Product Review (January 2005)
Logitech® Harmony® Remote 688

Logitech has recently introduced a new universal remote control that is designed to be easy to use, yet powerful enough to control virtually any A/V component in your system. Universal remotes are nothing new and some companies have taken it to the limit with exotic versions that cost in excess of $1000. The problem is as they get more sophisticated, so does the programming, which makes it difficult for the average user to get the most out of the product. Logitech took a slightly different approach with their new Harmony® line of universal remotes. The Logitech® Harmony® Remote 688 we are reviewing here offers control over virtually all of our components (there are many) without the painful task of customizing the display. Logitech has a convenient website specifically designed for setting up the remote where users define each of the components in their system. The configuration data is compiled and then transmitted to the remote where it is stored in flash memory. This also prevents the data from being lost if the batteries run down.

Features
The Harmony® Remote 688 comes with the H688 remote, USB cable, four "AAA" batteries, Harmony software installation CD and a quick start guide. The remote design is slender, ergonomic and measures only 8.1x 2.3 x 1.3 inches. Two colors (Metallic Silver or Gun-Metal Black) are available to choose from. The 84x84 pixel display is easy to read and offers the flexibility needed to provide the user with detailed information. The backlight provides even light distribution making it clearly visible in the dark. Unfortunately, the color of the Activity Buttons make them difficult to see in the dark even with the backlight. A full 2 Megabytes of non-volatile flash memory is built into this remote to store code configurations. There are a total of 56 buttons on top. An IR receiver for learning commands as well as two wide dispersion high-power IR transmitters for sending commands are provided. There's even a small speaker for audible feedback for the user. The setup requires either a PC with Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP or a Mac with OS X with Safari 1.0 and access to a USB port. An Internet connection is also needed to get the configuration and codes downloaded into the remote. The remote powers from the USB interface while configuring the device, so you don't have to worry about draining the batteries during this process.

Internet Powered
Installing the software is fairly painless and the Web Wizard setup walks the user through most of the installation. Using the USB port located on the front side of the remote near the IR transmitters, the user simply plugs in the remote to the PC using the provided USB cable. Configuring this remote differs from many of the universal remotes on the market. Instead of entering codes from a manual, the user selects from Logitech's component database. Logitech has a pretty amazing website dedicated to setting up the remote and requires the user to register for an account. Once the user is logged in, the connection to the remote is verified and each component in the system can be defined. The number of A/V components in the database is very impressive. It had codes for our Parasound AVC-2500u A/V processor, Kenwood Entre Media Server, Optoma H77 DLP projector and more commonly found components like our Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/SACD player. Obviously, Logitech put a lot of effort into making the database rich. The only component we didn't find in their database was codes for a Mitsubishi HC2000 DLP projector, which is very similar to the Optoma H77. However, the 688 remote has the capabilities of learning new codes, so this was not a big problem.

Performance
The ergonomic design of the remote is great and it has a solid feel that lends itself well to a single handed control device. A total of six soft keys surround the LCD with three keys on each side. There are also several colored Activity Buttons (Play Video, Play Music, Watch TV, Watch DVD and More) on the top of the remote that are designed to transmit a series of IR commands to setup the A/V system. For example, Watch TV can turn the TV and A/V receiver on and select the correct A/V input on the receiver. The user has complete control over the list of items commanded with a single button push. A nice feature of this remote is it keeps track of the state of your components. For example, if a component with a single on/off button gets out of sync with the rest of the system when using an Activity, the user can press the Help button. The user will then be asked questions and the remote will send the needed commands to the affected components.

If you are like me, you'll soon find that some of the predefined soft key settings are not named well. In addition, the space allocated for each name on the remote display is limited to eight characters despite what is displayed on the configuration screen when setting up the remote. Many of the names assigned to our Parasound A/V processor resulted in the names being truncated on the LCD screen. I found myself having to rename many of the keys to make them useable on the remote. For example, several keys have similar names such as Input Audio 1, Input Audio 2, etc. Yet, all of the names show up on the remote display as Input Au, making it impossible to differentiate the functions. Other names are more subjective, some of which we liked and disliked, so it is nice that the Logitech offers the flexibility to change the names. The remaining buttons on the remote are assigned specific functions and cannot be changed. While we liked the way some of the buttons were arranged, others were less than ideal. This is obviously subjective to a large degree.

