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G-Man1066

What is the fascination with Harmony remotes?

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Not to be a wiseguy....but what is the fascination with these really, really expensive Harmony remotes? Unless I'm really missing out on something, why would you want to pay that much for a remote? The beauty of these FLIRCs is that you can use just about any remote sucessfully.... My favorite Kodi remote is a "garage sale special" that I paid less than $5 for.  Like I said, I don't mean to ask stupid questions (If I'm really missing the boat on this) but can anyone tell me what the big deal is?

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I'd have to guess, but maybe it's that "really, really expensive" is relative, and that some folks want to control more than some form of XBMC.

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I don't own Harmony so what I'm saying below is not based on my own experience but on what I've been reading here and there. This may include my own personal opinions and anyone is welcome to comment on this (just no flame war please :)).

The Harmony has some nice features. For example ability to modify mappings of most of the keys. Of course this may not be that valuable when you just need to control some (HT)PC with Flirc as you can just map whatever you want to each of the buttons anyway in the Flirc itself. But when you also want to control other appliances like the TV receiver and/or audio equipment with the same remote then having the ability to mix and match profiles on a single remote layout is really nice feature. Another cool feature is something called Activities. Depending on the model you either have already few Activities predefined (and hardwired to some buttons) or you can define your own (in models with LCD screens). You can assign a different layout to each Activity (for example have volume buttons control the TV receiver or amplifier but the rest of the key control only Flirc or some DVR) and also add some macros when you start the Activity or end it (so you can for example turn on TV, Amp and HTPC when you start Watch Movie Activity and turn them off when you end it).

I've read a lot of opinions and comments about the Harmony as I was about to buy one but one thing threw me off. It seems that they are just slow compared to other simpler remotes. The CPU in the remote has a lot to do and it is not very fast anyway. In a remote that costs that much it is something I can't ignore. Maybe the newer models are better but I'm out of loop as I don't look to buy one anymore.

I've been looking for some other remotes that would be simpler and cheaper but still allow great configurability, preferably with option to configure them from the PC. I've found one remote that I'm really happy with: OneForAll Simple 4 (URC-6440). It has backlit keys, allows configuration from PC and is able to mix devices on a single layout (I can still control volume on the TV when I use some other device profile that I've recorded in Flirc). It is also extendable (read below if you are interested).

There's a forum called JP1 forums that is focused on remotes from a UEI (which is also behind OneForAll). There is really great group of people that maintain the forum and work on an opensource software for those remotes. They also create something called Extenders. It is basically a firmware hack that add extra functionality to the remote. When I've bought the remote it was still not supported by JP1 software. I've spent really quite a lot of time working with them to get into inner workings of this remote which even included opening it and soldering serial port to connect it to PC to dump the firmware and then analyze it (I probably have the only one Simple 4 remote with serial port installed :P, normally it comes with just USB port). We've managed to crack their security measures and added support to the JP1 software. A really great guy from the forum was even able to create an Extender for this remote that adds a lot of features (for example it adds shift button and doubles the amount of devices you can setup from 4 to 8). I think it may have some functions that even Harmony doesn't have :P.

The best thing is that there is a choice with the remotes and this is what Flirc is really good at :).

Edited by yawor

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Interesting and excellent answer, yawor! I had one of those OneForAlls quite a few years back...forgot all about it. As I remember it, it was quite a nice unit and would work for all (or nearly all) my stuff, but if I remember correctly, I broke it. 

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Just my $0.02 worth as the owner of a few Harmony remotes over the past 10 years or so--their value comes almost exclusively from their ability to be programmed to control "Activities" by the end user.   For example, I push the button for "Watch BluRay" and every device needed to watch a Bluray is turned on and set to proper input (e.g., Bluray player, TV, Receiver, room lighting, etc), and then every programmed button works the corresponding device (volume controls TV or AVR, channel the BR player, etc) so in that sense it is  much more than just a programmable universal remote with volume punch through that declutters your coffee table.  the interface is pretty simple, so once programmed, it makes a complicated AV system easy enough for the babysitter or wife to use.  And there's an interactive help button so that if something isn't working correctly it will almost always resolve the problem, even for the less technologically inclined.  Buying a more expensive model increases the number of devices that can be controlled, plus adds Bluetooth , RF and, for Fanboys, it lets you use your phone or tablet as a remote so your smartphone won't feel ignored.  if you've already got a lower-priced Harmony (say the 6560) and just need to control an HTPC/FireTV/etc, that doesn't have an IR remote, (and have room to add another device or know how to get around the limitation), then I agree, adding the Flirc rather than upgrading to a harmony Ultimate makes more sense to me too.   That being said, there's a lot to dislike about the Harmonys, and I'm definitely going to take a look at the JP1 forums yawor mentioned.

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Wayneg and yawor understand the Harmony. For me the value is in the activities that control multiple devices at once.

If I want to watch Kodi with my new flirc I hit the Kodi activity and it turns on my TV, my sound bar, and brings Kodi into focus on my desktop (it's always running, but I use the computer for other stuff). It knows what my last activity was, so it will either keep it on HDMI 3 or switch to it from the input of whatever the last activity I ran is. From there the buttons are all mapped to Kodi activities.

If I want to watch a Blu-ray on my Xbox One I hit the Xbox activity and if I'm already in the Kodi activity it switches my TV input to HDMI 1 from HDMI 3, turns on the Xbox, and now all of the remote buttons are mapped for the Xbox One. 

If I want to then use the sound bar to stream music or a podcast from my phone I hit the Bluetooth activity which turns off the TV and Xbox One, but leaves the sound bar on and switches input to bluetooth. 

Or, let's say I'm back in Kodi on my PC and notice that I spilled some crumbs from my sandwich on the floor. I can point my Harmony at the Roomba, turn it on, guide it over to my general area, let it run for a few minutes, then send it back to charge. It's a little hard to hear the TV show I'm watching in Kodi so I hit a button to switch Kodi audio output to my headphones and put them on to isolate from the vacuum noise. 

One thing not mentioned is that the screen can hold a menu with basically every function a device can perform. So, if there are some little used functions that don't really fit anywhere on the harmony or that you'd be afraid of accidentally pressing, you can still access them from the menu and you get text saying exactly what they are.

It's one remote with lots of options and simplicity once it's setup. I have an older low end model (510) which was I think under $50 when I got it. It's limited to 5 devices and doesn't have a color screen, both of which are fine by me. The software kind of sucks. A lot of things are not intuitive. It does everything I want it to but learning how to do it and where to find those settings took awhile at first. My remote only works on the older software so it might be much better on newer devices.

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WAF - Wife Acceptance Factor. 

To me thats the beauty of the Harmony Remotes. My ex-wife could use it, my mom can come over and use it, and any new woman that enters my life can use it. Less aggravation. 

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