After running through the initial setup wizard, you can go back into each device and change the settings to your heart’s content. You can reassign the hard or soft buttons to perform different commands, programme new commands, adjust the button delay and backlight, rename buttons and troubleshoot problems. You can also customise the look of the touchscreen with a choice of backgrounds, and even load up your own images as long as they’re no bigger than 160kb and 320 x 240 pixels. Images can be played in a slideshow too.
One of the Harmony’s most useful features is its ability to carry out Activities, which sends out a series of commands in one go (otherwise known as a macro). First-timers will love the way they’re described in plain English (‘Watch TV’ or ‘Watch a DVD’, for example) and once again the excellent onscreen menus make them easy to set up.
During the setup procedure, the clear, colourful prompts use phrases like ‘I use my Onkyo receiver to change the volume’, and all the way along it gives you the chance to review the settings and make changes.
After everything’s been setup and synced with the remote, you can get down to the business of controlling your home cinema system. The Harmony is generally easy to use – its touchscreen is responsive, the menus are crisp and easy to read and the hard buttons are satisfying to press. The main menu, which appears when you first turn it on, shows all of your created ‘activities’ in the form of large icons. If you want to jump back to this screen at any time, simply press the Activities button just below the screen.
It’s certainly slick but not without operational flaws. When controlling an individual device, the screen displays a 3 x 3 grid of buttons, with up and down keys on the left that let you scroll through different pages (which in some cases runs to five).
This isn’t particularly intuitive when it comes to using Sky+ HD, especially if you’ve grown used to Sky’s own remote. There doesn’t seem to be any logic behind the placement of the buttons, with related keys often on different screens – I found myself constantly flicking up and down the pages. For devices whose remotes have loads of buttons (like my Onkyo receiver), it takes a lot longer to find the button you want compared with the original remote.
Understandably there isn’t enough room to fit all the buttons on one page, but each page could have been thought out more carefully. Although you can reassign buttons, you can’t rearrange their position.