The need for a universal remote became apparent to me recently because when I’m juggling so many devices it’s a real pain to change all the inputs and switch everything on with five different remotes, but research taught me that they can be really expensive if you want one with the ability to do more than switch between the TV and VCR.
Well I just bought the Logitech Harmony 525, the cheapest of the Harmony series which can be had a little under £50. It lacks the colour screen (a real necessity on a remote control), favourite channel memory, rechargeable battery/dock, motion sensor, and extra buttons of the more expensive models but otherwise is functionally identical. Plus it has one of those snazzy blue backlights of which I’m such a fan.
The aesthetics and build quality are acceptable for the price, if a bit creaky sometimes, but what I really like about these remotes are how they’re set up and keep the functionality updated. The remote connects to a computer (Windows or OS X) via USB and setup is done through the Logitech site. It asks you to select the make and model of all the devices that you want it to control – if it has an IR port, chances are it’ll be compatible – and then makes programming macros (called “activities” here) almost automatic.
Without me doing anything it had set up hotkeys to watch TV, watch a DVD, listen to a CD, play the 360, play the PS2, and watch a Laserdisc, and any of these could be tweaked further. The programs are just downloaded straight to the remote and it’s ready to go. Almost. Mine had some problems changing to the correct inputs because the TV requires you to either go through a menu system or press a button to cycle through inputs, but will skip certain ones if nothing active is connected to them, meaning that the number of button presses to a certain input is rarely the same. A little digging around showed that the TV actually does have IR commands that skip straight to a certain input that aren’t present on the standard remote, so with a bit of testing I programmed those in and it works perfectly now. It was also set by default to send a stop command to the DVD player before switching it off which would stop it saving my place in the movie, so that needed solving too.
Something that gets the thumbs up from me is that it’s infinitely better laid out than the horribly convoluted remote that came with my DVD player, which still has me pressing the wrong buttons two months after I got it. It does a great job of acting exactly how you’d expect it to, switching inputs and button functions and turning devices on and off when they’re needed. It’s very intuitive, and can all be customised if you want to change the default functions. I’ve also heard great things about the free support line, but I (thankfully?) haven’t had the need to use them.
If you’re a perfectionist it can take a while to get them set up exactly how you want, but the setup process is one of the best I’ve seen for a remote, and it’s superb once it’s working right. Definitely recommended.