CG Holiday 2007 Recommendation: Logitech Harmony 520 Universal Remote

logitechharmony.JPGIf you’re a home theater nerd, as I am, then you probably have more remote controls than limbs. With an HDTV, DVD player, surround sound system, cable box, and other components, it’s easy to let remote build-up happen.

Sure, there are universal remotes, but for the most part they just consolidate everything into one unit, you still have to tell it every single command. That’s why I’m a fan of Logitech’s Harmony 520 remote. The remote goes beyond most universal remotes by actually being programmable, and not just in the device sense as most are. The Harmony line lets you assign devices to certain activities, such as “Watch TV”. Using a really intuitive Web-based interface, you tell the system what components your home theater has, how they interact with each other, and which ones are used with each activity. The server then makes a custom “layout” for your remote, based on what you input, and is programmed into the remote via an included USB cable. No, really.

Thus, if you click on “Watch TV”, it automagically turns on the TV if it’s off, turns your surround receiver to the correct input, and turns on your cable or satellite box. “Watch DVD” changes your TVs input to the appropriate one, turns on the DVD player, and switches the surround sound system, and so on. It even has control for obscure devices, like the XtremeMac 4 port HDMI switcher I use to keep everything in the right order. It’s awesome, more on that device later.

The controls on the remote are set up for the various units you’re using. The volume keys are smart enough to know you’re turning up the surround sound system, the menu button in “Watch TV” mode brings up the cable box’s menu, in “Watch DVD” mode, the DVD player’s.

You can realistically have as many modes as you want, I have “Watch TV”, “Watch DVD”, and “Watch Apple TV” on mine, which switch all the components around as needed.

It’s all navigated with a clever, smart, and organized LCD screen, and the batteries last forever. One cool trick is a motion/proximity sensor, so when you reach for it, the backlight comes on, which is great if your TV room is dark, as mine is.

In a nutshell, anyone who’s serious about their setup deserves a Harmony remote for Xmas, and the 520 has about the best cost to performance ration of anything out there. You should be able to find them for about $60 online, or about $80 retail, which may sound like a lot, but once you’ve got yours, you’ll wonder how you watched TV without it.