Universal remote controls have been around for about 30 years - they’re great for cutting down on the number of separate remotes for your TV, set-top box, DVD player and any other home entertainment electronics you own.
But in recent years the universal remote has become even more useful, thanks to the explosion of smart devices and the so-called Internet of Things (machines which are able to connect to the internet wirelessly and interact with other devices).
This means the future of remotes could be controlling your lights, heating and just about anything that is connected to the internet.
One of the leaders in universal remotes is Logitech’s Harmony brand. Its Harmony Elite (£194.95) is one of its most premium models, and is available now.
We tested it out to see just how much you can control with a universal remote nowadays. Here’s all you need to know…
What is a universal remote control?
A universal remote is used to operate more than one type of electronic device from one controller. When they first launched, the focus was solely around televisions, but modern universal remotes now allow us to interact with smart devices. For instance the Nest thermostats and Philips Hue lighting can be controlled via wi-fi with a dedicated app.
Sensors such as LG’s SmartThinQ help so-called ‘dumb appliances’ interact like smart appliances too, by detecting things like temperature and vibration – which could be used to tell whether your washing load is finished, for example.
How do universal remote controls work?
Universal remotes connect with other devices using infrared (which most entertainment electronics have used for years), as well as newer ways such as Bluetooth.
The Logitech Harmony Elite can connect with more than 270,000 devices.
Those which don’t use infrared (like many new TVs) have to go through the Harmony Hub (which comes with the Elite). The Hub can sit in your living room and is connected to the same wi-fi connection as any other connected devices you own around the home.
What features does the Logitech Harmony Elite have?
The remote looks a bit like a house phone, especially as it comes in a stand which keeps it charged (the battery is also removable, so you there’s no fear of the whole thing breaking once the battery is dead).
It has the kind of buttons you’d expect on a standard remote, except the Elite has a small 2.4-inch touch screen at the top. When using it with your TV and set-top box, you can set your favourite channels, which then appear as the channels' logos (so no need to remember channel numbers or endlessly flick through them!).
Some of the snazzier features include Activities, where you can set your devices to act a certain way depending on your needs at the time. For example, ‘Good Morning’ could programme the TV to start up at 7am with a news channel and the bathroom light on, while the Movie mode could dim the lights, switch your sound system on and activate your Blu-ray player.
Connecting your smartphone or tablet to your Harmony system also allows you to control your devices while you’re away from home. Using the app, you can check whether you left something on and tell Harmony to switch it off for you.
Is the Logitech Harmony easy to set up?
To get started, you have to set up the Hub and the Elite remote using the dedicated app for iOS and Android, or with your PC. Depending on how many devices you have, this could take a short while to get through (the Elite allows you to control a maximum of 15 devices).
As Harmony supports so many, it’s usually a case of searching for the manufacturer and model number. A two-year-old Philips stereo that we tried to add was not among the list and had to be set-up manually, which was a little tricky – the process involved holding the main Philips stereo remote over the Elite remote and programming each button manually.
Is the Logitech Harmony easy to use?
Once you’re set up, it’s relatively easy to control. The buttons are clearly marked and the options on the screen are simple to understand – plus you’ll get a little vibration each time you tap something on the screen to confirm that the gesture was noticed.
Just make sure you pop it back in the stand each time, otherwise you could end up with a flat battery.
Do I need a universal remote control?
If you have multiple devices around the home with different controllers – such as television, set-top box, speakers, DVD player and amplifier – then a universal remote control is a welcome addition. This is especially true if you’re starting to use Smart Home devices, which typically require a smartphone for control. Having one central place where you can run everything makes life much easier.
We found the Activity features aren’t a necessity, but may well be in the future, when we have more connected devices.
However, at just shy of £200 the Harmony Elite isn't cheap. If you’re planning on using it for entertainment devices only, you might be better off with the Harmony 950 (£168.04) or the Harmony Companion (£101.97).
Ultimately, the Harmony Elite Remote is ideal for those who already have connected devices around the home and are planning on getting more.