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The SST-768's small size and simple layout belie its complexity. The programming process of the $300 control can be labyrinthine. Depending on your comfort with Harmony's unique Web-based interface, you'll either be utterly frustrated or find yourself with the most complete remote you've ever used.
The SST-768 is six inches long and comes in red, silver, or blue. It has the heft and the look of a candy bar-style cell phone. Along with the standard numeric keypad, channel selectors, and volume controls, there's a familiar transport pad that doubles as a five-way navigator for DVD menus, electronic programming guides, and other interfaces. The unique Help function gives you a hand in tracking down problems, and the Zap button activates a TV Guide-like program list. The titles appear with other information on the five-line backlit LCD, which is--against all logic--at the bottom of the remote. The Mode key and the jog wheel on the right-hand side complete the layout. The SST-768 takes four AAA batteries.
The tiny control can accommodate few buttons, so many must do double or triple duty, depending on what gear is active. On the other hand, all the keys are within easy reach of your thumb. An infrared blaster sits beside a mini USB jack on the remote's nose. The included USB cable connects the SST-768 to a Mac or Windows PC for communication with the Harmony Web site.
The site provides complete programming codes for virtually all TVs, VCRs, CD and DVD decks, satellite receivers, radios, and MP3 players. In fact, almost any household appliance with an infrared-remote receiver, such as ceiling fans and lights, is controllable via the SST-768. A sophisticated online questionnaire identifies your gear and activities. It might, for example, come up with Watch TV and Watch DVD options. Once you've made all your choices, the appropriate programming is downloaded to the remote's internal flash memory.
The proprietary Zap function can store 255 of your favorite channels and two weeks of short program listings downloaded from the Harmony Web site. Depending on how many cable or satellite channels you receive, the download can be a lengthy process.
During our tests, basic operation went fine. Our audio and video components powered up, and we toggled between inputs as expected. The Help function walked us through problems via prompts on the LCD, and we were able to tweak and troubleshoot further through the Web interface. But more-advanced features were challenging. The SST-768 downloads every single one of a device's controls, giving no consideration to their relative importance. Simply changing an A/V receiver's surround-sound mode from Dolby Digital to stereo, for instance, requires you to locate the correct menu and scroll through dozens of choices on the LCD. You have to connect the remote to the Harmony site to change the menu, so creating custom submenus for frequently accessed controls is difficult.
The SST-768's marriage of A/V and Internet technology makes day-to-day operation generally simple and painless, and the remote has already won quite a few converts. But less tech-savvy users may need a resident geek to help with setup. If you like online programming but prefer a wider array of control buttons, check out Harmony's newer and larger SST-659.