Harman/Kardon TC30 review: Harman/Kardon TC30

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.

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