In January, Logitech announced that it’s trying to sell off its division that makes Harmony universal remotes. But it’s going out with a bang: the company has announced its highest-end Harmony model to date, plus one aimed at people who don’t realize that they need a universal remote at all.
The top-of-the-line model is the Harmony Ultimate, a $350 unit with a 2.4″ color touchscreen along with tactile buttons for standard actions such as changing channels and adjusting the volume. As with all Harmonies, you set it up by telling it what devices you’ve got in your living room — it knows 225,000 of them by name. (This initialization process can now be performed without a PC.) You can set up multiple-device sequences of actions, so that, for instance, one command switches your TV to the right input for your Blu-ray player and starts a movie playing.
Unlike most Harmonies, the Ultimate comes with a little box called the Harmony Hub, which serves as a middleman between the remote and your living-room gear. The Hub communicates with the remote via RF wireless; unlike infrared, it doesn’t require a clear line of site to work, and can sit inside a closed entertainment center. It talks to most consumer-electronics boxes using infrared, but (in a new feature) can also control the PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360 via Bluetooth.
Oh, and the Ultimate can control Philips’ Wi-Fi-enabled Hue lightbulbs, letting you dim the lights when you watch a movie. It’s the first time that a Harmony remote has dabbled in home automation, although the company says that more such features might be on the way.
The Ultimate also lets you download iPhone and Android apps that let your phone serve as a remote with features similar to the Ultimate itself. But if that sounds exciting, you might be better off with the Harmony Smart Control, a $129.99 product based the concept of BYOR — bring your own remote. That’s because with it, the app is your primary remote.
Like the Ultimate, Smart Control comes with the Harmony Hub and uses it as a bridge between the phone and your devices. Oddly enough, it also includes a conventional remote — a good-looking but basic model, without a touchscreen or other fancy features. Logitech isn’t trying to market this Harmony product to remote junkies, though; it wants people to think of it as a smartphone accessory. It doesn’t even mention or show the physical remote on the front of the Smart Control box.
So why include it at all? The company thinks, logically, that even if your phone is your remote, a physical remote is sometimes handy as a backup — for instance, how do you mute your TV if you’re trying to answer the phone at the same time? So it includes the remote as a bonus, not unlike the prize in a box of Cracker Jack.
The Harmony Remote will go on sale this month; the Smart Control is due in May.