Last year the welcome screen on the TiVo was about this fancy-pants remote called the Harmony remote, made by Logitech. They had a little video about it, and then said “go to our website and enter to win a Harmony remote!”. So I went to the TiVo site and entered to win, and then promptly forgot all about it. A few months later the remote arrives in the mail. Congratulations to me! (It retailed at the time for $199, though this particular model can now be had for $99 from Amazon.com ). I didn’t have all of my stuff set up so I didn’t unbox it at that time, and it kind of got forgotten.
When I bought my house and moved all my stuff and actually set up my entertainment system, I went to get the remote but couldn’t remember which box it was in. Actually, I did remember, I just didn’t realize that the box was as deep as it was–because my boyfriend found the thing at the bottom of a box I’d already looked in several times. It was under some stuff which I had thought was the stuff at the bottom of the box. DOH.
The point of this, though, is that a few weeks ago I finally got this fancy remote all set up and I’m so hooked on it! The gist of it is like this:
You go into a web-based program on your computer and enter in all the stuff you have, by model number. Then you set up “activities” that you do, such as “watch a DVD” or “Listen to CD Jukebox*”. The program walks you through something like this: “to watch a dvd do you use your…” and then it lists your tvs (long list of one for me) and you select. Then it asks what you use to control the volume (tv or receiver in my case) and so on. Then you plug in the remote via a USB cable and it programs your remote. You can also fine-tune things by reassigning any task to any button. I mean ANY button. You can even do something like make the 3 button really an 8 and the 6 be rewind and the rewind button be pause… you have total control. And if you need more functions, you can add them to the remote’s on-screen menu, which you can have pages and pages of if you need to. Any functions that aren’t listed can be learned from the device’s remote by pointing the remotes at each other and hitting the applicable button. Oh, and when you’re setting it up, it will have some options in bold and say “(recommended)” because since it is web-based, it learns from other people’s setups and can guess pretty accurately how yours should be configured. Most of the configuration process for me just involved hitting “next” a bunch of times and not actually making any changes.
The end result is this:
I want to watch TV, so I press the activity button at the top of the remote that has the picture of the TV on it. The remote sends out a signal that turns on my tv, turns on my receiver, and sets the receiver input to “video 2”. I just pushed one button. At this point, my remote’s buttons control various things. Buttons related to things like brightness or whatever are sent to the TV. Volume related buttons send signals to the receiver. Fast-forward, pause, up/down/left/right/enter etc all go to the DirecTiVo box, and there are all the TiVo-specific commands as well.
The “Off” button turns off every component all at once, unless you’ve programmed it to leave certain things on all the time, which you can do if you like.
Now I want to watch a DVD. I press the activity button with the little movie icon on it. The remote turns on the DVD player, TV, and the receiver, and sets the receiver to “DVD” input. Volume-related buttons control the receiver. play/stop/ffd/pause and navigation, etc go to the DVD player.
Oh, but it’s a DVD recorder, and I want to record a show from my TiVo! Well I set up an additional custom activity for that, “Record a DVD” because I use different commands. When I choose this activity (there is no button for it, I have to go to alllll the effort of clicking the “other activity” button and choosing it from a list on-screen) the remote turns on the same stuff as for the “watch a DVD” activity, but sets the DVD input to Input2 as well, and the buttons function differently. Record/Stop and some other buttons send commands to the DVD recorder, but Fast forward, rewind, etc go to the TiVo instead. There are also buttons for things like “set chapter mark” and “recording options” and other things that I wouldn’t use if I was just watching a DVD.
The most complicated activity we have is “play a game”, which causes the remote to turn on the TV, turn on the receiver and set the input to “VCR”, turn on the VCR and set its input to “2” and turn on the Playstation2. Our PS2 goes through the VCR, you see.
The remote could also control various computer things, if I had them, or even those systems you can install in your house to control your lights and so on. It is endlessly configurable and ridiculously simple to use once it’s programmed. And it’s so easy to program with the software… I’m totally hooked. All of my other remotes are now in a drawer. I showed it to my 10-year-old son, and it took him all of 30 seconds to completely understand and be an expert with using the new remote for pretty much everything. It’s that intuitive.
Anyway, mine is the Harmony 676, but there are a bunch of them, with several even fancier than mine (with much fancier price tags, natch). I’d never own the thing if I hadn’t won it, but I highly recommend it for anyone who has a lot of components or has to swap between several remotes to use their entertainment system.
*which Jonathan Chance gave me when he moved to Ohio–thanks JC!!–but which I’d never been able to use until now because I had misplaced the (totally necessary) remote!!