Harmony 650 Remote

Since I got the new home theater set up, I’ve been struggling with the remote control situation. I have 4 devices: TV, cable box, AV receiver, and UHD Blu-ray player. The remote that came with the cable box was not adequate and did not have the 30-second skip, so I wound up getting a used remote for really cheap on Amazon. It controls 3 devices which is pretty good. And it is a JP1 remote like my old learning remotes were, but they don’t seem to make JP1 remotes anymore and most of mine don’t work, plus I don’t have a serial port on any of my computer to connect to the JP1 port. However, the Comcast remote doesn’t have nearly all the features of the JP1 remotes I had, but if you look hard enough it will still do a lot. But it won’t control 4 devices and it won’t learn commands from another remote.

I bought a neat wifi remote so I could use my old iPod as a remote. This thing has infra red emitters and learning, but it is controlled via the wifi network in the house. You use an app to control it and you can have it learn any signal from an existing remote and then create your own keypad on the screen of the iPod (or other device). So I played around with that, but the problem is you have to connect the wifi remote to power all the time and have a line of sight to the equipment it will control. Also there weren’t a lot of options that I could find on making your own remote. And it was a little clunky, sometimes not finding the emitter on the network.

There are better remotes but they can be very expensive. However, Frys had a well-reviewed remote, the Logitech Harmony 350, on sale for $32 which isn’t that bad. Still, some reviewers said it was disappointing and that you should get the more expensive Harmony 650 instead, but it is usually $60 though a few weeks ago Frys had it for sale for $38. I don’t know if or when Frys was going to put it on sale again so I bought a refurbished model from NewEgg for $32. I had good luck buying a refurbished AV receiver, and this way the better remote cost the same as the lesser remote on sale.

I got it yesterday, which was the same day that Frys put the 650 on sale again for $38. But Frys charges sales tax plus it costs me about $4 in gas to drive 20 miles to my nearest store.

The Harmony 650 looks like a regular remote but it has a small backlit color screen on it so that it can give you some basic instructions or customize commands. But the key thing is that it connects to your computer and a program that gets the latest greatest remote control commands off the internet and programs them into the remote. They try to make it super easy by coming up with an activity like Watch TV where you press one button and it turns on the TV, cable box, and AV receiver, and will even set the TV (or AV receiver) to the correct input. Then the volume controls work the receiver while the play and pause buttons control the DVR in the cable box. That’s all great except for one thing: once I got it set up it wouldn’t actually turn on the TV. Then the remote tried different things and had me keep trying that, but after dozens of attempts, the TV still wasn’t coming on. It isn’t real easy to change the way this works, but you can learn the power function into the remote, plus you can learn in other features that Logitech doesn’t include (like the 30-second skip, which is crucial) and assign those. It is still way, way easier than the madness of the JP1 remote interface, but still took a few tries. And each time you sync to the remote it asks you to evaluate your experience with the remote, which dropped further and further, but I did get it working and it controls everything pretty well. So now I’m actually happy, but I haven’t needed to sync again, so I haven’t re-evaluated with a higher score.

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