Smart Replacement Remotes for Windows Media Center

Logitech Harmony 1000, Continued

Although there are hardwired buttons for changing the channel and the volume, mute, back, left, right and a five-way cursor and OK control, you can only use them once you’ve chosen a device and function from the touch screen. Initially you’re presented with Activities like Watch My TV and Listen to Music. Press the Star icon in one corner of the screen for the favourites menu which has common commands like TV Guide, Radio, Music, Pictures and Info or press the Play icon for the TV interface. If that doesn’t give you what you want, press the Devices button and choose Media Center to get eight pages of commands. You can also press the 123 icon in the corner for a numeric keypad, which is much clearer than the list of number buttons crammed into the Media Center button pages.

Reproducing the same clutter of buttons you get on a Media Center remote on the small touch screen isn’t ideal, especially if the button you want is on screen seven of eight. The Activity screens are much simpler and more intuitive and if you use them with the favourites menu and the scroll wheel you won’t often need to delve into the full command list. Record, Off and other important buttons are integrated into the Activity screens (and choosing an Activity should turn the system on automatically). Instead of simulating pressing specific buttons on the remote, you get a menu with simple and obvious controls like stop, play, pause, fast forward, rewind, skip, back and record buttons - along with links to live TV and recorded shows plus the Start and back buttons you need to drive the Media Center interface.

Use the Activity screens and the physical buttons rather than the long list of Media Center buttons to get the most from the Harmony 1000.

Mostly this is clear and easy to use, and what’s confusing usually has to do with extra features beyond controlling Media Center. If you have a mix of devices choosing an Activity will set them all up for what you want to do; for most home entertainment systems this will involve turning devices on, selecting the correct AV channel and sending a stream of commands. You see the screen telling you this is happening even when you’re controlling a Media Center. With just a Media Center you won’t need the excellent Help button very often; instead of telling you what the unit does, it steps through setting up the Activity, asking you to confirm what’s working, and resending commands for what’s not.

Because a universal remote can control so many different kinds of devices, from a CD player to a projector to a TiVo to a Media Center, the interface needs to be as generic as possible, but it also needs to fit in every single unique command. The generic interfaces on the Activity screens are elegant for Media Center or any other device; the long pages of specific commands less so. If you rarely need to venture away from the activities the Harmony 1000 will declutter your entertainment experience; if not, you can find scrolling through all those screens tedious. Adding some more hardware buttons might help, but it might also make a system that’s very simple once you’re used to it more complex.

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