Picking the Ultimate Home Entertainment Box: Logitech's Harmony 900 universal remote puts you a little less in control

Picking the Ultimate Home Entertainment Box: Logitech's Harmony 900 universal remote puts you a little less in control

Logitech's radio-enabled Harmony 900 universal remote is fantastic for hideaway home theatres, but Logitech insists on stripping out advanced features

If you've got home entertainment gear hidden inside cabinets, behind false walls or in the next room, the Harmony 900 universal remote could be a godsend. It comes with a radio-controlled infrared repeater that relays commands from the remote control.

The repeater, called a "blaster", can be up to 30 metres away, pointed at your hidden AV gear such as a home theatre amplifier. In other words, thanks to the blaster, the Harmony 900 can basically shoot through walls and around corners.

The Logitech Harmony 900: missing the incredibly handy
The Logitech Harmony 900: missing the incredibly handy "Add Sequence" function

Harmony 900 design
As for the remote itself, the Harmony 900 offers the new-look sleek design of the Harmony One with a colour LCD touchscreen and backlit buttons. It even comes with a custom fit recharge cradle. Design-wise the 900 is exquisite - moulded to fit your hand and perfectly balanced with the most commonly used buttons resting right under your thumb.

Four colour function buttons make welcome return
Logitech has even back-tracked on its decision to remove the four coloured function buttons (Red, Green, Yellow and Blue) from the Harmony One. They make a welcome return on the 900, especially handy for people who rely on them to access special functions on devices such as pay TV set top boxes and media centre PCs.

So what is there to complain about?
Not much unless you're a power user - which you're likely to be if you're considering dropping AU$900 on this remote. Unfortunately Logitech has stripped out an advanced configuration setting that might be sorely missed by people upgrading from models like the old Harmony 785.

Customising Activities
The strength of the Harmony remotes is that they use customisable "Activities" to let you easily run your entire home entertainment system. All you do is press one button such as "Watch Live TV" or "Watch a DVD" and the remote does the rest.

The beauty of this is that it allows anyone to drive your lounge room, even the poor old Grandpa featured in the Logitech Harmony ads who just wants to watch TV.

Once it's finished switching on and configuring all your gear, the Harmony 900 becomes a remote control for whichever device you're using - such as your Blu-ray player, PVR or media centre.

Logitech maintains an online library with the set up for thousands of home entertainment devices but, if you should strike out, the Harmony 900 can learn commands from your existing remotes. Never fear if you've got a complicated home entertainment set-up, as the Harmony software lets you achieve an amazing level of customisation - or at least it did.

Once you've created a custom Activity, you can add a sequence of command to the start - which is handy if you want to drop down a projector screen, or perhaps tweak the settings on your television when switching between devices such as a TiVo and Blu-ray player. You can also customise what the remote's buttons do in that Activity, such as setting the Green button for "thumbs up" and the Red button for "thumbs down" on a TiVo.

Advanced configuration with the Harmony 900
Unfortunately the "Add Sequence" option is gone from the Activity editing menus for the Harmony 900. This means you can't allocate a sequence of commands to one physical button on the remote.

Such an option is incredibly handy if you own a complicated PVR and want to use a single button press to navigate through the menus to access an advanced feature. It's the kind of option that makes the Harmony a great choice if you're trying to make a complicated lounge room simple for others to use.

It sounds like nit-picking, but people with a complicated home theatre that requires the Harmony 900 are the people most likely to need to use an advanced feature like "Add Sequence". The software still offers the "Add Sequence" option if you're configuring an older remote like the Harmony 785.

It seems the "Add Sequence" option was initially missing from the Harmony One but added later via a software update. Perhaps the 900 will get the same treatment, perhaps not. Meanwhile, buyer beware.

Also in this series, Picking the Perfect Home Entertainment Box:
Part 12: TiVo's upgraded Video on Demand is a kick in the guts for Foxtel iQ2
Part 11:
Not all universal remotes are created equal
Part 10: Hulu blocks international access via Witopia
Part 9: What does Windows 7 offer in the lounge room?
Part 8: forget scratched DVDs, build a video jukebox instead
Part 7: Is Foxtel Download worth getting excited about?
Part 6: Is interference destroying your digital lounge room?
Part 5: Do you need a Freeview sticker?
Part 4: What's the best way to record your favourite shows?
Part 3: Networking your TV, PVR, console, set top box
Part 2: Creating a P2P season pass
Part 1: Internet video on the PS3

Buying a TV? Also see our series How to Pick a Great Flat Screen TV, And Not Get Sucked In By Marketing Hype



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