The Harmony 676, along with several stablemates, is a remote with a difference.
The Harmony 676 ($200), along with several stablemates, is a remote with a difference. It is “activity-centric”; it starts with the logical premise that people want to perform activities, such as watching a DVD, not operate equipment, i.e. turn on the TV, switch to the DVD input, turn on the A/V receiver, switch to 5.1 surround, switch to the DVD input, etc. Most universal remotes are equipment-centric; in a given mode they control only a single component (though most have volume “punch-throughs,” and some can create “macros” to take multiple actions with one command). The Harmony has three reprogrammable buttons for one-button switching to your most common activities (such as performing the operations above), and others can be programmed and labeled on the LCD display. Once in an activity, all buttons are configured to control that activity, but most (including the LCD-labeled “soft” buttons) may be modified to suit your needs. Individual equipment can still be accessed through a Device button and the LCD menu for infrequent operations. All Harmony programming is done via the HarmonyRemote.com website, where you register and identify the equipment you wish to control (virtually anything with an IR remote). The site then guides you through defining what’s connected where and setting up activities. This is a much simpler process than programming macros on other remotes I’ve used, but expect to spend an hour or two learning your way around–and you can’t program the Harmony without access to the Web site. If you get stumped, excellent tech support is toll-free and well staffed. Once you have everything tweaked the way you want, plug the Harmony into your computer (PC or Mac) with the included USB cable, and your program is downloaded to the remote (optionally with a minuscule 14-day program guide viewable on the LCD). You can download any time you need guide updates or your gear and/or needs change. Bottom line, the Harmony is the most usable and user-friendly programmable remote I’ve tried.