Editors' note (January 27, 2010): Some Harmony 900, 1000, and 1100 users may experience difficulty connecting their remotes to the Harmony software when using Mac OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard). More information on specific symptoms and the appropriate solutions is available at Logitech's Web site.
Confused about how this model stacks up to other Harmony remotes? See CNET's Which Logitech universal remote is right for you? for updated comparisons and recommendations.
Editors' note: This review has been updated to specify that the Logitech Harmony 900 does not support the programming of customized multi-step macro commands beyond those of the automatic activity-based menu system.
When we reviewed the Harmony One last year, we gave it an enthusiastic Editors' Choice and lamented only the fact that there was no RF option for people who had components hidden in cabinets or closets. Well, Logitech has given us what we asked for--and even a bit more--in its Harmony 900.
The remote looks almost identical to the Harmony One except for some small-but-notable improvements. For starters, Logitech has increased the sharpness of the screen; this isn't a huge deal, but it does give the interface a cleaner look. You can now choose between four color "themes" that put a new skin on the interface, though the looks aren't radically different from theme to theme. (We assume additional themes will be available for download).
Additionally, Logitech has added a row of buttons in the middle of the remote that correspond to the red, blue, green, and yellow tabs you'll find on Blu-ray player remotes to control interactivity options during playback of Blu-ray Discs. (These buttons are also useful for mapping to various confirmation buttons that appear on DVRs and cable/satellite boxes.)
The big step-up here is the addition of RF (radio frequency), and its implementation. With previous Harmony RF models, you had to set up the remote and RF separately by connecting both the remote and RF module to your computer via the USB port. Every time you updated the remote, you had to update the RF module, which was a major pain if you had an intricate setup and had to take the RF module out of a cabinet or closet each time you updated the remote.
With the Harmony 900, Logitech's gone to a whole new RF system and has greatly simplified the setup and update processes. The big deal here is that you no longer have to connect the RF module to your computer--you can just leave it setup in your rack or cabinet and choose which components you want to control via IR (infrared, which requires line of sight) or RF from the remote itself in a special RF setup menu.
The half-hockey-puck-size RF module is powered by a small AC adapter (it's a duplicate of the adapter that charges the remote) and is designed to be tucked into the back of your cabinet, behind your components. You then plug two mini-IR blasters into the back of the RF module (there are A and B ports) and place the blasters just in front of your components. If your components are in a cabinet with shelves, you can stick one blaster on a left shelf and one on a right shelf. The IR signals reflect off surfaces, so the two IR blasters should cover all your components, except perhaps your TV (which is always within your line of sight anyway). If two blasters don't cut it for your setup, you can buy additional RF modules and blasters.
The system we used to test the RF with wasn't in a closed cabinet with doors and the TV sat on top of the horizontal component rack. We decided to let IR control the TV and RF control the rest of the components. Because we had one IR adapter on a lower shelf next to the AV receiver, we were a little worried that it wouldn't be able to control the cable box on a higher shelf. However, it turned out we had no problems controlling all our components, even though the system was in an open rack with three levels and included seven components (not including the TV). Alas, the only unit that we couldn't control was our PlayStation 3, which uses Bluetooth and has no IR receiver. In an ideal world the Harmony 900 would offer Bluetooth connectivity, but we can't fault Logitech for Sony's stupidity. Thankfully, there's now a workaround: Logitech offers a PS3-specific IR-to-Bluetooth converter module for $60.
As we said in our earlier review of the Harmony One, Logitech's done an excellent job with the cosmetics and ergonomics. The remote is sleek and sits comfortably in your hand. A lot of thought has been put into the button layout, with hard, backlit buttons that are differentiated in size and shape, so you can navigate by feel without looking down at the remote (at least when performing basic operations like changing channels, adjusting volume, and play/pause). While the remote does appear to be loaded with buttons, it actually has fewer of them than previous Harmony remotes. The remote is essentially divided into five zones of operation (they're designated by faint, silver lined), with the color LCD at the top constituting the fifth zone.