Thursday, November 17, 2011

Logitech Harmony 300 Universal Remote Control

Rating: 1 out of 5
Pros: Sleek looking remote, controls up to 4 devices
Cons: Software doesn't support Linux, requires internet access, remote didn't work correctly

I'm a big fan of Logitech products, and I've had great results in the past from them. I have a Logitech K120 Keyboard, a Logitech M515 Wireless Mouse and a Logitech Dual Action Game Pad that I really love, as well as a regular wired Logitech M100 Mouse that I used before I picked up the wireless one. These were all outstanding products, so I had high hopes for the Logitech Harmony 300 Universal Remote Control as well.

It came in a retail blister pack, and featured an easy open back. I really like this type of packaging, as you can grab the corner and peel the reverse side of the package all the way down to the bottom and get to the stuff inside without breaking out some industrial strength scissors or a knife and risk damaging the contents. There was a quick-start guide, 2 Duracell AA batteries and a 2 foot USB cable included. The quick-start guide had basic instructions in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. The remote can control up to 4 devices including televisions, cable or satellite boxes, DVD players or VCRs.

First step, install the included batteries in the remote. Second, write down the manufacturer and model number from the back of your devices that you wish to use with the remote. Third, hook the remote up to a computer using the supplied USB cable. Go to and follow the on-screen instructions to create a Harmony account and install the My Harmony software to get the remote working with your devices. Sounds easy enough, and I figured it would be nice that there is no book full of a million different random codes to punch in to get my devices working. That, and then there's the fact that I usually lose my code book within a couple months of ownership and when I get a new television or finally pick up that Blu-ray player I've been putting off, I wouldn't be able to use my remote anymore.

The remote is about 9 inches long and 2.5 inches wide. It's about an inch tall at the bottom where the batteries go, and about a half inch tall in the front. It's fairly light-weight, weighing about 6 ounces. The 2 foot USB cable has a standard Type A plug that goes into your computer on one end, and Mini-B port on the other end which plugs into your Harmony remote. Strangely, it plugs directly into the front of the remote - right dead center in the front tip. While there's nothing wrong with that, it just seems like an odd place for it to go.

It's a pretty sleek looking remote, glossy black on the top and flat black on the bottom. It's a sexy looking remote, unfortunately the top really shows fingerprints and is a dust and hair magnet. It also looks like it would be comfortable to hold onto, but it's really not. Being so thin in the front, when you hold the remote it always feels like it wants to slide backwards out of your hand. It feels fine if you hold onto it near the bottom, but then you are unable to reach the buttons on the top half. The buttons are not back-lit (with the exception of the 4 device buttons that light up when you chose which device to control) and there is no LCD screen. To be fair though, it's an inexpensive remote and I did not expect a display and I only needed to control 2 devices.

It has a wide variety of buttons, including all the standard numbers, volume and channel controls, menu, exit and guide buttons, as well as standard play/stop/pause/etc. It also has arrow buttons in the center of the remote, some favorite buttons and even a one-touch Watch TV button at the top that can turn two devices on simultaneously. The buttons are all black rubber. They are firm and tight in their holes and are labeled clearly.

Anxious to try it out, it's time to program the remote and see how well it works! I opened up a new tab in Google Chrome and went to to program my remote. I clicked on the button labeled Setup my Harmony remote and... we're not off to a good start. I got a message stating:

This software doesn't support your browser or operating system. 
The following platforms are supported:
Microsoft® Windows XP or Vista with Internet Explorer 7+, or Firefox 3+
Microsoft® Windows 7 with Internet Explorer 8+ or Firefox 3+
Intel Mac OS® 10.4.8+ with Firefox 3+ or Safari 4+

Well that's a bit irritating. I use Google Chrome 99% of the time, and I use Linux Mint instead of Windows 7 part of the time as well. Oh well, if the remote works well I can deal with the setup. After all, I should only have to do it once and then it should work fine after that with no additional hassle. I installed Mozilla Firefox along side of Google Chrome and again went to to setup the remote. This time when I clicked the button, it worked fine. It asked me for my first and last name, what country I was from, my email address to use as a login, and a password. It also asked me for a security question in case I ever forget my password. There were only 5 questions to choose from, but they were pretty standard.

Next it had to download the software to my computer, which was 10.9 MB in size. The window said after the software installation was complete I would be directed to the next page automatically. The download took a few minutes, and the installation only took a minute or so. The window then went to the next page where I watched a spinning blue circle with some type of progress percentage in the middle for another minute. Next I was told to insert the batteries into the remote and connect it to the computer with the supplied USB cable to continue. Finally, it said I should write down the model numbers of my devices and then input them into the page so they could be placed on my remote and synced.

First I added my Philips DVD Player. The model number on the back says DPV5992/37, so I entered Philips for the manufacturer and DPV5992/37 for the model number.

