The Tale of the Harmony 880 Remote

I recently became the owner of a new smart remote control, the Logitech Harmony 880 via a friend of mine who will remain nameless (he knows who he is).  After months of pain with the previous remote, the Philips Pronto NG (I think the NG stood for “not good”) I was ready to switch to something better.  The Harmony 880 looked to be the ticket.

To be fair, I was warned that the setup process for the 880 would be a little, um, rough.  The warning was correct.  It was an unholy terror to setup the remote due to a few factors, which I will now dutifully list:

  • All of the software needed to program the remote is on the web, literally. There is no software on the PC, it is all run remotely from a browser.  This brings with it all the pain (timeouts, 404s, constant refreshes) of normal Web 1.0 browsing with none of the benefit.
  • You have to know exactly what the model name and number is of every component you own.  Simply knowing you have a Sony DVD player is not enough, and it leads you to hunt around for all of your manuals to be sure the name is correct.
  • The “activities” are fixed in function by the web site.  If you don’t like the order or devices the “activity wizard” decides to drop in each button, well tough.  That’s the way it works.
  • God forbid one of your devices doesn’t work properly, as then you’ll suffer through the pain of the “help wizard” on the remote control itself.  This hellish process involves the remote constantly asking “is product XYZ turned on now?  How about now?  Is it working now?” until you give up and go online to try it all again.

If you get lucky, like I did about the 99th time I tinkered with the web site settings (their “software” evidently hates my Sony AV receiver) when you detach the remote from your PC, things work and you are in happy, happy entertainment land.  If it doesn’t, be prepared to spend a long time on the web site changing settings.

Once this remote gets working its actually quite nice, with a large set of hard buttons and a fairly nice (though narrow viewing angle) screen.  The market that Logitech seems to be aiming this at is the do-it-yourself home theater owner who knows next to nothing about PCs and remote controls.  I’m not sure the overly simplistic approach they take with the on-the-web setup is the right one, but perhaps I’m just used to more control. 

When you think about it, that’s what remotes are all about: control.  And when it gets taken away from me for the purposes of ease-of-use I just cringe.  Perhaps as I spend more time with this remote I’ll grow to accept its “features” but for now I’m a bit grumpy over the whole experience.

Long Ride Up and Back, with Good Ski In-Between

There was good skiing to be had last weekend, but a lot of pain on the ride to and from Tahoe made it bittersweet.  It was the first time I’ve ever seen snow in Placerville, a town located at 1800 feet above sea level.  It’s rare to find snow that low in California, so out came the Caltrans chain crews and down goes the speed limit.

It took just over 7 hours to get to Tahoe that Friday evening.

On Saturday and Sunday there was a bit over an inch of new snow, really cold weather, and very light crowds.  Slopes were groomed and generally people free, so it made for some nice high speed skiing.  Great stuff.

But then the ride home turned ugly.  There was a serious accident on highway 50 involving a fatality, and since its only a 2 lane road (one lane for each direction) the whole road was shut down for about 3 hours.  This made the ride home take about 8 hours.

This episode really makes me want to learn to fly a plane.

Multi-room audio coolness

After a little searching around (OK, a lot of searching) I’ve found a solution to help kick music around throughout the homestead with only a little fussing.  The equation works like this:

Roku SoundBridge + SlimServer 6.2.1 + SoftSqueeze PC client + MP3s = whole house synchronized* audio

I have to put the * caveat in because the Roku really doesn’t handle sync terrifically.  But it does it well enough to walk around the house and hear the same song everywhere at nearly the same time.  Considering the extra cash outlay was zero, its not a bad solution.

Now, when am I going to get some more of these devices?