We did run into an issue with the software when we accidentally named one of our components Processor, which was already used in some of the default settings. The result of this action caused an error while compiling the data for downloading. I had to call Logitech's Toll-free Help Line for support and it was resolved rather quickly. In fact, I was very impressed with the level of customer service for this remote and yet there was virtually no wait on the phone. Other than that, the software worked well and the installation was uneventful. Since the remote uses a Microchip processor with reconfigurable program memory, it is capable of having the firmware updated. This greatly improves the ability to fix any bugs as they are discovered. We can't emphasize enough the benefit of having firmware that is upgradable.The remote also has excellent range and provides a strong IR signal to components. In fact, in some cases it was far better than the factory remote.

Conclusion
Logitech's new Harmony® Remote 688 is not only an easy to use product, but it is well thought out and has the added benefit of being programmed from a comprehensive up-to-date database. T
he remote is relatively simple to use and easy to program using Logitech's Harmony database. The feel of the remote is nice and it offers a good selection of buttons. General programming is simple and the rich database offers users a quick way to get control of their system with a single remote. The toll-free support line is helpful and based on our experience, they know what problems exist and they are knowledgeable.

The downside is that some esoteric components may have to be programmed manually using the remote's learning capability. If you choose to use the default database without any modifications, you might find yourself a little frustrated with the naming and arrangement of the soft keys. The LCD screen could also be a bit larger and provide more resolution for longer soft key names.

We think Logitech did a wonderful job with this product and while there is room for improvement, the remote serves its purpose well. The price is reasonable and the capabilities and support are excellent. For those looking for a flexible, yet easy to use universal remote with support for virtually any A/V component, the Harmony 688 will deliver.

- Kevin Nakano


Review System

Projector: Optoma H77 High-Definition HD2+ DLP Projector
Screen:
Stewart Filmscreen 100" Luxus Deluxe FireHawk Screenwall

Preamplifier/Processor: Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 Tripole® Surround Speakers
Subwoofer: Two Miller & Kreisel MX-350THX MkII THX-Ultra Push-pull Subwoofers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Samsung SIR-T165 Terrestrial Receiver
D-VHS VCR #1: Marantz MV8300 D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
D-VHS VCR #2: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
Audio Switcher (5.1): Zektor MAS3 5.1 Audio Switcher
Laserdisc Player: Pioneer CLD-D704 CD/VCD/LD Player
Audio Cables: UltraLink Platinum Series Audio Cables
Video Generator: Sencore VP403 SDTV/HDTV Video Pattern Generator
Video Signal Analyzer: Sencore VSA794 NTSC Video Signal Analyzer
Color Analyzer: Sencore CP5000 Multi-Display Color Analyzer


Review at a glance


Logitech® Harmony® Remote 688

Specifications

Colors:

Metallic Silver or Gun-Metal Black

Current system requirements:

PC with USB port, Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP or Mac OS X with Safari 1.0, Internet access, 10MB free hard drive space. Future support for Linux.

Hardware:

Backlit LCD 84 x 48 pixels, 56 top mounted hard buttons, Infrared sensor, USB communication, Speaker.

Memory:

2 Megabytes Non-volatile flash memory.

Infrared Transmitters (IR):

3 wide dispersion high power LED's (Range > 40 feet, sending frequency > 60 kHz, sensing frequency > 60 kHz.)

Frequency Response:

33Hz - 20kHz

Power:

While connected: USB power from PC, when not connected: 4 AAA 1.5V batteries.

Weight:

5.8 oz

Dimensions:

8.1x 2.3 x 1.3 inches

Warranty:

366 day repair/exchange warranty for factory assembly defects only.

Features

  • Large Internet-based component database
  • Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP or Mac OS X with Safari 1.0
  • 2 Megabytes Non-volatile flash memory
  • Backlit LCD 84 x 48 pixels
  • 56 top mounted hard buttons
  • Infrared sensor
  • USB Interface
  • Speaker
  • Package Contents

  • H688 Remote
  • Harmony Software Installation CD
  • USB cable
  • 4 AAA batteries
  • Quick Start Guide

    Company Information
    Logitech Inc.
    Corporate Headquarters
    6505 Kaiser Drive
    Fremont, CA 94555 USA
    Phone: 510-795-8500
    Sales: 800-231-7717
    Support: 702-269-3457

    Part Number 970115-0403
    Source: Manufacture Supplied
    MSRP: $249.95

    URL: www.logitech.com/harmony

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