Disclaimer – the products featured in this post were provided to Blog of Dad free of charge. All opinions expressed in this post are based on my experiences with these products.
When I was a little boy, I dreamed about the future. Shows like The Jetsons and Back to the Future II left me spellbound and convinced that one day I would live to see flying cars, robot servants and automated homes. I distinctly remember sitting down for hours to design a hoverbike and my favourite fantasy was that I could ride it to primary school.
Now here I am, living in the future. Sure, it hasn’t all happened quite as planned – my hoverbike is still the glorious figment of a young boy’s imagination (I still sometimes fantasize about its existence when stuck in traffic) and I’m yet to see any flying DeLoreans. But in other ways, the future has delivered so much more than was ever promised.
Smartphones are the obvious example of this. That small device we carry around in our pockets and take for granted is a marvel of modern computing. Even ten years ago, such a device would have been considered close to witchcraft.
There are other examples too. My robot vacuum (Barry) is a handy little helper who does a thoroughly decent job of helping keep the house clean. He’s by no means perfect, but I still marvel at his existence in my house.
Then there are my latest technological additions – the two products that work hand-in-hand to remind me once again that I am living in a truly incredible age. The Logitech Harmony Elite universal remote and the Ultimate Ears Blast.
A Brief History of Universal Remote Controls
In those dark days that we now know as the past, I found it hard to get excited about universal remote controls. I’d tried a few, but I always ended up returning to the faithful remote controls that were shipped with each device. The reason was simple – the universal remotes that I tried universally failed to make controlling my devices easier. Most of the time, they actually made control more complex.
That was frustrating, because using three different remotes to perform the simple task of watching a Blu-ray was absurd. But at least I knew that each button press with the OEM remote would deliver the desired outcome.
When I think back to the dark age universal remote controls, there were two things that frustrated me to the point of sending the device to landfill. The first was programming the remote and the second was that it never quite managed to smoothly complete the assigned tasks.
The reason that universal remotes were hard to program was simple. It is near impossible to ship a remote that comes pre-programmed with the exact controls for the hundreds-of-thousands of devices on the market. Universal remotes had to “learn” commands (usually by a tedious process of pointing the old remote at the new one and pressing buttons). Inevitably there would be something that didn’t quite match up (in my experience, it was usually input selection).
Things got a little better when you could plug the universal remote into a computer and download the controls, but they were still often fatally flawed. Little quirks meant that regular viewing could usually be set up to work well, but when something out of the ordinary happened I still had to reach for the OEM remote. My golden rule with a universal remote is that if I feel the need to keep the original handy, then the universal remote is a waste of money and space.
Thankfully, we now live in the future. And Logitech have persevered with the concept of the universal remote to the point where we finally have a device that works – the Harmony Elite.
The Logitech Harmony Elite Universal Remote
I have long admired Logitech. The leather-clad, brushed-metal G25 Racing Wheel was something I coveted and was a strong indicator of the company’s desire to make the best possible products. I never realised my dream of owning that beauty, but I spent enough time drooling over it at the local computer games store to know that I was in the presence of greatness.
When Logitech offered to send me their Harmony Elite universal remote control for the Father’s Day Gift Guide, I expected nothing less than greatness. I expected the same commitment to user-experience that drove them to developing the G25. I expected… a universal remote that actually made my life easier!
Did I get it?
Absolutely. In fact, the Logitech Harmony Elite was even better than I had dared hope.
Logitech Harmony Elite – Programming
Let’s start with the pitfall of the predecessors – programming. In the past, programming a universal remote was an exercise in pain. It would take hours to try and get it right. I’m pleased to say that programming the Logitech Harmony Elite is a much smoother process.
The key is the Harmony app. It takes the heavy lifting away from the remote control its self. Entertainment, home control, computer and Wi-Fi devices can easily be added through the “Add Device” screen. The Harmony catalogue includes a staggering 270,000 entertainment and smart home devices. This means that chances are your equipment is covered.
My ancient (eight year old) television was on the list (you can check your devices here). I did, however, find that I needed to have the specific model details. When I first entered “Sharp Aquos” the Harmony app found an Aquos model. I assumed it was correct, or at least close enough. It worked, but not as well as I had hoped. Specifically, the Harmony struggled with the dreaded input selection.
That was slightly frustrating, but eventually it dawned on me that perhaps I had made an error. I found the specific model number of my television and, sure enough, it was different. I switched it over and it worked like a charm. The lesson was useful – be specific when searching for devices.
Finding the rest of my devices was a breeze. They all had the model number written on the front, so I quickly had my Yamaha receiver, Sony Blu-ray and Altec DVR all connected. The Harmony even discovered my Sonos One over the Wi-Fi.
Logitech Harmony Elite – Activities
Activities is where the Logitech Harmony Elite really begins to show its value.
