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Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home review: Control everything in your house (eventually)

Ray Aguilera | Dec. 11, 2014
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.

You better work

My normal media setup is pretty simple, involving just a Sharp TV, Yamaha receiver, Apple TV, PlayStation 3, and a turntable from Pro-Ject. So for a task like "Watch Apple TV," all I really need to do is turn the TV on, turn Apple TV on, turn the receiver on, and set the correct inputs. It's not a terribly complicated sequence, and obviously a very common setup. The iOS app walked me through programming the Activity, and when it came time to test it — no dice. The receiver turned off, Apple TV turned on, and the television stubbornly decided to switch to an unused HDMI input.

An hour and a half and much button mashing later, I got the kinks worked out. If something doesn't work right, the app guides you through a series of Yes/No questions to try and suss out the problem, but it doesn't go deep enough. It covers turning things on or off, and setting inputs, but to solve my problem, I had to download a MyHarmony application to my Mac, and tweak a few command sequences by hand, and then sync the changes to my Hub. So much for the convenience of an iOS-based setup.

I also set up separate activities for playing DVDs, streaming music via AirPlay, and listening to records. That last one requires manual input, for obvious reasons, and I had to dive into the desktop application once again to add things like changing my receiver's audio processing.

Of course, universal remotes are complicated beasts, and the fact that this one can also control things like Hue light bulbs, Nest thermostats, Sonos music systems, and any of 225,000 other devices is pretty compelling. I wanted to use it with an August Smart Lock, which is prominently featured on Logitech's website, but was informed that unfortunately they haven't quite worked out compatibility yet. Your best bet is to check Logitech's extensive list online, and verify that Harmony Ultimate Home works with your specific setup before plunking down $350.

Bottom line

Harmony's biggest flaw continues to be the setup process. Logitech attempts to simplify it with an iOS app, but the setup options are too limited to allow you to make all the tweaks necessary to perfect all of your activities. For that, you'll still need to dip into the clunky desktop application. When you get all your devices working together, the Harmony lives up to its name. Unfortunately, as in most things, achieving that kind of bliss still requires plenty of work on the front end.

 

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