Harmony Home Control

I’ve been a fan of my Control4 system since I got it. It controls everything, works even with all my gear in cabinets, and is simple enough for my kids to operate once they turned 2. It isn’t something anyone can run out and buy. It takes a week long course for professional installers to learn, and if you change gear you need to have someone come out to program it again. Since I keep it in my home theater, I needed something simple to control the living room AV system.

The Harmony Home Control manages to control this system without issue. It controls almost all AV components, including ones that need IP or Bluetooth control. It uses a controller and IR emitters to operate over WiFi and not need line-of-sight to  your components. It could be a little bit easier on initial setup, and the remote could use a backlight and perhaps a small screen, but it works well. Well enough that I’m going to add a second one for the bedroom system as well.

Harmony Tradition

Model:Harmony Home Control
Review Date:July 27, 2015

Harmony remotes use the idea of activities instead of mimicking the buttons of other remotes. This lets Harmony removes have fewer buttons on them than other remotes. This design makes it easier to use but still able to perform the actions you need. After all, most often you just want to hit a button to watch a movie or TV, and change the channel or volume. You don’t need to have access to the obscure buttons on the main remote for day-to-day use. On those few occasions that you need those buttons, you can dig the remote out of a drawer to use it for a minute before putting it back away.

Compared to Harmony remotes from a few years ago, the Home Control is far better. The major improvement is that it now works over RF/WiFi instead of with IR. This makes it possible to use it without having to point it at your gear, and to have your gear hidden away. Since most equipment still uses IR, the Harmony includes a Smart Hub and an IR emitter. The Smart Hub is the brains of the system and you can hide it in the cabinet with most of your equipment. It includes an IR emitter, two 3.5mm jacks for more IR emitters, and a USB port for initial setup. The included extra IR emitter is small and lets you send IR signals to devices where the Smart Hub won’t reach. In my case it works to control a TV and sound bar that are outside of my AV cabinet.

Simple Setup

Harmony Home Control

Setup of the Harmony Smart Hub is straightforward but still has a couple of quirks. You connect to the Smart Hub to your computer with the included USB cable and launch the Harmony software. You then setup WiFi on the Smart Hub and it likely will need a firmware update as well. A few minutes later, the Smart Hub will update and be online and you can continue setup on your iOS or Android phone. The same app you use to control the Smart Hub from your phone also lets you set it up or adjust the settings.

This is one area where I think Logitech can improve upon the Harmony. Having to switch between my laptop and smartphone to finish the setup is an annoyance. I could do it all on the PC, but it recommends that I do it on my phone so I switched. Past that annoyance the setup process is smooth. You tell the software what devices you have and design the activities around them.

For example, you want to setup an activity to watch Netflix on your Roku. You choose the Roku as your starting point, and tell it that you need a TV and a sound bar (or a receiver). The app then steps you through the questions it needs to know to run the system. What input does the Roku use? How does Audio get from the Roku to your sound bar or receiver? What do you want to use to control the volume? Which app should launch on the Roku when you start? Once you answer these, which takes a minute or two at most, you then test to ensure it works. Even with a complex system you can have the setup done in under an hour from unboxing.

Smart Home Control

Harmony Home Control

The Home Control offers the ability to control Smart Home functions through dedicated buttons. Do you have an automated lighting system like the Philips Hue? Perhaps you have a Nest Thermostat or Lutron Blinds? The Harmony Home Control will controls these and other smart devices with dedicated buttons. Toggle the lights on or off while watching a movie? Lower the blinds during the day to prevent glare on the TV? Simple button presses if you have the compatible hardware available.

A nice feature of the Harmony is the ability to control many devices over IP or Bluetooth instead of IR. I have my Roku 3 mounted behind my TV because the remote it includes uses WiFi to control it. The Harmony Smart Home also does this, unlike other remotes that need you to use IR for it. I control AppleTV and WiiU over Bluetooth, and my Sonos speakers over IP. This means a far more reliable connection that doesn’t even need the IR emitters to work. As more and more devices move towards IP control, the necessity of IR repeaters will decrease as well.

Ease of Use

Once setup, how simple is the Harmony Home Control to use? Dead simple. My 3-year-old and 5-year-old have no issues using it in the morning to watch Octonauts on the TV. Later in the day they might queue up Daft Punk on the Sonos system to listen to as well. I can watch TV and movies even with the front door of my system closed. My wife can control everything, even when I swap in different gear that is here for review at the moment.

The iOS app makes it easy to reconfigure the Home Control on the fly. I added in a Polk PlayFi SB1 sound bar for review recently and adding it to the system took 10-15 minutes in total. I add the device, then run back through my existing activities telling them to use it for audio instead of the TV. Everything works and there hasn’t been an issue yet.


Harmony Home Control

There are a few things I’d like to see improved upon with the Home Control. Some are easy, and some are not, but they also all might increase the price. First, I’d like to see this be backlit. While the shape and hand-feel are good, being able to see buttons in the dark would be nice. The layout is intuitive enough that I don’t usually need to look but sometimes I do.

I also wish there was a small OLED or LCD display at the top where you could program in activity names. I know that pressing the Music icon brings up Netflix, and pressing TV brings up the antenna. If the screen says “Netflix” and “TV”, it will be much easier for guests and others to remember. It might add a slight bit of complexity to the setup, but I think it would pay off in the long run.

The Hub also locked up on me at one point and I had to power cycle it for it to work again. There isn’t anything to show what is going on, but most people know “Did you restart it?” is the first question someone will ask. I can’t customize this as much as I can my Control4 system, but programming that takes a week long class and not a few minutes with an iPhone app. Different markets, different goals.

A Remote Control Solution

I’ve loved the Harmony Home Control in the two months I’ve owned it. It controls everything and lets me keep all my gear tucked away in the cabinet where you can’t see it. Making changes is easy with the iOS app (I didn’t try Android) and the product support database is huge.

The easiest way to clarify my position is this: I like the Home Control enough that I plan to buy one for the bedroom system as well. It’s simple, easy, and great for the price. If you need a remote control, this is what I’d buy today, no question.

Review Summary
Product:Harmony Home Control
Reviewer:Chris Heinonen
Pros:Easy to use, no line-of-sight needed, IP and Bluetooth control, simple to make changes with the app
Cons:Not backlit, setup can be easier
Summary:The Harmony Home Control is a fantastic remote control for the price. It works inside of a cabinet with its WiFi support and is easy to make changes to. It supports almost all equipment and is simple enough for a 3-year-old to use.