Logitech Harmony 350: Sometimes Simpler IS Better

Not long ago I posted about what I thought was a fantastic find at my local Goodwill: A Logitech Harmony 880 universal remote.  It was an older model, but still held the promise of replacing all of my remotes, Including the RC6 remote I use for my NUC.  I was excited to get it home, clean it up, replace the missing parts, and try it out.  While the remote was  easy to configure, and it DID work with all my devices, it proved to be somewhat challenging to use. The sheer number of buttons, combined with the cumbersome LCD screen options made it less “fun” than I’d hoped. My wife was no fan either.  Ultimately I decided it was better off in a home where it was appreciated, so I sold it off and went back to my multiple remote setup.  And that was the end of the remote adventure, or so I thought.

Fast forward a couple of months, and my TV remote suddenly stopped working. No warning at all, it just died.  No amount of fiddling with it could bring it back to life.

I needed a replacement, and I needed it soon. And since I was replacing one, why not go ahead and get a universal to replace them all. So to Amazon I went. I did a bit of research and found, not surprisingly, the Logitech Harmony remotes were among the most popular.  Go with what works…that’s my motto (actually it isn’t, but let’s just go with it), so I went through the available models to see which one would work for me.  My criteria were simple:

  • No display: If you’re a fan of the remotes with the cool display, I can see why, but they’re just not for me (or, more particularly, my wife)
  • Simple button set: I didn’t want something so simple it wasn’t useful, but the Harmony 880 was like the advanced trig calculator of remotes. I wasn’t looking to get rockets to the moon or split an atom, just watch TV.
  • Able to control all of my stuff: This may seem obvious, but I knew from experience there were quite a few “universal” remotes out there that didn’t include Intel NUCs in their universe.
  • Inexpensive: Again, not looking for the Cadillac of remotes. I just needed something that would work and wouldn’t break the bank. Harmony remotes can get into the hundreds of dollars, but I was looking for something more on the economy end.
20170218_171142
Anyway, it’ll be great to get rid of all of these

After reading a bunch of reviews, I decided on the Logitech Harmony 350, the entry level Harmony. No screen, no intimidating explosion of buttons, no hefty price tag. But it still offered the easy setup of the other Harmony remotes.

harmony-350-control-sm-promo

A New Toy!

I ordered it with free same day shipping (yay, Amazon Prime!) and it arrived later that evening.  It comes in a blister pack, but with an easy pull panel that let me open it without slicing up my fingers. No tools needed, which is refreshing for blister pack.  Sometimes when you get something in that clear plastic it seems you need a machete to get it out.

In the package were:

  • Remote (duh)
  • Batteries (nice touch)
  • USB cable
  • Instruction booklet
20170218_171444
Everything you need…nothing you don’t

I popped in the batteries, glanced at the booklet, and headed over to setup.myharmony.com, which is where the instructions said I should get started.

Programming Made Easy

For some reason I expected there to be a single software package for all Harmony remotes, but that’s not the case.  The site is laid out simply, and I found my remote with no effort at all, then clicked the download link.  I installed the software and was prompted to create a new account (the account I’d created for the 880 didn’t work…different software, different account, apparently). Once I’d created my account and signed in, I connected my remote with the supplied cable, and the setup wizard for the remote started. And here is where I can see why the Harmony remotes are so popular.

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The wizard walked me through the simple setup process, explaining everything as I went. All I needed, it said, was the brand and model number for each of my devices.  I’m not exaggerating when I say a child could set one of these up. I walked through the wizard, input my devices: a Proscan LCD TV, a Sony Bluray player, an Intel NUC6i5SYH, and a Samsung DVD/VCR combo  (shut up…stop laughing). It recognized them all with no problems.  I was prompted to set up my one “activity”; this remote, being their entry level model only allowed for a single activity, but that was fine because I didn’t plan on using it anyway.

The software let me decide what device controlled the volume, and in which situations. The Harmony software gives you options. If a button doesn’t work right, you can change it. If you change things for the worse, you can reset to the defaults. It’s nice to have a safety net. After just a couple of minutes, all my devices were set up and working. All was right with the world. Or so I thought…

Not So Fast

Testing out the remote showed all my devices were working with the basic functions, but before long I noticed there was no “Back” button on the remote. That meant when I was using the NUC and navigating through Kodi I didn’t have a way of backing out of anything. Kind of a problem. Fortunately, the software had me covered.  In the button section I was able to assign the “Back” function to the otherwise unused “Exit” button. Boom. Done.

