Logitech Harmony Home Control System Reviewed

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Logitech Harmony Home Control System Reviewed

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Logitech-HCC-thumb.jpgThe "smart home" is a blossoming market within the consumer electronics industry. The number of networkable lighting systems, thermostats, security cameras, locks, appliances, and power management products is growing exponentially. In most cases, each of these smart devices comes with its own app that allows you to wirelessly (and, in many cases, remotely) control and monitor your home environment. Build a system with multiple smart home products, and prepare to jump between multiple apps to control them all.

The other option is to integrate these apps into a compatible control system that unites everything into a single control interface. Those who prefer to go the professional route can hire an installer to put in a Crestron, Control4, or similar system--but what about the do-it-yourselfers who want to, well, do it themselves for less cost? Logitech has introduced the new Harmony Living Home Line that is specifically designed to unite the company's AV system control with smart home devices, all programmable via the Harmony setup wizard we've come to know so well. The product line includes three models: the Harmony Home Hub ($99.99), the Harmony Home Control ($149.99), and the Harmony Ultimate Home Control ($349.99). I requested the mid-tier package, as I wanted to see exactly what kind of whole-house control I could get for $150.

The Harmony Home Control includes three main elements. First is the Harmony Home Hub, a small box that connects to your home network and controls AV and smart home devices via WiFi, Bluetooth, or IR. Second is the Harmony mobile app for iOS or Android, which allows you to use your smartphone or tablet as a remote control. And finally, for those who don't wish to be tethered to a mobile device for control, the package includes a physical Harmony remote control. The $350 package includes the touchscreen/hard-button combo remote, the same design used on the Harmony Ultimate One and the Harmony Touch I reviewed a couple years ago. The $150 remote omits the touchscreen and adds a physical number pad and five buttons dedicated to smart home control (more on this in a second).

In order to test the smart home aspects of this system, I requested a few compatible devices--namely, the Lutron Caseta wireless lighting system and a Honeywell WiFi Thermostat. Other compatible products include the Nest thermostat, Philips Hue lighting, Lutron Serena window shades, August smart locks, Rheem water heaters, and the SmartThings and peq product lines. For an updated list of compatible smart home devices, click here.

The Hookup
First, let's talk about basic setup for AV system control. As with other recent Harmony remotes, Logitech would like you to set up this system using the Harmony app on your mobile device. I wasn't particularly fond of the app's setup process when I reviewed the Harmony Smart Keyboard last year, and I had trouble with it again here...which proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Setup begins when you plug in the Harmony Home Hub near your AV system and download the Harmony app to your iOS or Android device. The app automatically connects your mobile device to the Hub via Bluetooth and allows you add the Hub to your home WiFi network (your device must support Bluetooth LE to follow this setup procedure; my older iPhone 4 does not, so I used my Samsung Galaxy tablet for this part). Obviously, you must have a home WiFi network in place to use this system...and why would you be purchasing smart home products if you didn't?

Once the Hub is added to your home network, the app asks you to either create a Harmony account or sign in to your existing account, if you already own Harmony remotes...which I do. This is where I ran into a problem with both the Android and iOS apps: I would get to the "Connecting with Harmony" stage of the sign-in process, and nothing would happen. The system would freeze. I tried restarting everything (app, Hub, WiFi router), and nothing worked. A search of Harmony's support page revealed that I'm not the only one who's had this problem, and it led me to a valuable answer: If you can't get the app to handle system setup correctly, you can connect the Hub directly to your computer via the supplied USB cable and perform the setup process through the MyHarmony software for your PC or Mac. I personally recommend that you skip the app setup and use your computer from the get-go, as the MyHarmony computer software is much better than the app-based setup wizard. It's faster, more stable, and just plain easier to use. You can download the computer software here (https://setup.myharmony.com ). In no time at all, I added all of my AV system components (Samsung TV, Oppo Blu-ray player, Dish DVR, Harman/Kardon receiver, and Apple TV) and configured three activities: Watch TV, Watch a Movie, and Watch AppleTV. You can add up to eight AV devices total, and the basic Home Control remote has three activity buttons that support up to six activities total. (FYI: If you're an existing Harmony customer and sign in to your account, you can easily port over your devices and activities from a previous remote: I chose to walk through the whole process again just for review purposes.)

Then I hit the sync button to upload the info to the Hub and put the Hub back near my equipment rack. There is no need to connect the physical Harmony remote to your computer to upload anything. The Hub is where the system brains reside: It receives commands from the physical remote via RF (so line of sight is not necessary) and from the Harmony app via WiFi, and it converts those commands to IR to control your AV devices. It blasts out those IR signals so that you don't have to run IR cables; I simply placed the Hub atop my gear rack, and it controlled all of my IR-based devices (including my TV several feet away) with great consistency. One long IR blaster cable is included to extend the coverage, if needed. The Hub can also control WiFi and Bluetooth devices directly. It automatically detected both the Apple TV and an Amazon Fire TV (in another room) on my WiFi network during setup and asked if I wanted to control them.

Once the Hub was set up and functioning properly with the Harmony remote control, I revisited the iOS and Android apps. This time, I didn't have any trouble signing in. Each time you launch the app, it looks for available hubs; if only one hub is found, it will automatically sign in and load the control settings. You're then taken to the Activities page to begin your AV system control.

The next step for me was to install the smart home products. I installed two Lutron Caseta wireless lighting kits: an in-wall dimmer kit and a plug-in dimmer kit, each of which costs $59.95. I also installed the Honeywell RTH9580 WiFi thermostat ($229.99 MSRP, about $180 through Amazon). I will be writing up separate reviews of those products to discuss the specific details of their installations and performance. What's relevant for this review is that, once those smart devices were added to the same home network as the Harmony Home Hub, it was easy to add them to the control system right from the Harmony app. I simply had to navigate to Harmony Setup, Devices, Add Device, Home Control, and then select my products from the list of compatible devices and follow a few steps to link the products and assign the function to one of the automation buttons on the Harmony remote. The smart home products were then instantaneously controllable via my Harmony system. It was pretty slick.

Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...

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