Are you sure?
We didn't find the device you entered.
Please double-check that your device is:
Philips DPV5992/37
Yes, that's it.
No, that's not it.

I tried it again, omitting the /37 in case that was the problem, but I got the same result. I checked "Yes, that's it." to continue. It then gave me a drop-down box asking what type of device I was adding, and I selected "DVD, Blu-ray or VCR". It gave me a couple of check boxes to select the items that applied to my device, these included "It plays Blu-ray, DVDs", "It records on DVD", "It plays video tapes", "It plays radio" and "It plays Laserdiscs". The wording was a little strange, as my device plays DVDs but not Blu-rays, but I chose the first option anyway since I had to choose at least one.

The next screen asked me if I had the original remote that came with my device, because if I did then it may provide additional information to help add my device more completely and accurately. I selected "Yes, I have it". The following screen looked promising, it informed me that I was going to use my original remote to "teach" the Harmony remote about my device. I was to point the original remote at the bottom of my Harmony remote and then align the 2 remotes in a straight line about 3 inches apart. Next, I was supposed to press the Power On/Off button on the original remote.

Please try again. We are having trouble recognizing the command you are trying to teach.

I must teach or skip each command to proceed, the Back and Next buttons were both greyed out and unclickable. Ok, so I guess I skip the power. Next it asked me to press the 1 button on my original remote. I did this about 5 times, and got no response at all from the application any of the times. The Back and Next buttons were still greyed out and unclickable, all I could do was cancel adding my device or skip the 1 button as well. I skipped it and it popped up a box asking me if I wanted to continue trying to add my device. I obviously did, so I clicked yes and continued.

Next it asked me to push the Play button, no response from the program yet again. It was the Menu button after that, and again no response. Wow, this thing is turning out to be quite the piece of trash. Channel Up was the last button it asked for, and after I skipped that one too it returned me to the main "Add Your Devices" screen and said my Harmony 300 now controls 1 device. Before I tried it out to see if it really added it or not, I figured I would add my television as well.

I entered RCA for the manufacturer, and L42FHD37YX8 for the model number written on the back of the television.

Are you sure?
We didn't find the device you entered.
Please double-check that your device is:
Yes, that's it.
No, that's not it.

Sigh. Yes, that's it. I selected "TV or Display" from the drop-down box, and selected "It can change channels" from the check boxes. The other boxes were "It has a built-in DVD player", "It has a built-in VCR", "It has a built-in hard disk" and "None of the above". None of those applied to me, so I clicked Next.

Again, yes I have the original remote. "Please try again. We are having trouble recognizing the command you are trying to teach." This time at least, pointing the original remote at the back of the Harmony and pressing the indicated buttons worked correctly, and I was rewarded with a new screen. "You have added your RCA L42FHD3YX8. Thank you for your patience!"

Next I got a Sync Remote screen, while it updated my Harmony remote with the information in my account. It told me not to disconnect the remote until the sync is completed, which only took a minute.

"Congratulations! Setup is complete and you can disconnect and use your remote." Clicking Finish brought me to the My Harmony home page. From the home page I'm able to add or adjust devices, setup favorite channels, fix or change buttons that don't seem to work correctly, and setup favorite channels for my television.

Well, after all of that trouble, it's still a piece of junk. I can turn the television's power on and off, change the channels and adjust the volume, as well as select the various input channels for the DVD player, the Wii and the other game consoles that are hooked up. Unfortunately, that's about all that I can do. None of the buttons work to change the television's display format between standard, stretched, Cinerama or zoomed. Also, while I can bring up the menu and close it afterward, none of the buttons work to scroll through it or select anything from it. Disappointing. There are 5 customizable buttons that I could setup to perform these tasks, but it would have been nice if the corresponding buttons on the Harmony performed the same functions as they did on the original remote. That, and the fact that it's a pain to use the slow My Harmony software to assign buttons and get them to function correctly.

The DVD player did fare a little better, but was still not great. I could turn it off and on; I could even play, stop, pause, fast forward, etc. through my videos. Unfortunately, my DVD player has a button that lets me switch between playing DVDs from the drive or playing video content from the USB port, and there was no button that would work to switch between the two on the Harmony remote.

It claims to have a constantly updated database, and that "Your remote won't become obsolete when manufacturers release new products or when you buy a new TV or add a Blu-ray player to your setup". It also claims that setup is a snap. "Connect your remote to your computer. Tell us about your devices. We take care of the hard stuff". Unfortunately neither of the 2 devices I own were in the database, and setup was anything but snappy. There's not even a code list to fall back on if their slow software won't make your devices work correctly. On top of that, since the one and only way to program your remote is over the internet, if you don't have internet access then you can't use this thing at all. The fact that the software requires having a Mac or a recent version of Windows installed also means you can't use it if you use Linux or something else as your primary operating system.

I wanted so badly to like the Logitech Harmony 300 Universal Remote Control, I really did. Too bad it ended up being so useless.

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