Logitech Harmony Elite Review: The Ultimate Universal Remote?

Introduction & Setup

On the surface, there's nothing particularly glamorous about a universal remote. It's simply a device that controls multiple electronic gadgets, like your TV and Blu-ray player, so you don't have to keep track of and juggle multiple remotes. No big deal, right? If that's what you think, then you haven't encountered Logitech's Harmony line.

Like regular universal remotes, Logitech's Harmony models consolidate your electronic controllers into a single piece of hardware, only they do it in spectacular fashion. They're also far more capable than the no-name models that places like K-Mart peddle in the clearance bin and at the checkout line, and for what it's worth, they look good too.

Logitech Harmony Elite and Hub
Logitech's Harmony Elite Universal Home Controller - $349 @ Amazon

What we're evaluating here is Logitech's Harmony Elite, the new flagship model in the Harmony line. It's the first in the series designed from the ground up as a whole-home controller to extend universal control beyond the living room, which is where the Harmony line's been headed over the past couple of years. More on that in a moment.

That's Not a Hockey Puck, It's a Hub

Logitech Harmony Elite Hub

What you see here is the included Harmony Hub, which is sort of the command center. It takes commands from the remote control or your mobile device (using Logitech's free Harmony software for iOS and Android) and passes them on to your electronic gadgets via IR, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth wireless signals. It's essentially a super IR blaster, and Logitech includes two mini wired IR blasters that plug into the main unit to extend its reach in your A/V rack -- perfect for multi-level setups.

Though it uses IR for your gadgets, the Harmony Hub communicates with the Harmony Elite remote through RF signals. This means you don't need a direct line-of-sight when controlling your A/V or smart home gear, nor do you even have to be in the same room. If you're watching a sporting event and the crowd goes wild while you fetch a beer, you can press pause in the kitchen (provided you brought the remote with you) and catch up on the action when you return to the living room. Cool stuff.

Configuring the Remote

Setup here is pretty simple. Once you plug the Harmony Hub into a power source and place it in your A/V rack, you're ready to configure the remote. You can do this by plugging the remote into your PC via the included micro-USB to USB cable or through the aforementioned Harmony app.

Harmony App
Setup via web interface

The Harmony Hub and Elite work with more than 270,000 home entertainment devices from over 6,000 different brands, and it can store up to 15 devices. With that kind of product library, chances are if you own it and it uses a remote, the Harmony Elite is compatible.

Our test setup isn't too complex, though there's enough variety for the Harmony Elite to either thrive or fail. It consists of an 70-inch Sharp TV (LC-70LE640U), a slightly older Onkyo receiver (TX-SR608), a DirecTV satellite set-top box with built-in DVR capabilities, and an Xbox One console.

Adding devices is as easy as punching in the make and model, which is the first step in the setup process. Once you've added the electronic devices you wish to control, you'll create various "Activities" such as "Watch TV" or "Listen to Music." This is where the Harmony Elite really shines.

Logitech Harmony Elite Moile
Setup via mobile interface

When you create an activity, you end up with one-touch operation for tasks that would normally require multiple button presses and remotes. For example, after creating the Watch TV activity for my particular setup, a single tap turns on the TV, switches to the appropriate input (HDMI 1) that's connected to my surround sound unit, turns on the Onkyo receiver, switches to the correct audio input, and powers up the DirecTV satellite box.

Let me reiterate, it does all those things with a single tap. There's no fiddling with inputs, and because it asked during the setup phase, the Harmony Elite knows to send volume button commands to the surround receiver and channel commands to the DirecTV box when I'm watching TV.

This is not only a time saver for your home's entertainment captain (you, presumably), it's a godsend for less tech savvy people in your household. With a properly configured Harmony Elite, your kids, babysitter, significant other, visiting in-laws, and anyone else can easily operate your complex A/V configuration - they just need to tap on the desired activity and the remote will handle the rest.

With the setup out of the way, let's take a closer look at the remote itself.

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