UPDATED ON JUNE 19, 2017 AT 5:20 P.M.
Best Universal Remotes of 2017
Logitech’s Harmony line of remote controls are easily the best universal remotes on the market in 2017.
They can control the lights in your house, or turn your television on and off. They can even do a number of tasks simultaneously in response to your voice command. Many people are now buying Harmony Hub remotes because of their ability to respond to Alexa voice commands when paired with an Amazon Echo Dot or Amazon Echo.
The Harmony brand isn’t exactly a new face in the world of universal remotes, but prices for them have dropped in recent months. And since more smart home, and entertainment devices have been entering the market in 2017, they have become more useful than when they first came out.
If you are considering a Harmony remote for a streaming device or smart home appliance, you should know your choices (and limitations) for each model. Here’s a quick outline of the most popular models.
Harmony Smart Control: If you are looking for a Harmony remote to control your Amazon Fire TV, PlayStation 3 or Wii, this is the best option for the lowest price. The Fire TV is a Bluetooth device, so it needs to connect through the Harmony Hub that. The smartphone app for iOS and Android gives you control of 50 channels through a grid of icons on your smartphone. You can also multi-task with this remote. Just by pressing one button, you can turn on your TV and boot up Netflix on your Roku.
Harmony Companion: This remote (previously called Harmony Home Control) is geared for home theater and audio enthusiasts. It has WiFi and Bluetooth control allowing you to control a Fire TV box or a Sonos Wireless Speaker. But the Companion also has buttons for a Nest thermostat or smart home lighting.
Harmony Elite: It can execute a series of tasks simultaneously through “activities” that you program. Let’s say you wanted to dim your lights, turn on your TV and sound system and fire up Netflix all with one voice command. No problem. You might call that activity “Netflix and Chill.” You can call it whatever you want. The variety of multi-tasking activities for your lights, thermostat and 270,000 other devices feel endless.
How does Alexa work on Harmony remotes?
The integration between Amazon Echo products and Harmony hub-based remotes is opening up a brand new world in smart homes. Now you can say, “Alexa, turn on Roku” or Hulu, or HBO. Support has also expanded to the Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. So it’s a fairly open-ended device in terms of compatibility.
5 Facts about Harmony Hub Elite remote
- Connects to up to 15 home entertainment devices
- Color touch screen holds up to 50 channels, including ones for Roku
- Works with 270,000 devices like your TV, satellite, and Apple TV
- Customizable “activities” can simultaneously dim lights, turn on Netflix
- Controls lights, fans, thermostats and many connected devices
How does Harmony Hub work?
For the purposes of our review, we’ll focus on the Harmony Hub Elite because it has the most options. The Elite has a 2.4 inch touch screen. The screen can be programmed so that you have buttons of favorite Roku apps, or cable channels.
With voice control now enabled via an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, you can control those same buttons. By the way, there are pretty simple instructions here on how to connect the Echo to your Harmony Hub.
You’ll want to download the hub app on your Android smartphone or iOS device for the initial setup. You could also use a PC or Mac. The remote connects with your TV, stereo receiver and gaming console in a variety of ways. The Harmony Hub is shaped like a Roku, but serves as the brains of the operation.
The remote works by sending commands to the hub via radio frequency. The hub transmits commands to devices by infrared, Bluetooth or WiFi, depending the signal that’s compatible with your TV, DVR, or gaming console.
The remote itself also has an infrared blaster, which can transmit directly to a device instead of the hub. There are two infrared extenders with long wires that can also be connected to the hub to receive signals.
Logitech’s concept here is simple. It wants you to be standing almost anywhere near your entertainment center and have no problem communicating with your devices. With an Echo device in the room, your voice will be able to call out many of the same commands.
How to use Harmony Hub and Echo Dot to control Roku, Xbox and PS4
Once the Echo Dot is connected to a Harmony Hub remote, the most satisfying results will come by you setting up “Activities”. These are commands you set up that can perform either one or many tasks simultaneously.
You will be able to start and stop many activities just by using your voice.
If you have an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, you can set up a simple activity like “Play a Game.” Your game console will come on, and maybe you’ll set it up so that the lights dim at the same time. It’s up to you.
Cable owners can be a little more specific with their channel requests, and get more out of the Echo Dot. That’s because the current software offerings allow cable users to pick out specific TV channels.
So you could say to the Echo Dot, “Alexa, turn on sports.” That will take you directly to a favorite sports channel like ESPN. And you will be able to incorporate other tasks in the same activity like dimming lights or firing up the sound system.
How does a Harmony Elite work with Roku?
If you’re a Roku owner, you just have to say “Alexa, turn on HBO” or “Alexa, turn on Netflix” and the Harmony Hub remote will automatically turn it on. You will be able to turn off your TV and devices the same way by using your voice. Users can also be able to control the activities you program just by using your voice.
But remember, the touch screen is no slouch in terms of how you can customize things. The touch screen shows icons of individual channels either from your cable or Roku device. It can also give you direct access to Netflix or Amazon Instant or any other apps within a Roku streamer.
I hope to see developers expand these possible commands even more with live streaming TV platforms like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue.
Does a Harmony Hub remote work with Amazon Fire TV?
Harmony remotes can control Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV sticks via Bluetooth. You can easily navigate through your Amazon Fire TV home screen. You can also create activities that include your Fire TV device.
These activities include launching Amazon Prime, Nefllix, Hulu, and YouTube. It’s important to know that Harmony Hub pairs and controls Amazon Fire TV via Bluetooth. So you need a Harmony remote that comes with the hub. So for example, you wouldn’t want to get the Harmony 650 Infrared remote.
Amazon Fire TV does not accept infrared commands. I wanted to point this out in case you shop around for a less expensive Harmony remote.
The voice options through the Harmony Hub and Echo Dot unison are fairly limited at the moment. Also, you will need to call out the names of both devices by saying, “Alexa, tell Harmony to…”
Here’s a quick list of commands you can use when you pair the Amazon Echo with a Harmony Hub.
- “Alexa, tell Harmony to turn on the TV.”
- “Alexa, tell Harmony to turn off the TV.”
- “Alexa, tell Harmony to set a timer for 15 minutes.”
- “Alexa, tell Harmony to increase the volume.”
- “Alexa, tell Harmony to skip forward.”
Amazon has spent much of 2016 expanding Fire TV options, especially in the realm of voice commands. The difference with the Harmony remote is that, unlike the Fire TV remote that comes with device, you are issuing voice commands without pressing a button.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw more software updates in 2017 that broadened voice commands between Harmony Hub and Amazon Fire TV. After all, what would be the point of linking up the Harmony Hub and Echo Dot in the first place if it wasn’t going to be expanded.
The Harmony Hub Elite won’t be for everybody. For home entertainment buffs and Smart Home aficionados, this is an obvious choice. People who have bought the new Roku Premiere+ or Roku Ultra, but hate the remotes might consider a Harmony remote as well. You won’t lose that favorite feature of private listening. Harmony Hub also works with headphones.
The less expensive Harmony Smart Control is the better option if you want control over your Fire TV and other home entertainment devices like an Xbox 360. The phone app essentially gives you two remotes for the price of one.
If you’re a Harmony Hub fan, leave a comment below and let our readers know how you like to set it up.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble