Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a reasonable and reliable unit to serve as the heart of your home theater system, the Harmony 700 universal remote is a solid choice.
Setup: Logitech’s Harmony 700 universal remote must be connected to a computer for initial setup, and it also requires you to download software from the Logitech Web site. This is easy to do, but it helps to be at least mildly computer savvy.
Once you’ve downloaded the required program, set up a free Logitech account and connected the remote to your computer, the software makes sure everything is properly updated and walks you through basic questions about the equipment you will be controlling. Most important to the process is information about the manufacturers and model numbers, as well as the way every item is connected. You enter this data, followed by the settings your equipment uses for various tasks, and the computer does the programming. For instance, you might indicate that to watch a movie, your television must have the HDMI 2 input selected, your home theater amplifier must be tuned to its DVD input, and your Blu-ray player must be on. Once you’ve done that, the remote will be programmed so that all of these settings are automatically adjusted every time you press the “Watch a Movie” button.
I found that the software did a pretty good job automatically dialing in the settings for my equipment, but I still needed to tweak things. For instance, my home theater receiver has a sleep mode, and this control wasn’t automatically included in the programming. Also, I have my PlayStation 3 connected to the “DVD” input on the amplifier, and for some reason the remote was convinced that I should press “DVD 2” to select it. Fortunately, the remote is customizable so, I was able to get everything just the way I wanted it after playing with the software. The fine tuning process is probably easier with less complicated systems, but people who hate working with computers need to know that a perfect setup may require computer time.
Functionality: Once you get the Harmony 700 dialed in, you’ll probably wonder why you didn’t buy it earlier. Its buttons are mostly backlit and they are plentiful, meaning you can easily control all the functions on everything from cable and satellite boxes to Blu-ray players and home theater receivers. Making things particularly easy, are the unit’s “activity” buttons. Push “Watch TV” and the remote turns the appropriate equipment on and makes sure the correct inputs are selected. Also included are one-touch options for “Watch a Movie” and “Listen to Music.” Although the remote has only three built-in activity buttons, you can program your own setups and access them using the color LCD screen. The screen is not touch sensitive, but it is useful, as it displays options that are accessed by selecting one of four physical buttons adjacent to it.
The remote is also fully customizable, meaning you can assign functions to buttons as you see fit. This is a nice feature for folks who aren’t completely satisfied with the automatic programming. It’s worth noting, however, that the custom assignment of functions does take some effort and technical knowhow.
Although the Harmony 700 is an outstanding unit, it does have a few shortcomings that are worth noting. First, the remote is only infrared (IR) capable, so it’s not the right choice for anyone looking for a radio frequency (RF) unit. Fortunately, most people use IR systems, so the Harmony 700 will be just fine for the average consumer. The Harmony 700 also lacks Bluetooth capability, meaning it can’t control a PlayStation 3 unless you add Harmony's PlayStation adapter. The bad news is that the adapter runs about $60. The good news is that it works flawlessly, so it’s an option if you really want a one-remote-only system.
Appearance: The Harmony 700 has a sleek, attractive black plastic shell. Although it is an advanced remote, it doesn’t have a high-end look. Rather, its appearance is consistent with most of the stock remote controls packaged with modern electronics. That’s not to say Logitech should invest money in repackaging it. The Harmony 700 may not pack a lot of bling, but it’s still a good-looking unit and – most importantly – it does what it’s supposed to.
Ergonomics: The Harmony 700 feels good in the hand, and it is designed so that the base shifts naturally to the palm, allowing excellent thumb access to the most used controls, including volume and channel selection. The buttons also have a nice feel. They’re soft and smooth to the touch, yet raised enough to be easy to find in dim lighting, especially since most are backlit.
Value: List for the remote is $149.99. While that’s not cheap, it is considerably less than the cost of many universal remotes on the market, and the Harmony 700 is a solid performer that will serve most people’s needs. In fact, the biggest strike against it is that Logitech’s slightly upgraded Harmony One can be found for only about $30 more. When you get serious about buying, it’s worth taking a look at that unit before making your final decision.