I use the Altec DVR to control channel selection on my television. I do this because it allows me to pause and rewind live TV, which is great for when I’m watching the football and want to get really angry about something that the referee has missed (because it’s 2018 and that’s what we do). That used to mean that even just the simple act of watching TV required two remotes.
Things get more complicated when I want to watch a movie. I have to turn on the television and select the correct input, then turn on the Yamaha receiver and select the correct input (I have to remember which one it is), then finally turn on the Blur-ray player. If all goes according to plan, after three remotes and several attempts I am ready to watch a movie.
The Logitech Harmony Elite simplifies those tasks brilliantly. Once you have set up some activities, the simple push of a single button does everything for you. In my case, I now have a button that says “Watch Blu-ray”. When I press it, everything happens. That’s at least five steps across three remote controls, all taken care of.
The Harmony continues to show its worth throughout the movie. Pause, fast forward and rewind are all controlled via both traditional buttons and swipe gestures on the touchscreen. When I set up the “Watch Blu-ray” activity, the Harmony asked me which device controls volume. When I press (or swipe) for volume control, it is the Yamaha receiver that does the heavy lifting.
In testing the Harmony Elite, I wanted to push it to see if it would break. Universal remotes have got my hopes up in the past, only to prove inadequate and frustrating. A little voice in the back of my mind kept telling me that there would be a flaw somewhere. That flaw, most likely, would appear when switching between inputs.
I had thought perhaps I was right, too, until I figured out that I had chosen the wrong model of television. Once I had that sorted out, the Harmony Elite couldn’t be phased.
I tried switching from watching a Blu-ray to watching regular television. I was sure that it would get lost in the intricacies of input selection. Much to my amazement, the Harmony Elite did exactly what it was supposed to do. Each time, the single press of a button turned on and off the correct devices. Each time, the devices selected the correct input. I threw the Sonos into the mix with a quick listen to ABC Sydney radio. Again, each device performed exactly as expected.
This is the magic of the Logitech Harmony Elite, and the reason that I’m so thrilled to have it in my house. The Harmony has done what it needs to do to prove its worth – it has completely replaced my other remotes and made the task of controlling my devices easier. Crucially, through the Harmony Elite I still have the full functionality of each device. The Touchscreen can be used to drill down and access any of the controls available on the original remote.
It did take me some time to perfect the initial setup of my activities. It took slightly longer than necessary because of my television model mistake. If I have one piece of advice worth listening to here, it is be precise with your model selection. While setting up activities requires a small amount of time and effort, the end result is something brilliant.
Better Together – The Logitech Harmony Elite and Ultimate Ears Blast
The life-changing (or at least enjoyment-enhancing) tricks of the Harmony Elite don’t stop there. There are many, many more amazing things that it can do. Have you begun to investigate smart home devices? The Harmony Elite can be programmed to control many of them too. These can even be incorporated into activities (dim the lights when starting a movie is one that would be pretty great!).
One of the smartest things the Harmony Elite can do is integrate with Amazon’s Alexa. This is where the Ultimate Ears Blast comes in.
The Ultimate Ears Blast is a legitimately brilliant speaker all on its own (full review coming soon), but when it is paired with the Harmony Elite magical things happen. Specifically, voice-controlled television.
Pairing the two devices is simple – just add the “Harmony Skill” to your Alexa app (the Harmony Elite can connect with any Alexa device) and log in with your Harmony details. From there it is a simple matter of commanding your AV equipment with your voice.
“Alexa, turn on the TV,” activates the above-mentioned activity. Like magic, the television and the DVR turn on. Inputs are correctly selected and ready to go. From there you can control volume, change channel, turn on the games console and many more commands – all with your voice. Bring smart home devices such as blinds, lights and climate control into the mix, and you can set the mood by simply uttering a sentence.
The control gets even better when you begin to add “Friendly Names” to activities and TV Channels. For example, I have given channel 90 (9HD) the friendly name of “The Footy”. Now all I have to do is walk into my living room and say “Alexa, watch the footy,” and BOOM! The television turns on, the DVR turns on and channel 90 is selected.
In fact, with the Ultimate Ears Blast I don’t even need to enter the room. The portable nature of the Ultimate Ears Blast means I can have Alexa’s voice control of the Harmony Elite handy anywhere in the house.
I can be upstairs on the computer, madly trying to type out a blog post and listening to Bob Dylan on Spotify when I realise that I’ve missed the first two minutes of the Roosters V Broncos blockbuster! With a simple phrase yelled in the direction of the Blast, I can have the television on and tuned in before I’m even half way down the stairs. Incredible!
I’ll be publishing detailed reviews of both the Harmony Elite and Ultimate Ears Blast in a little while, once I’ve had the chance to put them both through their paces. My initial impressions of both devices are extremely positive and, frankly, they have me excited. 2018 is truly the year that the Blog of Dad household has entered the future and it is glorious, my friends, glorious!