Total Home Control with a Universal Remote
By Scott A. Lowe
Figure 1: The Harmony 890 with
The world of home automation offers several options for
consolidating control of your electronic entertainment devices
to one remote. Thanks to Z-Wave technology, Logitech is
able to offer a total environment solution by way of the
Harmony 890 Advanced Universal Remote.
The Harmony 890 offers both infrared (IR) and radio frequency
(RF) control, giving this remote the capability to communicate
throughout the home. As a same-room remote the IR feature
is combined with an exhaustive product database consisting
of over 5000 manufacturers and 175,000 products, which gives
the 890 its compatibility. As a long distance remote the
RF feature provides a range of 100 feet, but when combined
with Z-Wave's ability to relay a command from module to
module its range is as great as the number of Z-Wave devices
in your home.
Though the product packaging and promotional material mentions
Z-wave compatibility Logitech does not produce Z-Wave modules.
It is the lighting and appliance modules that take advantage
of the RF feature. To illustrate the potential of the Harmony
890 in a Z-Wave environment I used a pair of Intermatic
HA03 dimmer switch modules and one HA02 appliance module.
First, I pulled together the least expensive devices I
had in the house. Then I considered the most likely time
I would maximize the remote's full capability. In our house,
that would be late in the evening when my nine-year-old
is in bed and it is my time to watch a DVD. The scenario
begins with my son wanting to go into the dark, cold basement
after dinner to play video games. This often requires that
one of the parents stop what they are doing and escort him
downstairs long enough to turn on the light and heater.
The scenario ends with my wanting to turn off the heater
and light in the basement and turn on the TV and DVD player
from my couch in the upstairs family room after he is asleep.
The next step was to place the HA02 appliance module (Figure
2) in the downstairs propane heater (which is separate from
the main heating system) and the HA03 dimmer module (Figure
3) on the incandescent lamps in the basement and family
room. It should be noted that fluorescent lamps do not dim
and therefore would require the straight on/off function
of an appliance module. (This is an important consideration
when automating a utility area like a basement or garage.)
Figure 2: Stand-alone propane
heater connected to a Model HA02.
Figure 3: Lamp connected to the
Note the difficult-to-reach area making a remote control
Despite the capacity of the CD-ROM that comes with the
remote the total list of products that the 890 supports
is ever-growing. Plus, Logitech is constantly improving
the operating system of the remote control itself. Therefore,
the first order of business is to upgrade the hardware and
refresh the product list. For that a computer and active
Internet connection is required.
You can start by setting up a user account directly with
Logitech's web site followed by a firmware upgrade and other
updates. While I fully expected the upgrade, the next screen
showed me just how unprepared I was. I was asked to add
all my Z-Wave modules to the remote, which of course were
scattered all over the house. The rest of the process went
very much the same way and I had to re-log into my account
three times. From this experience, I learned the following:
- Focus. Allow two or three hours of uninterrupted
time. Errors are easily made by losing track of where
you are in the install/configuration process and just
as easily avoided by staying focused.
- Don't walk away. You will have to download updates
and if you leave to do something else and there is no
activity you run the risk of timing out leaving you with
the pain of having to start over.
- Have a computer nearby. It's not required, but
having a computer near the location where the remote will
be used is very handy. There will be a little back-and-forth
between the computer and entertainment area.
- Be sure your Z-Wave devices are working before you
begin. At a point early in the process you will need
to add the Z-Wave devices to the remote. If you have to
stop to troubleshoot a device you might derail the installation.
- Have all the Z-Wave devices (modules) nearby.
Once you have determined that the Z-Wave modules are functioning
correctly in their capacity as on-off switches collect
them and have them all with you. Running around the house
to add them to the remote may result in enough delay that
your log in times out.
- Have all the device remotes nearby. Your Harmony
remote will need to learn the signals of your other device
remotes so as to speak their language and take over for
each of them as the primary controller.
- Gather all the model numbers from all the entertainment
devices (TV, VCR, etc.) you are likely to ever want on
the remote control list. If you go seeking a number in
the middle of the configuration process you run the risk
of timing out. The install program comes with a worksheet
but that does not appear until you have started the process.
You don't need a worksheet, just a sheet of paper that
says "manufacturer" and "model number."
- Don't compromise in the selecting a model from the
device list. When selecting the type of entertainment
devices you have (TV, DVD, stereo, etc.) pick the "More"
link to see all the choices even if you believe you found
what you are looking for. (I have a single DVD/VHS combo
player and selected both DVD and VHS players. After realizing
my mistake I expanded the selection to not only find my
device but discovered several other device types that
never occurred to me.)
- Do not jump ahead. The one thing that is not
made clear enough in the documentation is how the installation
process must be completed all the way to the end at least
once. At a couple of points I thought I was close enough
to test what I had. That's how you lose what you have.
- Place the receiver on the floor first. The IR received
that allows for the same-room communication will have
to eventually be installed in an out-of-the-way place.
It is not required and probably not a good idea to spend
time tucking away this component until you have determined
that everything works.
If there was a way to trip up the process and get my connection
to time out I found it, much of which could have been avoided
by following the first tip. Focus. Despite all the restarts
I brought upon myself the Harmony 890 remote worked on the
first try. Your results may very, but Logitech provided
me with the most forgiving installation program I have ever
The next day I tested it. When my son requested his routine
escort down stairs I directed him to the nearby Harmony
remote and instructed him to press "Activities"
on the top of the control then "RF Control" followed
by "Play Time/Game Time" on the screen. The glow
of the light below glided up the stairwell and the distinctive
"click" of the propane heater was felt on the
The final test came late that evening when it was time
to sink into the couch. I pressed the "Watch DVD"
button and the TV turned on to the right channel and the
DVD/VHS combo player not only turned on but also toggled
over to "DVD." As I placed the disk into the player
I was able to shut off both the heater and light in the
basement without leaving the family room. Once the DVD was
ready to play I adjusted the light level in the room by
way of the second HA03 I had installed near the couch. As
a bonus I learned that the Harmony remote has a very responsive
up and down dimmer switch that is better than any others
I have tried. It all comes with pre-installed Z-Wave scenarios
like "All On", "All Off", and "Dim
As good as this universal remote is for entertainment devices
its value as a modest investment in home automation could
be dramatically improved by the installation of just a few
lighting and appliance modules. Combined with Z-Wave products
the Harmony 890 brings the whole world of automation and
control possibilities to the part of the home that everyone
understands. From there the only limitation is the imagination
of the user.