Friends periodically ask me which remote control they should buy.
Since this blog is also my journal of sorts I thought I'd jot down my history in my search for the Holy Grail of remote controls.
About 10 years ago our home entertainment system started to become rather complex.
Like most people we had too many boxes and way too many remote controls.
When our first daughter was born I remember the first time we got a babysitter one evening. Trying to show the babysitter how to operate the TV was a joke. Just watching television you needed three remote controls - all had different layouts and look & feels. I ended up creating a "how to" instruction sheet and I had a laminated for safe keeping.
Well since those days my AV system has become a more sophisticated and unfortunately much more complicated. I've gone through my share of remote controls. I don't remember all of the remotes over the years but a few stand out.
The very first programable remote control I purchased was the Microsoft TakeControl remote.
It was enormous. This photo doesn't do it justice -- it was huge and heavy.
It had great promise - but it sucked.
A short time thereafter the Philips Pronto was all the rage in home theater magazines. Home installers were configuring this remote and websites like RemoteCentral were attracting a cult following where consumers were exchanging their customized screens.
It was so hard to set up that CEDIA installers were actually providing a backup service with your Pronto's settings. And like the Microsoft remote I found the lack of real buttons (vs soft buttons) a problem. It was also enormous and it sucked as well.
After that I ended up returning to a basket of remote controls but that was really lame and I was now back to square one.
Then in 2001 I discovered the Home Theater MX500. I'm pretty sure that Santo and I bought these at the same time after we downloaded and studied the manuals and poured over various websites like AVS Forums.
The Home Theater MX is extremely powerful, capable of sophisticated macros, could program a zillion devices. Also you could buy IR to RF repeaters and even had dedicated buttons for DVR trick modes. But it too took me forever to set up. When I upgraded various components in my av system I had to re-configure the macros. It is also a very large and heavy remote. It was also expensive. When my kids later destroyed this remote I decided not replace it. The idea of reprogramming the thing wasn't worth it for me.
At last, Nirvana: Harmony Remote Controls
A few years ago I discovered Harmony Remote Controls (now owned by Logitech). They have several models and they are truly amazing. These remote controls are radically different.
1. Easy to set up. When you get a Harmony Remote you create a profile on their website. You simply input all of your av components and their web service will automatically create the correct codes and scripts called "Activities". You plug in your remote with the included USB cable and click "Update" and you are done. If you ever get a new piece of equipment, you make the change on the website and click Update again. Done. If your kid or yellow lab named Jackson physically destroys your remote, you goto Amazon, Prime it, connect to your PC or Mac, log into the website and click Update. Done.
2. Customer Service. I have never experienced a consumer electronics company support their products better than Harmony (pre and post acquisition). They have expanded tech support hours, their staff is super knowledgeable about CE and they are extremely patient and thorough. They actually care.
3. User experience. Babysitters love our AV system and so do we :-) If you want to watch tv you just click the physical activity button on the remote that says "Watch TV". All of the correct devices turn on, switch to the correct input" and just work. Same thing for DVD, game console, MacMini, music, etc.
I went on this journey with a few good friends. I'm sure we aren't the only ones. Love to hear your experiences.
update: Santo just gave me this gyro rf mouse & keyboard. it looks like it could be a lot of fun to connect to my macmini on the big screen. i'll let you know how it goes. thanks Santo.