Remember when there used to be a lot of different universal remote controls on the market? Yeah, me neither. Once Harmony came on the scene in the early 2000s, it seems like all the other universal remote brands faded into oblivion. Harmony took a very simple approach: design a remote platform around activities, instead of around individual devices. It makes sense. I don't want to have to remember what input to set my receiver and TV to in order to watch a Blu-ray Disc. I just want to "watch a movie." Rather than having to program complicated macros to power up multiple devices and potentially even learn a programming language just to customize your remote, you buy a Harmony. Load up the Harmony app, answer a few questions about your gear and you're good to go.
Over time, the company has refined both the physical remote control and the app. They've introduced an RF/WiFi/IR hub that allows you to control gear through walls or in different parts of your home. The hub also allows you to control your A/V gear with the Harmony app on your phone or tablet. The company (now owned by Logitech) added support for Zigbee, Philips Hue, Nest Thermostats and other smart home wireless devices and platforms. And most recently they've integrated with Amazon's Alexa digital assistant for advanced voice control.
With a Harmony and an Amazon Echo, you can just tell Alexa you want to "Watch Netflix" or "Play The Movie" and the Amazon/Harmony team will power up your TV, turn on your receiver and Roku box, set everything to the right input and set the volume buttons to control your receiver while the pause and play buttons operate the Roku. It's magic, I tell ya!
And now, in honor of the Black Friday shopping frenzy, Amazon has created a bundle to get you started with full voice control of your A/V system at a very attractive price. Now you can pick up Harmony's top of the line color touch screen remote, the Harmony Elite, along with a Harmony Hub and Amazon's new second generation Echo voice-controlled speaker for just $279.99. That may seem expensive, but the Elite alone lists for $349.99 and the Amazon Echo for $99. So really $279.99 isn't terrible. And it's a game-changer for simplified A/V system control.
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As for using the Harmony app instead of the physical remote, I like the *idea* of a smartphone app to operate my A/V system, but it's annoying to have to load the app on my phone and keep looking down to see what button I'm pressing. That's why I love the Harmony Elite remote. It has a color touch screen for activities and other special functions, but its simple and intuitive physical button layout makes accessing common features like DVR, volume and playback control a thing of ease. Harmony has made a few missteps in the past (like the bizarre placement of the play/pause/rewind and FF buttons on the Harmony Ultimate), but they really got it right on the Elite.