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Technology

A great remote control

If you have a decent home theater system you probably have a myriad of remote controls, one for the stereo receiver, one for the tv, another for the cable box/satellite, yet another for the DVD, CD Player, and VCR. You may have even tried one of those $200 universal remote controls only to find that not all of the functions on your $1000 system can be used without hitting four buttons on the remote.

Enter the Harmony 680 Remote Control. This bad boy connects to your PC with the included USB cable to download configuration settings you have entered in on their website allowing you to control up to 16 devices, several at one time.

Here is what you do: You go to Harmony’s website and create an account. Then you tell them what devices you wish to control with your remote control (as well as which remote you purchased). Once that is done you can set up your “Activity” buttons, these set the remote AND your devices up ready for viewing.

For example: Watch TV turns on the TV sets it to Channel 3, ensures the Cable Box is turned on and puts it on your favorite channel…any other devices that were turned on are turned off (this can be changed). For watching DVDs it will turn the TV on, put it on Component input; turn the receiver on and set it to the DVD player, then turn on the DVD player. Finally turns off everything else (again, this can be changed so some devices are left on…in my case the cable box is always on).

It then reprograms the buttons on the remote to a preconfigured set of settings or you can customize just about every button on the remote to something dealing with your devices.

Now, say you have a problem with configuring the remote control just right…say for instance the “last channel” button doesn’t work… You go to the website again and tell it to either relearn a command or learn a brand new one (with a custom label). When prompted you use your existing remote control and fire the command into the rear of the Harmony remote, literally seconds later the command has been learned and uploaded to the website. From there you can assign it to a button immediately -and/or- assign it to a spot on the lcd screen.

All commands are also available through the LCD screen on the remote so if you run out of buttons then you can still access the commands you want.

Why all this writing over a remote control? Put simply, the customer support rocks…I had a problem here where when I tried to have the cable box stay on it wouldn’t continue without me also configuring how the video mode was set even though I hadn’t had to do such a thing before. So I called up tech support and explained the problem, by the time I finished the tech had already made changes to the configuration and had me reload it on the remote. While I had him on the line I also told him about a problem I had where the TV would sometimes turn itself back on after everything else was shut off. Another reload and the problem was taken care of. Best of all support is open from 9am-10pm EST on weekdays and 12pm-6pm on weekends and I didn’t have to wait on hold at 8pm on a Friday.

There are a couple downsides to this remote. It takes a few minutes to send the update to the remote. The file downloaded from the website is over 256KB and once that is done it takes about 4 minutes before the remote can be tested. It is also a bit expensive, but not much more than other remotes made to deal with many devices.

An advantage is that right now you can get this remote (brand new) for less than $85. My dad made on the HTPCNews Forums explaining the process.

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About James

I am a Senior Developer/Consultant for InfoPlanIT, LLC. I previously spent over 7 years as a Product Manager for what eventually became ComponentOne, a division of GrapeCity. While there, I helped to create ActiveReports 7, GrapeCity ActiveAnalysis, and Data Dynamics Reports.

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