As part of my households continuing upgrade process, I had the good fortune, or made the horrific mistake of purchasing a Logitech Harmony 520 remote control from Radio Shack.
Like many people, I have a TV, DVD player, CD player, VCR, AM/FM tuner, and home theater processor. None of which were made by the same manufacturer. So becuase of this, I have had a need for a remote with the following features:
- Fully programmable
- LCD panel with customizable button names
- No matter what mode I am in, it needs to use the processor for the volume functions
- Voracious appetite for batteries that would leave your digital cameras whimpering in fear
- Lacked a PC interface
- Labels had to be manually entered, using the number keypads like sending a text message via a cell phone.
- Limited memory compared to the number of gadgets I now posses.
- Huge! It is the size and weight of a small man's shoe.
So, back to the drawing board. My GF noticed the Logitech Harmony remote ads on some TV channel, so after checking them out at my local Radio Shack, I bought one.
This turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made. One day later I was having consultations with my therapist and cardiologist. My blood pressure was through the roof and I was angry at the world. It still upsets me to think of what I went through. I imagine that it was somewhat like having your identity stolen and then trying to convince 20 separate legal entities that you did not in fact order 10 large screen TV's and had them shipped to Jamaica. That's how upset and stressed out I was.
"How could any remote control do that to a man?" you may well ask, and the answer is the software you must use to configure the device.
Let me say this without fear of being challenged:
The Harmony remote software is the buggiest piece of crap I have ever seen offered in professional grade software.
Ok, wait, the video game Messiah MIGHT have been close. The difference is that where Messiah probably took the developers years and years of coding, the Harmony Remote software looks like it was specified and developed in a month.
Let me give you a little background on how the Harmony remote is supposed to work, in theory. First, it doesn't really have PC software. What it has is an online service, where the customer should create an account, log in, and configure the remote. Once all the changes are made, you download your settings to the remote via a USB cable.
This software my dear friends, is the gateway to hell.
Not only is the software buggy in the following ways:
- Communication freezes, and you have no idea whether to wait or continue or restart
- For no apparent reason, you can loose access to a device you have set up online. You try to make changes to it and you get a message like: Unable to display content. with no choice but to delete that device from your list and start over.
- There is no straight forward way to delete existing entries or re-organize them in the custom buttons. Once they are there, they seem to be there forever. For the Sony DVD for instance, the actual remote that came with the player only had 40 something buttons. However, the custom buttons take up about 110 entries in the custom pages field, ON TOP of the mapping to the default buttons on the remote. So, what you have to do is delete practically all of them, save them, then go back, and it will delete all the blank entries but ONLY if you have no entries beneath them. Sound complicated? It is.
- It is completely "wizard"-centric.
- The wizards of course don't tell you what they will do, they just ask you some questions, and then they will go off and do things, often the wrong thing.
- It is "activity"-centric instead of device-centric.
Ok, that was melodramatic, BUT my anxiety and fear is real. Imagine the worst voice mail system you've ever been caught in. This will help you understand the way the Harmony software works. It makes large assumptions about how you must want to use the remote, and then forces you to conform, or else.
In particular, it wants to set up "actions" to watch TV or watch a Movie, etc. but the big mistake it tends to make is that it assumes everything is off to begin with, and that your system turns on and off with every activity. I don't know about you, but around here, the stereo stays on most of the day, starting with NPR in the morning, to cable TV in the afternoon, to finally watching a movie on VHS or DVD before finally turning everything off.
As a side problem, it's impossible for you to program your own macro sequences into this thing. You CAN program an activity, but the stupid wizards think they know all the steps you should take to do any particular activity, so if you want to use a different sequence, or whatever, it won't do it. This is infuriating because you KNOW the hardware could do it, but the stupid Wizards are the gate-keepers to the macro programming, so you can't do what you want it to do unless you figure out how to re-program it yourself.
Fortunately, there IS a workaround. You can ignore the activity based options and go straight to adding devices and customizing the buttons, but you don't know this until you've already been tortured by the start up wizards.
It is the best of remotes, it is the worst of remotes. I spent $100 on this thing, and when it is fully configured, and all I have to do is sit in front of my TV and watch a DVD from Netflix, it is reliable, small, easy to understand. But the truth is that even though I can be sitting on the couch with my significant-other for hours, if I play with it too much, I still wake up in a cold sweat, images of their Web software leaving me shivering, afraid, and alone.