything – including the Harmony remote – is programmed and managed from your computer. No computer? I don’t even want to imagine.

Harmony 720 Device setup

Programming devices for the Harmony remote is as simple as answering a few questions including the a) device category, b) device type, c) manufacturer, and d) model. Once the details are in place, Logitech syncs the settings with your Harmony remote via USB. Any necessary updates are downloaded from the net directly. Fortunately, Logitech maintains a considerable database of component programming ensuring that most of the electronics in your collection can be controlled. If, by chance Logitech needs additional programming, your Harmony remote can "listen" to your original IR remote.

Swapping between entertainment "modes"

Harmony 720 Activity setup

While programming for use with my electronic components was not surprising, I was excited to see the introduction of "Activities" – pre-set / programmed entertainment modes which enable or disable certain components based on what you wish to do. Examples:

  • Want to watch digital cable? Select the My TV activity and the Logitech remote will turn on your television, cable box, and sound system.
  • Want to play video games? The Logitech Harmony will turn off your cable box and power on your game console (if supported) and switch your television input.

Activities can be any number of entertainment modes automatically configured by Logitech (recommendations) based on your added devices, or manually configured by yourself. Enable or disable certain audio / video components based on your needs and assign each to its own "Activities" button.

Creating and setting-up activities is just as easy as adding devices to the remote. There may be one or two extraneous steps during the setup process, but the end result is a true universal remote.

All of your components controlled in Harmony? Likes / dislikes

Likes

  • Managing / programming the remote via USB from both Mac OS & Windows.
  • Auxiliary display provides component controls based on the device which is currently selected.
  • Tilt sensor enables the backlit buttons and display whenever the remote is picked-up.
  • LOVE how each of my existing (and future) components are supported.
  • Re-chargeable!

Dis-likes

  • Logitech software is more of a specialized web browser.
  • Button labels are painted on.
  • Central control buttons (chrome) have too resounding of a click.
  • Not all buttons are backlit. Hopefully your television screen provides enough light in a dark room so that you can see all of the buttons.
  • Software on Mac OS is still a little buggy.

Do you own a Logitech Harmony? Something else? Drop a comment sharing your thoughts on whether or not you’re controlling all of your components with a universal.

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