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Harman/Kardon TC30 review: Harman/Kardon TC30

Harman/Kardon TC30

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
6 min read
Talk about "attack of the clones." Months before Logitech brought out the Harmony 720, a color-screen remote based on the new, slim chassis that the company was using for its 2006 monochrome-screen models, Harman Kardon was serving up a very similar color-screen remote that was also powered by Harmony software. To make matters even trickier, both remotes cost about the same--slightly less than $200--despite the fact that the TC 30 carries a higher list price of $300.

Essentially, the Harman Kardon TC 30 has the look and feel of an elongated Logitech Harmony 550 paired with the better features (color screen, rechargeable battery) of the Harmony 720. The TC 30 is about half an inch taller than the 720, measuring 8.5 inches long by 2.1 inches wide and less than an inch thick. On a more tangible level, that extra space translates into an extra set of two contextual icons on the remote's color display. The Harmony 720 has six contextual icons, corresponding to adjacent hard buttons, while the TC 30 has a total of eight. That's a nice plus in favor of the Harman Kardon, but it's worth mentioning that even with all that extra length, the TC 30, like the 720, doesn't have the Harmony 550's extra row of four buttons--directly below the numeric keypad--that can be mapped to corresponding functions (sound, picture) or specialized keys that relate to your cable or satellite box. (For instance, DVRs such as those from Scientific Atlanta often require confirmation keystrokes for playback and recording.) The TC 30 also shares one of the few features we didn't like about the latest Harmony models: the 12-digit numeric keypad buttons are a just a bit too tiny for adult fingers.


Harman/Kardon TC30

The Good

Take away the Harman Kardon label and the TC 30 is cross between the highly rated and sleekly styled Logitech Harmony 520 and 720 models. Like the 720, the TC 30 has a color screen, includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and docking station, and is PC-programmable, offering compatibility with Windows and Macintosh machines.

The Bad

The remote could sit a little more securely in its dock, the Web interface may intimidate nontechie users, and the TC 30 works only with Harman Kardon's desktop software, not Logitech's Web-based interface.

The Bottom Line

Essentially a high-end Logitech Harmony remote sold under the Harman Kardon name, the excellent TC 30 delivers a larger color screen but maintains Harmony's same great features and ease-of-use.

A further examination of the TC 30's face reveals a few other points of differentiation. For example, on the Harman Kardon, the video-transport buttons are placed higher on the remote; we prefer their lower placement on the Harmony 720, but this is a relatively minor quibble. The Harmon Kardon also has a Glow button that toggles the screen's backlight on and off. This button is missing on the 720, but that isn't a big deal because, with both models, the backlight turns on when you pick up the remote and automatically turns off after a few seconds when you set it down or stop pressing any buttons. The Glow button does give you a little bit finer degree of control over the backlight, but that doesn't constitute a major selling point.

Like Logitech's color-screen Harmony models (the 720, the 880 and the 890), the TC 30 includes a docking station for juicing up the included rechargeable lithium-ion battery; you simply place the remote in its cradle. Not only is it nice to have a recharging option to save dough on batteries, but if you're good about leaving the remote in its cradle, you'll always know where it is when you need it. If we had complaint, it's that we wish the remote would lock into the cradle a little more securely. As it stands, the remote looks attractive sitting in the cradle (the dock and remote mesh well together and keep a low profile), but if you jostle the dock--beware of the curious child--the remote ends up dislodging from its charging connectors a little too easily and thus fails to recharge.

As noted, this model features a motion sensor, so that when you pick up the remote, it automatically turns on. You can also easily add your own digital images as backgrounds and screensavers--there's a slide-show feature--though we found that we had to crop our images into vertical shots or they'd appear hideously stretched on the screen. And it really isn't a good idea to have a picture as a background because it makes the icons difficult to read; you're better off sticking with the default blue background.

In terms of programming the remote, the TC 30 works the same way that other Harmony remotes do, with one significant difference: you can use only Harman Kardon's "skinned" version of the Harmony desktop software, which works with Windows and Mac machines--but not Logitech's Web-based application. When we tried to log into Logitech's Web-based app with our Harman Kardon user name and password, we were redirected to a special Harman Kardon Web site.

While we'd prefer to have the option of using either the desktop software or the Web-based app, our experience programming the remote with the Harman-flavored software was just as good as the one we've come to expect from Logitech-branded Harmony remotes--it really does seem to be the same software with slightly different graphical elements. Programming a universal remote can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, involving punching a series of multidigit codes for each component in your A/V system. By contrast, the TC 30 (and the Harmony remotes) are programmed by connecting them to your Internet-connected Windows PC or Mac with the supplied USB cable, installing the model-specific version of 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 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--always having the channel buttons control the cable box or the volume controls dedicated to the TV, for instance. After you've completed the questionnaire, the software uploads all the relevant control codes to the TC 30.

As we said in our earlier reviews of Harmony remotes, if you have a complicated system, you can expect to spend some time fine-tuning the remote to get it to work just right. A certain amount of trial and error is involved. You must verify that the commands work with your equipment as intended, then modify them as necessary. The software provides advanced, macro-style options for delay times, multistep commands, and other functions. Also, the remote's Help key aids in troubleshooting by asking natural-language questions on the LCD. For instance, the screen might read, "Is the digital set-top box on?" But if you lose your way, customer service is a phone call away (service is handled by Harman, not Logitech).

As for performance, the IR (infrared) signal is strong, and you don't actually have to point the remote directly at your equipment to get it to respond. But unlike RF (radio frequency), IR can't go through walls, doors, and other obstructions, so if you have equipment hidden in cabinets or closets, your best choice--unless HK has an RF version of the TC 30 on the drawing board--is the Harmony 890, which carries a much heftier price tag.

Battery life is decent enough--Harman Kardon says you should be able to go a week or more without recharging, but obviously, if you leave the unit in its cradle, the battery will remain fully juiced. It's also worth noting that the battery is replaceable, so when it eventually wears out--and it will--you'll be able swap a new one in.

In the final analysis, if you're trying to choose between the Harman Kardon TC 30 and the Logitech Harmony 720, the choice isn't totally clear-cut. While we liked the overall button layout slightly better on the Harmony 720, the TC 30 offers the advantage of showing that extra set of contextual icons on the screen. If we had to choose, prices being equal, we'd probably have to give the slight edge to the TC 30. But it's a close call between two excellent remotes.


Harman/Kardon TC30

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8