Überremote - the Third Generation

Way back in mmm 1995 or 1996 I gave up on running my home theater with the coffee table of remotes, and don't even start me on trying to convince Karin it was functional. So I went out and spent some ridiculous amount of money (I can't recall if it was $200 or $300 - I have a suspicion it was the latter.) on a Marantz RC-2000 universal remote. This sucker was a monster and it had macros that you program very painstakingly on the remote itself.

Later when i bought my first Dolby Digital receiver (that was in 1997) it came with a Marantz RC-2000, so I had two for a while. The next receiver (my current receiver) came with a touchscreen universal remote that you could connect to a PC via USB and program from a Windows app. That lasted us until November 2006. But the new house has hardwood floors and every so often the remote gets dropped and . . . well the LCD layer started being wonky. it built up to the bottom half of the screen being blank (luckily the touchscreen still worked but you had to know which button was where.)

So I purchased a Logitech Harmony 880 remote from Amazon. It took some fiddling, but I quite like it. It has a color screen with 8 buttons that change function as needed, as well as hard buttons for transport controls, arrow keys, 10-key keypad, channel and volume. It does have a learning function if you need it, but the key bit is supposed to be that this connects to a PC (or a Mac) and downloads remote codes from the internet.

The big new function for the 880 is that it has internal models of the system state. On the last remote I had a double set of macros - one set that turned on the TV, the receiver and the desired source component, and a second set of macros that assumed the TV and receiver were already on and only turned on the source component and set the input. In contrast the 880 has "Activities" where you push the "Watch HD TiVo" button and it thinks to itself and says "Well I think the TV, the receiver, and the DVD player are on. So turn off the DVD player, switch inputs on the receiver and TV and hit the "List" button on the HD TiVo". This works pretty damn well and it actually quite shortens the macro duration (since it only issues needed commands). The Logitech code database seems quite robust - it knows buttons that my original remotes don't have (such as the direct input codes for my TV set - I used a silly hack to cycle inputs in the past.) Even more importantly, it seems to know all the delay figures for the hardware - which is a painful trial-and-error process. See if you turn on a component it may be a half second or so before it's ready to accept commands. And shifing the TV input may take a noticeable lag before it will accept another command. With the Marantz and the Denon remote you could insert delays but it was a terrible trial-and-error process to figure out what was needed.

There's only one thing I don't like about the 880 and that is the remote programming application is some crazy Flash/web based program and the data is actually stored on Logitech's web site. This means if Logitech ever went out of business or decided to stop supporting the remote I'm just shit-out-of-luck on the programming front. The Denon remote stored it's information in a local file so I can always restore it if I need to. There is one potential upside to this storage which is that I've read stories where the tech support people tweak a remote command on somebody's account and gets them to redownload to fix a problem. That's a neat trick, but I'd feel a lot better if I had some way of locally storing a backup of the programming.

The 880 also has a built-in rechargeable battery and comes with a charging cradle so it's much less battery-consumptive than the Denon remote which ate 4 AA's every couple of months. All in all I give it a thumbs-up.

Well, actually I'm not wild about the silly blue ring of light on the charger, but I can live it I suppose. That's a minor nit.

If you've got more than one or two remotes on your coffee table, I'd highly suggest getting an überremote to replace them. And the Harmony seems to be a nice sweet spot in terms of price/performance and with the necessary user-friendliness to simplify a complex home theater down to "push this button to watch a DVD" level.

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