Like a lot of people, I have too many remote controls in my home. There’s one for each piece in our entertainment system—television, stereo receiver, VCR, laserdisc player, DVD player, and cable box. And if we hook up our digital camcorder, that’s another remote. Then there’s the stereo system in my home office, which also has too many remotes—one each for the receiver, tape deck, CD player, and television with built-in VCR. Add to all that a remote for my portable DVD player, which I sometimes hook up to the television in my office.
So when Logitech sent me the Harmony 676 advanced universal remote to try out, I jumped for joy.
The same size as a regular remote (8 inches long), the Harmony 676 is molded to fit the curve of your hand and has a handy interactive display screen at the top so that when you press a button, you can be sure which one you hit. It comes with a USB cable and CD-ROM installation disc, plus the four AAA batteries you need to get it started. The included instruction manual was very easy to understand.
My first step was to make a list of all the devices I wanted to use with the Harmony 676. A page in the manual provided blank spaces for this list. I gathered all the remotes and went to my computer, pencil in hand. (I didn’t want to write with ink because my husband likes to keep up with the latest in stereo equipment, and we frequently trade in older units for newer ones.)
Although the manual instructs you to install the software first (which I did), I wouldn’t recommend this. As I found out when I went to Logitech’s Web site, it turns out there’s a newer version of the software than the one that’s on the CD-ROM.
I connected the Harmony 676 to my computer and was automatically taken to the company’s Web site. I had to register to access the downloads and updates, which I wasn’t crazy about. I think anyone who buys a product that has to be used with a Web site shouldn’t have to register—he or she should be able to download and update automatically (but this is a small gripe).
Once I registered and logged in, the Harmony 676 was automatically upgraded, both software and firmware. (If you have already installed the software from the CD-ROM, it will be uninstalled before the new version is put in.) After that came a page that asked me to select which devices I had and to list the manufacturer’s name for each one. Since one of my devices—the laserdisc player—is older, I had to click on the button at the bottom of the page that read “for more devices click here.” When the page refreshed, there were a lot more options for devices I hadn’t even thought of, including remote light switches and home appliances. You could probably run your entire house with one of these universal remotes.
My next step was to input the device model numbers. Then I was asked which ways I wanted to use each item. For example, I decided to use my receiver for my volume control instead of the television.
It was all extremely easy to set up. But would the Harmony 676 really work?
My last step before taking the Harmony to the living room to try it out was to finalize the initialization. That took about 5 minutes, even with my fast cable connection.
I took the Harmony 676 out to the living room and began turning on the different components in the stereo system. It took a while to figure out the various buttons, but I finally got everything going just the way I like it by using the instruction guide and the help options on the interactive display. There is a bit of a learning curve for the Harmony, but that’s the same with any remote control. I did find that I wanted the options for the DVD player to be different from the defaults I was given, so I hooked the Harmony back up to my laptop, went back to the Web site, and configured that part to my liking.
I was surprised at how easily I got the Harmony 676 up and running; I think just about anyone could do it. However, my husband wasn’t happy with it. He felt the remote was too small for his big hands (especially the buttons and the size of the interactive display screen). He prefers our Sony Remote Commander (which I think is too big and bulky), so I snagged the Harmony for my home office stereo system and happily set it up to turn my television, CD player, tape deck, and amplifier on and off and to do the functions I want them to. Now if I could just use the Harmony to set the clock on my VCR …
Cons: I wish the interactive display screen were bigger. There is a more advanced model than the 676—the Harmony 880—that has a larger, color interactive screen. It costs an additional $50. Maybe I’ll get that at a later time. I also don’t like the fact that you can’t completely turn off the remote so that the display isn’t always on. I have a feeling that’s going to eat up the batteries faster than an option to shut the remote down until I need to use it.
Pros: The overall size fit well in my hand, and I had no problem with the buttons. I liked the extra faceplates that came with it—I changed the color of the faceplate to blue to match my office decor. The Harmony 676 works with both PCs and Macs, which is a plus. The backlit glow is especially helpful if you are watching television with the lights out. And it was easy to install it and to learn how to use it.
J. A. Hitchcock is a freelance writer and the author of Net Crimes & Misdemeanors (CyberAge Books, 2002), which is presently being updated.