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One remote to rule them all? Not so fast!

When the Zenith Radio Corporation invented the television remote control in the 1950s, did they have any idea how central that device would become to our lives? And how confusing, once we needed half a dozen of the things to make sense of our entertainment lives? SEAN BACHER has been wrestling with the issue for a while, and tries to find the answer in the Logitech Harmony 300i …

When the Zenith Radio Corporation invented the television remote control in the 1950s, I seriously doubt they had any idea how popular the device would be 60 years later.

Just take a look at your average entertainment room. You have a television, DVD player, surround sound system and PVR ‚ just to name a few. Each one of these has its own individual remote, each sporting different button configurations and settings. Sitting on your couch constantly looking for the correct remote for the correct device is one thing: re-orientating yourself with the button layout before you can begin using it is an even worse problem.

But Logitech believes it has the answer, and it comes in the form of the Harmony 300i, the universal remote control for a new generation of devices. We put it through the Gadget 5 Question User test to see if it is truly up to the task.

1. Is it ready to use?

After unpacking it and slipping in the batteries, the Logitech makes a good paper weight. You will need at least 30 minutes before you can even turn your television on.

Logitech is very presumptuous here: in order to set up the remote, you firstly have to have a computer and secondly an Internet connection. You cannot manually input the model numbers of the device you want to control on the remote ‚ a task that can be done on many other universal remotes.

Once you have connected it to your PC and have fired up your Internet browser, you need to point your browser to Logitech’s website and begin the registration process. Then you still have to download the software for the remote ‚ about 10 MB in size ‚ install it and only then start programming the remote.

2. Is it easy to use?

Logitech’s device database is rather large, so the chances of it not have your device are rather slim. I even managed to find the model number for my Pace HD PVR. However, the problem arises when it doesn’t recognise the device that you want it to control. This is when the remote switches to manual programming mode and you have to program each of the device’s controls manually. It sounds easy enough, and Logitech’s instructions make it look like child’s play. But it is not.

You have to line up the Harmony and the control it needs to learn from perfectly. When I attempted to program a few functions manually, it took me ages to get the remotes set up at the appropriate distance. After taking about 5 minutes merely to program the on/off switch, I decided to give the rest a skip and continue using the original remote.

Having one remote to control all your devices does sound like a good idea ‚ less clutter and less money spent on batteries. But realistically, using one remote to control multiple devices does become a challenge. You continually have to make sure the remote is set to control your television if, for instance, you want to adjust the volume. If you don’t check the settings continually, you end up making adjustments to another device the Harmony is set up to control. In addition, I found the button layout on the Harmony rather complex: my eyes were continually looking down to ensure I was pushing the correct button, unlike my other remotes where I can adjust the sound or change channels merely by feeling around the remote.

3. Does it operate as advertised?

Logitech claims that the Harmony 300i is able to control over 5 000 device. Although I haven’t tested it on 5 000 devices, I found no reason not to believe them. But the company goes on to say that it is really easy to use and that setup is a breeze. If the Harmony recognises the vendor and the model number, then your setup will be painless, but if you have a device that is not on the Logitech database, the breeze turns into a storm of irritation.

But when it comes to substituting for the real remote, once it’s all set up, the Logitech Harmony 300i finally comes through. Each button on the Harmony does exactly what the matching button on the original remote does. Once you get used to the idea of having to remember to select the device before you begin to control it, you will be channel surfing like a king of the couch.

4. Is it innovative?

A universal remote control is nothing new. They have been around for years and have made for great replacements should you lose or break a remote. One great feature the Logitech sports is its ability to turn it all on. This means that, once you have programmed all the devices you need, such as your TV, surround sound system and PVR, you can turn everything on simultaneously by pushing one button on the control.

I enjoy the fact that, during Logitech’s setup process, once I create a profile, it is automatically saved to Logitech’s web site and is available for me to alter or download to a new remote should the need arise.

5. Is it value for money?

The Logitech Harmony 300i retails for around R500. Other off-the-shelf universal remotes retail for a little less than that. However, if you take into account the additional services and functionality you get with the Harmony, such as the online profile and easy setup, it is arguably a value for money product.

In conclusion

Although the remote works well, and does exactly what it says it can do, the fact that Logitech forces you to have a computer with an Internet connection is a deterrent. Not every South African has a computer in their home and, if they do, not everyone has an Internet connection. So if you are one of the unlucky people without access to the Internet, the Harmony is a definite no-go. Rather go to your local retailer and pick up an Ellie universal remote for a little less money but which does just the job just as well as the Harmony. If you have an Internet connection and are willing to go through the set-up process, you won’t go wrong with the Logitech.

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