Gadget: Harmony Hub

Part of my haul from Amazon’s Prime Day was a Harmony Hub, which I picked up at a very good discount.

I had previously purchased a Harmony remote, a year or so back, but it didn’t support the kit I thought it did, so it went back. This time I did a little research and was confident this would do the job.

The box contained the hub, some cables and power adapter, and an IR extender, in case it is needed.

Basic setup is easy. Having plugged it and connected it to your WiFi, it does a scan of your WiFi network, identifying any kit it might potentially control. This included my Fire TV Sticks, and my Hue Lights. After which you can tell it of any unconnected kit you wish to use – in my case, a TV, a YouView box, a Blu-ray player and a Denon stereo. This was easily done by simply typing in the manufacturer and model number; but the hub can also be manually programmed by using an original remote from a device.

At that point, I was able to select any of my devices and control them from an app on my phone or tablet. Each device had its own virtual remote screen that had the correct functionality. So far, so good.

But then I was invited to set up Activities. These are one button startup sequences. It actually suggested some from what it knew of my devices. After playing with these, I deleted them, and set up my own custom activities for how I use my kit.

“Watch Fire TV” – this turns on the TV, and switches it to HDMI3, where the Fire Stick is located. (This automatically boots the Fire Stick, as it is powered by the TV’s USB). The controls shown are that of the Fire Stick, but the volume is still controlled via the TV.

“Watch YouView” – this turns on both the TV and YouView box, and switches the TV to HDMI2. The controls shown are that of YouView, and I was given a choice of volume to be controlled by the YouView box or the TV (I chose the TV).

“Watch Netflix” – this is a variation on “Watch YouView”. It does everything the other activity does, then automatically navigates through the menus to find and start Netflix.

“Watch a Movie” – this turns on the following: my TV, my Blu-Ray player, and my stereo. It switches the TV to HDMI1, and the stereo’s input to AUX1 (for the TV). It then mutes the TV (which does not mute the sound via the stereo, and is how I tend to watch movies). Volume is controlled via the stereo.

All of this was done fairly easily. There was a little bit of tweaking necessary. My TV required a tweak to allow for a longer power-up than originally allowed for, as the HDMI commands were getting lost. And I had to insert 1 second delays in the virtual button-presses navigating to Netflix, as it kept stumbling. 1 second sounds a lot, but it actually looks cool, and the whole operation is done in 6 seconds.

It works a treat. Now I can see this working, I have ordered an add-on Harmony physical remote to control the hub, as I don’t plan to use my phone as a permanent remote. I found someone on eBay who had bought a bundle of hub and remote, but had just upgraded to a better remote, with touch screen. I’m not bothered by that (yet), so I have bought his old (but new) remote off him for a cheap price. Thus the pile of remotes on my side table will be reduced to just one (which is the whole point of this!)

The final icing on the cake. The Harmony Hub can be controlled by Alexa, and it took me about 10 minutes to set up some basic controls. I don’t intend to be sitting in my recliner dictating the movement of the cursor (that is what the remote is before), but being able to ask Alexa to tell Harmony to prepare for a movie, while on my way to the kitchen, is easy and cool. Also it means if I pop upstairs, and then decide to go to bed, I don’t have to go downstairs to turn it all off. I can just tell Alexa to.

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