Logitech Harmony 1100 review:

Logitech Harmony 1100

We liked the overall design of the 1100, though if you're used to using a wand-style remote, the horizontal nature of the tablet-style remote control takes a little getting used to. The biggest advantage to using a tablet-style remote is that when you click on a menu function, such as Watch TV or Watch a DVD, the remote's screen automatically switches to a virtual set of buttons designed to work with that device. However, since you can only fit so many virtual buttons on one screen, you'll be dealing with layers of screens. In each corner of the display, you'll find an icon that takes you to another set of virtual buttons. For example, to get to the number pad for changing the channels on your cable box, you click on the 123 icon in the lower-left corner. Another icon leads you to a set of buttons that allow you to access content from your DVR.

Logitech has designed the remote to have a maximum of four layers of menus, so users don't get buried in an overcomplicated menu tree. All in all, it seems like a good system, but as with any new remote, it will take some getting used to. While aficionados of the Philips Pronto series may lament the fact that you can't Photoshop and upload your own button icons, there's enough customization for the vast majority of users.

As with other Harmony remotes, you program the Harmony 1100 by connecting it to your Internet-connected Windows PC or Mac via the supplied USB cable, installing the model-specific version of Harmony software, and answering a fairly simple online questionnaire. You simply choose your home-theater components from a list, explain how they're connected, and define their roles in activity-based functions, such as Watch TV, Watch a DVD, and Listen to Music. For each function, you specify which devices and inputs the remote must enable. You can also choose which keypad functions will "punch through" to which specific devices (like always having the channel buttons control the cable box or the volume controls dedicated to the TV or receiver, for instance). After you've completed the questionnaire, the software uploads all the relevant control codes to the Harmony 1100, as well as the relevant virtual buttons. You can control up to 15 separate products in total.

If you have a system that only has a few components, the Harmony 1100 is generally very easy to program. However, when you have more than four or five components, things can get trickier. This reviewer has eight components and was programming in six activities, and the ride was smooth for about 90 percent of the journey, but the last 10 percent or so was bumpy and challenging. In short, with a couple of hours of diligent trial and error (connecting and reconnecting your remote to your computer, tweaking the settings, and uploading the new settings), you can get your system working almost the way you want it to. Doing so with a laptop or a computer that's in the same room is a huge advantage. Unfortunately, achieving perfection can be maddeningly elusive, and getting those last kinks worked out can tack on several hours of additional labor and have your significant other asking just what it is that you're doing.

Some of the problems inevitably involve the use of IR. When you've got a lot of components, you have to make sure that all the little delays and response times are set just right for your components to respond the way you want them to. The default settings Logitech provides for various types of components work fine in many cases, but when you have several components competing for IR commands, sometimes not everything works as it's supposed to. Inevitably, some component just won't turn on or off when it's supposed to. Hitting the help button on the remote and answering a couple of simple yes-or-no questions will usually rectify the problem, but ideally you want to hit one button, not several, to get what you want, especially considering how expensive this remote is.

The good news is that if you really hit a wall while programming the Harmony 1100, Logitech's customer support for its Harmony remotes is really good, though the company now only offers 60 days of phone support (that's 60 days from the first time you connect the remote to the software/online database during setup). After that, you'll be left to deal with online FAQs and e-mail support.

One big way to help alleviate any IR conflict issues is to go the RF route--whether you've hidden all your equipment in a cabinet/closet or not (RF technology allows you to control devices through walls and obstructions without the need for line of sight). Unfortunately, to use this remote's RF capabilities, you'll need to purchase the optional Logitech RF Wireless Extender and plug it into an outlet fairly close to your equipment. You then connect the wiry IR blasters to the wireless receiver and literally stick each blaster onto the front of your equipment so it's in line with the component's IR port. If you have more than eight components--or components in separate rooms--you'll have to purchase additional Wireless Extenders. While the online price can go as low as $70, it's usually closer to $100--and that's pretty steep. We'd feel a lot better about the Harmony 1100's exorbitant price tag if Logitech tossed one of the extenders in the box as a freebie.

While Logitech says that the 1100 incorporates Z-Wave wireless technology, it doesn't support third-party Z-Wave modules, such as light dimmers and electric window blinds. In other words, don't expect this remote to work with Z-Wave devices.

Again, if you have a simple system, IR probably will be fine, and the nice thing about the Harmony 1100 is that you can always upgrade later to RF should you someday decide you want to hide your components. Also, it would have been nice if Logitech had made the remote more conducive to programming multiroom setups. As it stands, you can program in a setup for TV2 and DVD2 that would work for another room, but there really needs to be a layer on top that allows you to switch from room to room. Logitech has a professional version of the Harmony 890 that offers this type of functionality, but that model isn't widely available and is really designed for the home-installer market. We had assumed that Logitech would eventually offer the Harmony 1000 in a professional version at some point, but so far nothing has materialized (the 1100 is still "consumer" oriented).

In our review of the 1000, we remarked that the battery life wasn't all that great, and it doesn't seemed to have changed in this model, though Logitech says it's made some small tweaks that allow the remote to sit a tad more snuggly in its cradle so the contacts are better aligned for charging. Of course, most folks will leave the Harmony 1100 in its dock when not in use, so you shouldn't have to worry too much about battery life. But since the 1100 has a large LCD screen, it does suck a lot of juice if you use it heavily. In other words, don't be surprised if the battery indicator looks quite a bit shorter if you forget to dock your remote for a few days. (Kudos to Logitech for making the battery removable and user-replaceable.)

One final note about LCD touch screens: Make sure you're ready to commit to one before you make the plunge. Like all touch screens, you'll need to actually take your eyes off the TV screen and look down to the remote itself whenever you want to do anything more than adjust the volume. You might find yourself nostalgic for a more conventional wand with hard buttons if you prefer to navigate a remote by feel.

The big question for a lot of people will be whether to buy this model or the far less expensive Harmony One or even the Harmony 1000, which is being sold at a significant discount. If you're on a tighter budget and don't require the RF option, the Harmony One is probably the way to go. But we do think the 1100 offers some significant upgrades over the 1000, including improved performance and stability (our review sample did not freeze up during the week we reviewed it) and small design tweaks.

In short, the 1100 is really the remote that the 1000 should have been; we just wish it were about $100 less expensive or came with an RF extended at this price. Still, it's easily half the price of high-end tablet remotes that require their own professional programmers (which cost a pretty penny). And if you look at it that way, the Harmony 1100 is a pretty good deal.

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