The universal remote is a must-have for the megalomaniac home-cinema owner. The sheer power of controlling everything from the TV to the lights, in one device, is enough to elicit "Mwahahahaha!"s from the sanest of AV enthusiasts.
But most people nowadays have a TV, a DVD player, a games console and a hi-fi, even if they're not all linked together. So even casual users can benefit from having a single remote that controls all of these everyday gadgets -- they save you time and all the clutter of several remotes.
This is the market Logitech is aiming for with the Harmony 525, a low-end programmable remote with high-end aspirations. It'll control all your stuff, it's reasonably easy to set up, and if (like us) your normal TV remote has given up the ghost, it won't set you back much more than having your TV manufacturer send you a new one.
Having painfully exhumed the Harmony 525 from its rigid plastic tomb (why is the packaging on these things so difficult to get into?), we quickly installed the included software and connected it to our PC via the mini-USB connector on the top of the handset. This is hidden during normal use behind a fiddly rubber flap that detracts from the unit's otherwise stylish metallic design.
Logitech's software is fairly easy to use, with prompts based on a user profile you create that indicates your level of interest in configuring every last detail of your system. You enter the model numbers of your various products, and it checks a vast online database of thousands of devices to find out their connections and features, and then downloads that information to the handset.
You then set up what it calls 'Activities', such as 'Watch TV', 'Play a DVD' or 'Play a CD'. These enable you to turn the appropriate pieces of kit on for that activity -- if you press the button next to where 'Play a DVD' appears on the remote's LCD screen, it will turn your DVD player and TV on and set the TV to the correct input (as long as you've configured it all correctly).
We had some problems setting up the 'Teletext' activity, as it required us to point the original remote at the receiver on the base of the Harmony, and it wouldn't accept that we didn't have the original remote. Perhaps because of this, the coloured Teletext buttons on the Harmony don't work with our TV.
This is a minor gripe, though, as everything else worked perfectly well -- it even controls the DVD-playing functions on our old Xbox. The buttons are rather clicky and there is a slight delay between pressing them and the desired effect taking place -- presumably because the unit has to think what to do. But if you want to unclutter your living room, this is a very easy and reasonably priced solution -- it's out now for around £50. -NH