Bottom Line: The Harmony 520 Universal Remote isn’t as flashy as pricier siblings, but it is an extraordinary value.
Setup: As with other Harmony universal remote controls, the 520 must be programmed using a personal computer and software that can be downloaded either from Logitech’s Web site or the supplied CD. The programming process is easy, but it helps to be at least moderately computer savvy.
The primary requirement of programming is that you know the makes and model numbers of all your home theater equipment and how the individual components are connected. Using the computer program, you enter this information, and the software does the rest. For instance, you might tell the software that to watch a DVD you turn the TV on and tune it to the “HDMI 1” input; turn your home theater amplifier on and switch it to the DVD channel; and turn your DVD player on. Once you have provided this information, the software sets the remote up so all you need do is press one button to adjust all functions.
During my testing process everything worked flawlessly. This was no surprise because I worked with the Harmony 700 universal remote earlier this year and found it to be an outstanding piece of equipment.
Functionality: If you’re on the fence about buying a universal remote, the 520 may be for you. Its relatively low price makes it an excellent entry-level unit. Although it retails for $99.99, you can find it significantly cheaper. I bought mine on sale for $49.99.
The remote can control up to 12 devices and has a simple layout dominated by an “activities” button. Press it, and you get four options on the unit’s control screen – each with a corresponding button to the side of the screen. Press the button next to “watch a DVD” and the unit will adjust the settings on all of your equipment to make sure you’re ready to go. Press “listen to radio” and it will make the proper adjustments for that. If one or more components don’t respond correctly, the Harmony 520 even has a built in help function that walks you through a troubleshooting process.
Because this is a lower-end unit, the 520 lacks a few features that I liked on the Harmony 700, most notably pre-assigned buttons for the most common functions, like “watch TV.” Also, the 520 is not rechargeable, so you need to replace the four AAA batteries periodically. If you’re looking to control radio frequency (RF) devices, the Harmony 520 won’t do the trick because it’s only infrared (IR) capable. Fortunately, most home theater equipment relies on IR. Also, PlayStation 3 owners should note that the 520 lacks Bluetooth capability, so it can’t control a PlayStation 3 unless you spring for Harmony’s PlayStation 3 adapter, which runs about $60. Finally, the 520 lacks the color LCD and touch screen functions found on higher-end models.
Despite this handful of negatives, the 520 is a great choice for the budget-minded consumer who wants to retire a collection of four or five remote controls without spending a bundle. There are more versatile units on the market, but you’ll have to pay for them.
Appearance: The Harmony 520 is a sleek, thin remote with a silver plastic shell highlighted by a black control panel and buttons. It has backlighting available on the control screen and buttons, making it usable in the dark. While it doesn’t look particularly high-end, it feels right at home next to the stock remotes shipped with most of today’s electronics.
Ergonomics: Lightweight and thin, the Harmony 520 feels good in the hand and the buttons are easy to access and push. I like the layout of the Harmony 700 a little better because it very closely mimicked the design of the remote used for my DirecTV satellite receiver. Placement of the controls, particularly the “volume” and “channel” buttons takes a little getting used to, but this isn’t much of a concern after a few hours use.
Value: Harmony makes more expensive remote controls with flashy, upgraded features, but you pay for them. If value is your main concern, the Harmony 520 is an excellent choice because it works just as well as higher-end models for a fraction of the price.