The Harmony remotes provide a clever solution to this problem. If a device turns off when it should be on, or vice versa, all you have to do is hit the HELP button; the remote guides you through a simple process of synchronizing the power status of each device in the system. It knows which devices should be on or off, it and asks you if each one is; if not, it sends the command to turn it on or off. This is called Smart State Technology, and it also helps correct the input settings if necessary.
The Harmony 880 shares the same elongated- peanut shape of its predecessors as well as a preponderance of dedicated physical buttons instead of a touchscreen. I much prefer this approach because touchscreen remotes can't be operated by feel, and they must be backlit, which distracts from the image on the theater screen and can even shift the eye's dynamic range temporarily, affecting how the video looks. Most Harmony remotes do have an LCD screen flanked by several “soft” buttons whose functions are defined by context-sensitive labels that appear on the screen, but most common functions are handled by “hard” buttons that can be found by feel once you learn the layout.
Despite its similarities to previous generations, many aspects of the Harmony 880’s design are new. For example, the LCD screen is in color, and an internal motion sensor illuminates the remote (including the LCD and hard-button labels) every time you pick it up. This is either a blessing or a curse, depending on how easily you learn the positions of the buttons; my wife prefers to see the buttons, so she likes this feature, whereas I learn the layout by feel and prefer to illuminate the remote only when I need to use the soft buttons. Instead of several dedicated activity buttons as on previous models, the Harmony 880 uses the soft buttons exclusively to select activities as labeled in the LCD screen. This is less ambiguous than Harmony 676, whose primary activity buttons were labeled with fixed icons, which was confusing if you wanted to assign other activities to those buttons. Also, having some activities on dedicated hard buttons and others on soft buttons is less than intuitive.
The soft buttons, CHANNEL up/ down, VOLUME up/down, MUTE, and a few others form an almost continuous strip around the upper two thirds of the remote, enclosing a 4-way cursor-navigation rocker with central ENTER button. Each button in the strip includes a slight bump so you can find it by feel, but I think this is another example of too-clever-forits- own-good design. I prefer buttons that are clearly separated; with the Harmony 880, I often pressed the wrong button if I didn’t look at the remote.
The bottom third of the remote holds the numeric keypad (with labels that include letters like a telephone keypad), transport controls (PLAY, STOP, RECORD, FAST FORWARD, REWIND, etc.), and menu-access buttons (MENU, EXIT, GUIDE, INFO). Like the buttons in the upper part of the remote, these are fairly flush next to each other, though they are a bit easier to distinguish by feel. More to the point, the transport buttons are not laid out or positioned as well as they are on the Harmony 676 for easy operation of a DVR such as TiVo.
One strong advantage of the Harmony 880 over previous models is the fact that it uses a rechargeable battery instead of burning through AAAs four at a time. The remote comes with a charging cradle that plugs into a wall outlet; the only bummer about this is the bright blue light in the middle of the cradle, which is very distracting. I ended up putting the cradle on a high shelf so the light wouldn’t shine in my eyes while watching a movie.
One of the many things I like about the Harmony 676 is its wide IR beam; if you point it anywhere in the general direction of the equipment, the codes are reliably received. This is especially important in a theater like mine, with the display up front and the equipment rack to the side. The Harmony 880 seemed to have a narrower IR beam, making its aim more critical; the equipment rack missed commands on several occasions until I got used to pointing the remote in the right direction. The new Harmony 890 uses radio-frequency (RF) technology with IR blasters to circumvent this problem.
The Harmony 880 represents an advancement in some ways and a setback in others with respect to the Harmony 676. Its color LCD, unified activity buttons, rechargeable battery, and motionsensing illumination are important improvements, but the buttons are more difficult to find by feel, the transport buttons are positioned and laid out less well for operating a DVR, and the IR beam seems to be narrower.
Even so, the basic concept and execution is so far above any other brand of universal remote, I felt that the Harmony 880 deserved our Accessory of the Year award (see Issue 66). Granted, it’s expensive for an IR universal remote, but if you want superior— and easy—control of your home theater, the Logitech Harmony 880 is a great way to get it.