Radio Frequency (RF) technology is one of the best things a remote control can have. Since it doesn't need a line of sight to your equipment (like infrared does), an RF remote will let you control your system from anywhere in your home. RF is to infrared as DVD is to VHS — a clearly superior upgrade. Yet RF has been around a long time, and the tech hasn't trickled its way down through consumer electronics like you'd expect it would, pretty much staying confined to high-end gear and custom systems. For most brands, remotes are accessories, commodities, add-ons — not worthy of the latest and best.
Most brands other than Harmony, that is. The Harmony 900 remote control, which Logitech unveils today, is the only off-the-shelf remote control I've ever seen to include an infrared (IR) blaster system, which lets you use the through-walls magic of RF tech with your existing gear. Even better: The remote is as simple to set up as any other Harmony remote, since it uses the same Web-based setup system. All this, and a sleek touchscreen to boot.
I've been using the Harmony 900 for the past week and can honestly say it's the best remote control I've ever used, and that includes a couple of touchpanels. Read my hands-on impressions after the jump, and find out if it's really worth it's sticker-shocking $400 pricetag.
Four hundred bucks is a hell of a lot to ask for a remote control, but the same was once said about a certain phone. And you get a lot in the package: a sleek remote, plus not one, not two, not seventeen, but three IR blasters to control your equipment. These are those little oblong thingies (check 'em out in the gallery) that you put on the shelves with your gear. When they receive an RF command from the remote, they'll "blast" it out over IR, since that's the only language TVs, Blu-ray players, etc. typically speak.
Setting up the IR blasters was the only really annoying part, but only because my equipment rack is a little inconvenient to add anything to. It's super-simple on paper, though — just plug them in and plunk them onto the shelves with your gear. Once they're in place, they're pretty unobtrusive and work extremely well.
Setup and Torture Testing
I've used Harmony remotes in the past, but that was years ago. It was interesting to revisit the Web-based setup, which has been vastly streamlined and works better than I remember. The last time I used it, I needed to tweak for an hour or two to get all the buttons doing the proper things. This time it set up the 900 perfectly on the first try. Button assignments are logical, even on the touchscreen, though it's no iPhone — you sometimes have to tap it a couple of times for it to acknowledge a hit. But once it does, it's quick to respond; any delays are extremely minimal.
My torture test for any universal remote is my old Philips AV receiver. It has many annoying control quirks, chief among them the requirement that you can't just press On to turn it on, you need the press and hold On for a second or two. The Harmony 900 handled my fussy old receiver like supernanny putting a toddler to bed. Top marks.
Why is the Harmony 900 the best remote control I've ever used? The lack of intimidation. The 900 looks like what you'd expect a remote control to look like, which does wonders when someone else, like my wife, needs to use it. After picking it up and turning on our system for the first time, a big smile appeared on her face — no other remote had set up everything so well before. Would she have said the same thing about a big touchpanel, with stock quotes and sports scores streaming across the screen? Doubtful.
And that demonstrates exactly who this remote is for. Sure, there's more sophisticated stuff out there, and if you're doing a whole-house system, this isn't the remote for you. But for anyone with a moderately complex home theater who's ever wished they could turn up the volume while in the kitchen, the Harmony 900 gives you everything you need in one package. And did I mention it works?