I'm not sure why coffee tables are called coffee tables. The one in my living room spends more time buried under a pile of remote controls than it does holding up cups of coffee. Of course, the holy grail for anyone with even the most modest media setup is a universal remote that "just works," to steal a phrase from Apple. Logitech's Harmony Ultimate Home is the latest in a progression of remote controls that attempts — and mostly succeeds — in simplifying not only your entertainment center, but your lights, door locks, thermostats, and other smart devices.
The Harmony Ultimate Home bundle includes the namesake remote, the Home Hub, a pair of IR blasters (for use with gear tucked behind doors), a charging cradle for the remote, and all the required cables. The remote itself is thoughtfully designed, prominently featuring a bright 2.4-inch touchscreen. The physical buttons are laid out well, offering immediate access to most of the functions you need.
Logitech has gotten rid of the tethered setup in favor of app-based setup from an iOS (or Android) app. So yeah, in addition to your $350 remote, you'll also need an iPhone. Still, there are some advantages. For one, your Harmony app-equipped phone can double as a second remote, which is perfect for those moments when your actual remote goes missing. The banner feature here is integration with a wide variety of other devices from companies like Nest, Peq, Lutron, SmartThings, and more.
Once everything's programmed correctly, you'll mostly use the touchscreen to swap Activities, but depending on the devices you use, there are several unused buttons that could also be mapped to specific functions or sets of commands. The touchscreen can also be used with gestures, to do things like play/pause and adjust volume. You can also create your own gestures, but the button layout on the remote is pretty complete, making custom gestures seem more like a flashy demo feature than a necessity. If you need it, the capability is there, however.
The Harmony remote communicates with all your devices via the Wi-Fi-connected Harmony Home Hub (say that three times fast). The hub receives commands from your remote and relays them to your various devices. It works with both IR and Bluetooth devices, such as game consoles. Connect the hub to AC power, place it in your entertainment center, and put it on your Wi-Fi nework and you're ready to go.
Setting up your various devices to work with the remote is also simple. The app first scans your Wi-Fi network for compatible devices, and then you enter the makes and models of other equipment that you own, so that the Harmony can program the appropriate commands. Things only get difficult when you start creating Activities, which are groups of commands sent to particular devices.
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