Logitech/Harmony has some really innovative remotes. While watching the keynote speech of CES 2005, there was some mention of Logitech producing Windows XP Media Center
remotes. Being a new user of the OS, I was anxious to see what Harmony had. And with a quick contact, I was sent the Logitech Harmony 680
I’ve been using the Harmony 688
for a few months now and it’s one of the few remotes where it was easy to use for my family. I programmed it to control BeyondTV
and was very happy with the results. Since my switch to Windows XP Media Center 2005
, I thought it would be a good time to test the Harmony 680
remote that natively supports the OS.
Design wise, the Harmony 680
features the same shape as the 688 but a different button layout. For starters, the activity keys have been replaced by nice rounded buttons with pictures instead of words. The remote features the green button that’s prominent on other MCE remotes and that will take you to the main MCE screen when pressed. While the 688 features a continuous button design around the thumb button control, the 680 actually has separate round buttons. I’ve heard complaints on the 688’s circular button design and while the 680 does have that, the buttons are actually separate buttons in this case. I do find the design to be a little better than the 688’s in this area.
Also distinguishing this remote in being a Media Center remote, four buttons that are marked with Media Center centric commands are located above the thumb dial button. They are used pretty regularly if you’re controlling a MCE machine and they are featured in a very high profile area on the remote that is easily reached with the thumb.
To continue the button separation theme when comparing the 688 to the 680, the number pad at the bottom on the 680 is also separated into individual buttons. It makes finding each button a little easier I think and the spacing between each button does facilitate this.
On the 688, the VCR controls are located below the radial button area. On the 680, they have been moved to around the thumb dial. I don’t really mind where it is on either remote. And while I don’t want to sound like a broken record, the VCR button controls are also separated into individual round buttons.
As with the 688, the 680 features an LCD screen with six buttons that will activate any command in the LCD window. For those commands that you don’t know where to put, this is a good place to put them. It’s actually a feature that I really enjoy using and one that makes this remote very versatile. The LCD’s ability to be programmed with many more commands makes the Harmony remote very flexible.
The remote features the great SmartState technology that remembers what’s been turned on and off in your entertainment system. So when you press one of the activity buttons that change your setup, the remote will only power and adjust the settings if need be. For example, while watching TV I have all my video inputs into the receiver and a single video output that uses the Video 1 mode on my TV. Pressing the DVD button switches my receiver to DVD mode and that’s it. Now if all my components were turned off, pressing the DVD button would turn on the receiver, turn on the TV, switch the TV to Video 1, and switch the receiver to DVD. All in all, it’s a great way for people who are afraid of your system control it when they want to watch something else and not mess up your setup.
Because it’s Media Center ready, all the buttons control the Media Center out of the box. You’ll still need the USB receiver as the remote doesn’t come with one. But replacing the regular MCE remote, it’s ready right off the bat. I literally popped the remote out of the box, put in the batteries, and started changing channels and navigating through the menu system without any setup.
To program this remote, it’s exactly the same as the 688 that I wrote about in my earlier review. Here’s an except on how it’s done.
All of the programming is done via a web interface and by setting up an account on the Harmony website. Once done, you are taken through a wizard by selecting your components and what components do for each activity. The database at Harmony is pretty extensive and it even found the setup for my Hauppauge remote control for my PVR-250. So after answering a few questions and such, you plug the remote into your computer via a USB cable and a minute later, the remote is updated with all the codes and activities you have setup. I was pleasantly surprised to find everything worked on the first try. Without any programming, the remote controlled every device in my entertainment center. Talk about ease of use and a very high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor).
If you do have to program the remote, the bottom of the remote features an IR reader. You point the remote you want to record there and setup the name of the command through the web interface. The eye to record IR commands sits on the bottom of the remote, opposite of the IR transmitter. Now what makes the Harmony 680 really cool is that you can assign any command to any key easily through the web utility. Each button has a dropdown box next to it with a list of commands and you can assign it to. Using a web interface to setup the remote makes it a whole lot easier than trying to do it with the remote itself.
What I didn’t find though was if you had two remotes, how to distinguish which one you were programming. I couldn’t tell the web application that I had a different remote I was programming. I do suggest registering the remote with another email address but hopefully Harmony will update the site so you don’t have to have separate emails for each Harmony remote you have.
Using the remote for the past month, I did find it to be comfortable and I do enjoy the button scheme a little more than the 688. It doesn’t have as many buttons to program but what it lacks in number of buttons to program can be made up for by adding them to the LCD screen. I had no problems controlling any of my components with the 680 and do enjoy using this one over the regular MCE remotes that you can purchase. If you have your MCE machine connected to many components, then this remote will make it pretty easy for you to control it all.
It’s a great replacement remote if you have many components connected along with a MCE setup. Otherwise, I’d go with one of the other models. I do like the shape and feel of the Harmony 680
and the button layout more than the 688. The fact that there are some distinctive shapes to the buttons helps out a lot. While it is pre-configured to work with MCE out of the box, I don’t see anyone buying this remote without doing some customizations themselves. All in all, it’s a good remote and $50 cheaper than the 688 with close to the amount of buttons to program.
It's an easy remote to operate along with being Media Center compatible out of the box.