The next problem I noticed was the “Guide” and “Info” buttons didn’t do anything for my TV.  Back to the button section of the software I went. I assigned the “Guide” function to the “Guide” button and tried it out. Nothing.  There was no “Info” button, so I couldn’t even try that one. This might not have been a big deal if not for the fact that I’m a cord-cutter. I watch over-the-air TV channels, and I use the OTA guide pretty much all the time. My Proscan TV, while on the oldish side, is great at pulling the OTA guide down and showing me not only what’s on, but what’s coming up for the next few days.  I really, really wanted that guide to work.

So I went back to the software. No problem it said; we can fix that button. We’ll just use your old remote to program the function. Wait, what?  You may recall this whole thing got started because my old remote was dead. Now what?  I started Googling.  I didn’t see any methods for fixing this that didn’t involve the original remote.  Then I remembered I had another old universal remote that I’d picked up at Goodwill a while ago and hadn’t gotten around to fiddling with. It was pretty old, so I didn’t expect much, but it DID have a guide button.

20170218_171643
The MX-450: big, bulky, complicated, and old…but works just fine.

I programmed it for the TV and gave it a try. Same problem; the basic functions worked, but the guide button was dead. I googled some more, and learned Proscan TVs used remote codes that also worked with several other manufacturers. I tried RCA, GE, LG, and a handful of others. The results were the same every time; no guide button.

I gave up for a few days, then tried Googling again. I happened across a post in a forum from a few years ago where someone mentioned they’d heard some Proscan LCD TVs used NEC codes. I hadn’t tried that one before, so I gave it a shot on the older universal. Boom…just like that the guide button was working!

So I fired up the Logitech software, went straight to the button section, and used the old universal as the “original” to program both the guide and info buttons. At last, my new Logitech remote was 100% functional.

Now you may be wondering why I bothered with the old remote at all. Why not just use the NEC codes on the Logitech?   When programming the Harmony, it wants (as in REALLY wants) the model number of the device. Most universal remotes program based on the brand, but Logitech remotes program based on the model. So it was simpler to program another remote by brand than it was to experiment with random NEC model numbers until I found one that worked.

Anyway, problem solved.

One More Quibble

There was one more issue I had with the remote, and it’s one I still haven’t solved: the Favorites buttons. I was excited to see I could program these buttons to quickly go to my favorite channels…except that I couldn’t. You see, my local over-the-air stations all use a “-” in their numbering. I don’t have channel 3, for example. Instead I have channels 3-1 and 3-2. This presents a problem for the Harmony because 1) it doesn’t have a “-“, and 2) the software doesn’t allow me to use “-” in the favorites.

At first I assumed I’d be able to use the “-” button on the old universal remote. But as luck would have it, it doesn’t do anything. At least it’s consistent, right?

I’ll continue to play around with that and see if I can get it working. In the mean time, I plan to set up hot keys in Kodi to load my favorite addons, then program those hot keys into the favorites for the Harmony…that should be fun.

Is the Harmony 350 a Winner?

Overall, I’d have to say the Harmony 350 is the “just right” remote for me. It’s the perfect balance of simplicity, ease of programming, and price.  It’s easy to get it up and running, and if something isn’t exactly right, it’s simple enough to make adjustments. If I had one bone to pick, it’s that it didn’t program in those two (important to me) buttons for my TV remote.  I entered the exact model of my TV, so having a button labeled “guide” not bring up the guide was a bit disappointing.  Fixing it was a bit of a hassle, but that’s not Logitech’s fault, as if I’d had a working remote it would’ve been easy.

It does have some quirks, but for the most part they’re minor and ones I can program around. One of the nice things about the way Harmony remotes work in general is that you’re not actually programming the remote; you’re making changes in the software, which you then sync with the remote. This means everything’s saved under your harmony account. If you need to replace the remote down the road, you’ve got a backup of all the settings.

My wife’s happy because it’s easy to use. I’m happy because all the buttons work and, unlike some of Logitech’s more advanced remotes, it didn’t cost as much as a new TV.

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