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Logitech's Harmony series of universal remotes seeks to remove the mountain of bundled controllers that can be found in the living room of many a gadget fan. The database of devices compatible with the Harmony 650 is growing all the time, and with more than 5000 manufacturers already on the list, you have to try pretty hard to find gaps in its line-up.
The Harmony 650 costs around £70, so may be more expensive than some of the devices you'll end up controlling, and sits in the middle of the range. There's a colour LCD screen, once only found in top-end universal remotes, but it can only connect to five devices at once - the more expensive Logitech Harmony One handles 15.
It's powered by two AA batteries - one of the main differentiators between the 650 and the 700, one step up the series, is the use of a rechargeable battery in the more expensive model. This won't be a drawback for all though, especially now that you can buy long-lasting rechargeable batteries like Sanyo's Eneloops.
This remote's primary function is to save time, but there's plenty of work to be done before you get to that point. Setting up one of these remotes is like running a marathon. There'll be pain, you'll hit the wall and think you can't go on, but there's an enormous feeling of satisfaction once it's over - and you can collapse guilt-free into a gasping heap.
The Logitech Harmony series needs to be setup using a computer. Switch the 650 on and it'll prompt you to connect it using microUSB - unlike some rivals you can't do everything directly from the remote itself. The software's wizard-based, and functions more-or-less the same no matter which of the Harmony remotes you use.
First off, you input the names of all your kit, to check that they're present and correct within Logitech's database. We plugged in around a dozen bits of a kit into the remote - although only five at a time, in-line with the 650's five-device limit - and came up with a single gap, the rather niche Niro 6.1 TWO home cinema system from 2004.
Any remote controller not included from the off can be "learned" by pointing the original remote at the Harmony 650's IR sensor and mapping its functions key-by-key. This process is laborious, but only has to be done the once, as long as you don't muck it up the first time.
Once all the devices have been inputted, you can let the software add activity macros automatically, or pick your own selection. These macros plug together a series of commands, to give you a one-button way to turn on your TV, home cinema and Blu-ray player, for example, and get them all prepped with the right settings. The software tries to make the process as accessible as possible, formulating each macro through a series of simple questions, such as "will you use your TV or PVR to control volume when watching television?"
It's during the macro-making process that the real headaches can start though. Each command is separated by a gap of so many milliseconds, to allow for devices to finish tasks properly - you can't usually tell a TV to switch to an HDMI input half a second before telling it to come out of standby, for example.
Optimising these macros takes time and patience, and will likely require you to change the way you use your equipment. If you don't always use the Harmony 650 to switch devices on and off for instance, you'll come unstuck if a gadget uses a power on/off toggle rather than two separate commands. There's a built-in troubleshooter that you can use to fix problems after an activity has been executed, but getting settings perfect still requires significant tweaking.
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