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Friday, 13th August 2010
Product Review: Logitech Harmony 785 Universal Remote Control
By Kevin Walton

Logitech Harmony 785 Universal Remote Control

I’ve owned this product for a couple of months now, so I can finally give an honest review of it from the experience I’ve had with it.

I found the initial setup of the remote to be quite easy and straight forward. The remote comes with software that you install on your PC and it has an easy to use setup wizard to guide you through the process of setting up all your devices for the remote. You simply select the brand name of the device you want to control and then enter the model number. The software will then search Logitech’s vast online resource library to find your device and retrieve all the necessary settings for it. The thing that impressed me the most at this stage of the operation was that it actually managed to support my 24 year old Orion TV, even though the specific model number wasn’t in Logitech’s library!
Once you have added all the devices you want to control (the remote can support up to 15 different devices), you simply connect the remote control to your computer using a supplied USB data cable and the software will upload all the devices and settings to the remote control.
Essentially, that’s all you need to do to get the remote working and controlling all your devices. The remote control has a button labeled “Devices”; press this and the built in LCD screen will display all the devices you have setup and you select the device you want to control using the buttons along-side the LCD screen. All the main generic controls for most devices, such as channel selection, volume control, play, stop, pause, rewind, fast forward, chapter skip, etc, can be accessed with the buttons on the face of the remote control. Device-specific features can be accessed from the LCD screen and selected using the buttons on either side of the LCD screen.

Beyond the initial setup of your devices, you can then customize your setup by renaming your devices to make them easier to indentify, specify the order in which they are listed on the LCD screen and customize all the special functions that can be accessed from the LCD screen. The biggest feature of this remote, however, is the ability to create activities (customized macro functions) which will perform an entire sequence of commands all at the press of a single button.
For example, I have a very old TV which only has an old aerial input on the back of it which means the only thing I can connect directly to the TV is either the roof antenna or a VCR. If I want to use a DVD player or a PlayStation 3 on the TV, I have to have the DVD or PS3 connected to the composite inputs on the back of the VCR and then have the VCR output the signal from PS3 to the TV via the antenna output. This means that, in order to watch a DVD on my TV, I would ordinarily need 3 remote controls. I would need to use the TV remote control to turn on the TV and change the channel to channel “0” because that’s the channel I have tuned to the VCR. I would then need the VCR remote to turn on the VCR and set its input to “Line-In” because that’s what the DVD is connected to. Then I need the DVD remote to turn on and play the DVD. In my case, I also need a 4th remote control because I have the audio from the DVD going to a 5.1 surround sound system.
Now, with the Logitech Harmony 785 remote control, I can do everything I just described above with the press of a single button. I use the provided software to set up an activity (which I might name “Watch DVD”), then I tell it the entire sequence of commands that I need it to perform. I upload this activity to the remote control using the USB data cable and then it’s saved on the remote for me to use any time I need it. On the remote control I press the “Activities” button then, with the remote pointed in the general direction of all my devices, I select “Watch DVD” from the LCD screen. The remote will then turn on the TV, the VCR, the DVD player and the surround sound system, it will set the TV to channel “0”, the VCR to “Line-In” and the surround sound system to “Optical Input” and it will then play the DVD!

If you want to use the Harmony 785 to control a PlayStation 3, it can do it, but you need to purchase a separate infra-red receiver to plug into the USB port on the front of your PS3 to receive the infra-red signals from the remote control.

The Logitech Harmony 785 comes with a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery and a docking cradle to charge the remote on. So far, from general every day use, I have found the battery to last approximately 3 – 4 weeks from a single charge. Fully charging the battery from flat only takes a couple of hours.

One of the other things that has impressed me about this remote is that every button lights up which makes it very easy to see and use in the dark on movie night, and the remote control also has motion sensitivity. When the remote has been left for a few seconds it turns off the LCD screen and all the backlights to save power. As soon as you pick up the remote control, it senses the movement and instantly turns everything back on for to you easily see and use.

Now for the draw-backs. Firstly the charging cradle; it’s a very nice, sleek and stylish design and it’s very easy to just sit the remote on it and it instantly starts charging the remote. The cradle even has a stylish little blue light on it which makes it easy to find in the dark (this light can also be turned off if you don’t want it). However, the charging cradle needs to be laid down flat on a flat surface which I find a little limiting and space-wasting. It would be a much better design to have something that could be wall-mounted and that the remote could sit up-right on.

