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.
Editors' note: As of February 2009, an upgraded version of this product, the Logitech Harmony 1100, is now available. The ratings on this product have been updated accordingly.
Logitech has been gradually going more upscale with its PC-programmable Harmony remotes, so it's no great surprise that it's finally entered high-end territory with a touch screen, tablet-style model, the Harmony 1000. Unlike other high-end--and more expensive--models from the likes of Crestron, Philips, and Universal Remote Control, this swanky Harmony doesn't require hiring a professional home installer to program or update it. In other words, while $500 certainly isn't cheap for a remote, it's still about half the price of what you'd pay for a competing touch screen model once you combine the cost of the hardware with the cost of the programmer.
The first thing you'll notice about the Harmony 1000 is that it's about twice the size of your typical smart phone (4.1x5.5x0.7 inches, HWD), but it feels pretty light in your hand. The screen measures 3.5 inches diagonally and features QVGA resolution (320x240), which means it's fairly sharp but not supersharp. The brightness is adjustable, but even at a moderate setting, the screen is easily viewable.
As noted, this is a touch screen model, but you'll find a handful of hard buttons on the device for frequently used functions such as Channel up/down, Volume up/down/mute, and a four-way navigation button to get through menus. All these buttons, including the small Activities button just below the screen, are backlit with a blue glow. As with a lot of remotes, the identical-size Channel and Volume buttons are right next to each other, so we occasionally hit one when we meant to hit the other.
Like some of Logitech's more expensive Harmony models, the 1000 includes a docking station for juicing up its removable and rechargeable lithium ion battery (the remote sits at a 45-degree angle when docked). The 1000 also has a motion sensor; when you pick up the remote, it automatically turns on, a feature now available in other, less expensive Harmony remotes. To customize the look of your screen, you can also add your own digital image as background (say, a shot of your family), but we preferred to stick with one of the several monochromatic backgrounds that Logitech offers.
All in all, we liked the overall design of the 1000, though if you're used to using a wand-style remote, the horizontal nature of the tablet-style remote 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 numberpad 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. You can also create customized buttons in the Harmony software. However, we didn't see a way to create your own button design--something that's possible in competing models such as the Philips Pronto TSU9600 (which requires setup and installation from a professional installer).
As with other Harmony remotes, you program the Harmony 1000 by connecting it to your Internet-connected Windows PC or Mac with 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--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 Harmony 1000, as well as the relevant virtual buttons.
If you have a system that only has a few components, the Harmony 1000 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 your remote, Logitech's customer support for its Harmony remotes is really good, though you'll probably have to wait 5 to 10 minutes to get through to them, and perhaps longer. If your problems persist, you'll get kicked up to a level-two technician, who can go into your setup and adjust some of the advanced settings.
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 Harmony Wireless Extenders, which list for $150 per unit. (They're closer to $110 online, but that's still steep.) While we didn't have an opportunity to test the remote with dimmer switches, climate controls, or security systems that use the Z-Wave wireless protocol, Logitech says the remote supports the standard.
Again, if you have a simple system, IR probably will be fine, and the nice thing about the Harmony 1000 is that you can always upgrade later to RF should you someday decide you want to hide your components. That said, at this price, we're little disappointed Logitech didn't include an RF module. 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 assume that the Harmony 1000 will be offered in a professional version at some point, but the company should consider opening up this type of functionality to more adventurous consumers. (Alas, it probably won't happen as it does present a potential customer-service headache.)
Our only other significant gripe is that the battery life just doesn't seem to be all that good. Granted, most folks will leave the Harmony 1000 in its dock when not in use. But one night we forgot to dock the remote and 24 hours later, when we went to use it, the low-battery warning flashed across the screen almost immediately. We're not sure why this happened, because the screen shuts off when the remote is not in use, but the long and short of it is the remote does not appear to be all that energy efficient. We suspect the remote needs some sort of firmware upgrade to correct this problem and make it really go to sleep when not in use. Of course, our review unit was one of the first off the assembly line, so it could just be our unit.
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.
Savvy shoppers can buy the aforementioned Logitech Harmony 890 with the RF Wireless Extender for about $100 less than this remote. Overall, however, we did like the Harmony 1000 better than the Logitech Harmony 890, but it may be a stretch for those on a tighter budget who are simply having a hard time choosing between the 890 and one of Logitech's step-down models. That said, if you've got the dough for a high-end LCD touch screen remote but are a little appalled by the idea of paying upward of $1,000 for a Crestron or Philips model that requires its own professional programmer, the Logitech is an appealing alternative.