The software for customizing the setup and features of the remote control is not very user-friendly. I am highly proficient with all forms of digital technology, yet even for me it took quite some time just to figure out where the option was to rename my devices.
In some cases, the setup wizard to create activities tries to be a little too user-friendly and it makes assumptions about what you want to do and makes choices for you that you don’t want. The worst part of this is that it then won’t let you fix the problem; if you try to go back a step to undo what it’s done, the only option to proceed forward again is to let it redo the same damned thing again which you don’t want it to do!

While it’s very nice that the software automatically places all the special features and functions of your devices on the LCD screen, I have found that it doesn’t do so in a very organized way. The LCD screen can only display up to 6 options at a time, so if you have more than 6 options, the options get split over multiple pages. It would make sense, therefore, to have key functions, such as Toggle Power, on the very first page of options; but this is not always the case. In some cases, the Toggle Power button is shoved on the 3rd or 4th page of options and you have to go searching for it when you need it.
Of course, you can customize all these options, their names and the order in which they appear, etc, but I have not yet attempted to do this because I took one look at the software for doing so and thought, “Uh… not today. Maybe one day when I have way more time on my hands!”

While it’s nice also to be able to customize the names of all my devices and specify the order in which they appear on the LCD screen, I have found that over time they do not necessarily remain in the order that I’ve specified! I constantly have to search the screen to find the device I want because they seem to keep moving around!

Also, while it’s all very good and well to be able to set up activities with a whole sequence of functions to perform at the press of a single button, the annoying thing about this is that the remote control automatically assumes that all of your devices are turned off to begin with. So in the case of watching a DVD like I described earlier, if the TV, DVD Player and sound system are all turned off, but the VCR has been left on after some earlier use, the remote control is going to turn on the TV, DVD Player and sound system and set them to the right settings just fine, but it’s going to turn the VCR off! In most cases that probably wouldn’t be such a huge problem because the remote does have a help wizard which asks you at the end of the operation if everything is ok, and you can say “No” and it’ll ask you which device isn’t working and will guide you through the process to get things back on track. However, in my case, I have a Sharp VCR and one of the annoying little quirks about this VCR is that in order to turn it on you have to press “Stop”, not the “Power” or “Stand-By” button like most other VCR’s. So the Harmony remote is busy trying to turn the VCR back on by using the “Toggle Power” function, not realizing that it should actually be executing the “Stop” function instead.
Now, this may be seen as a draw-back of the VCR rather than of the remote control, but I beg to differ. You see, the information about every device supported by the remote is programmed and stored in Logitech’s online database and the remote did pick up this VCR from the database by the exact model number which means it should be fully supported. The database should, therefore, already know about this little quirk, so if the help wizard asks me, “Is the VCR turned on?” and I say “No”, it should know to turn it on using the “Stop” function rather than the “Toggle Power” function. I don’t know about you, but I think that is a perfectly fair expectation.

Finally, the most annoying thing about the setup software is that it requires a constant, uninterrupted internet connection for virtually everything! Every time you try to go to another page of the software, it attempts to access the Logitech server so that it can save your settings from the current page to your profile on the server database. I say “attempts” because it doesn’t always succeed and then it gives you an error screen from which you then have to press “Back” and then attempt to go to the next page again. It gets really frustrating really quickly and I’m not using a bad internet connection either; I have a very good Vodafone Red Zone Ultimate package broadband connection. The worst part is when it’s time to upload all the finalized settings to the remote control via the USB data cable; the software has to access the Logitech database to retrieve every setting before uploading them to the remote. This can take a while at the best of times, especially if there’s a lot of settings to transfer, and if there’s any interruption at any stage in the transfer process, it’ll stop and throw at error at you and you have to start the transfer all over again. In some really annoying cases, it’ll just stop and freeze and not throw an error at you at all, so you’ll sit there waiting like a fool for ages before you decide to unplug the remote from the PC and try again.

Overall, I do really like this remote control and it has made life so much easier. I give the Logitech Harmony 785 Universal Remote Control an 8 out of 10. However, I give the software that comes with it a 3 out of 10.