Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas Toy

So here I am, Christmas Evening, waiting for BBC America to broadcast the Dr. Who Christmas special and playing with my new toy: a Logitech Harmony 650 Universal remote. I bought the thing at Radio Shack because: a) It was cheap ($69.95), and b) I'm sick and tired of having to manipulate three remotes to change from FIOS to BluRay to USB/Harddisk when watching shows on the bigscreen TV.

The neat thing about the Harmony series of remotes is that you program it on-line. The bad part is that there isn't a native Linux program to do it. There is something called Concordance which is supposed to work, but I'll try that out when I'm prepared to trash the remote if the software fraks out, OK? It's not worth the struggle (forgive me, Saint Richard).

So we boot Hal up in Windows 7 mode, and I'm blogging what's going on using a laptop.

  • First: gather up the model numbers of the gadgets to be used. That's fairly easy. I've got a Samsung LCD 46 inch TV, and the model numbers on the side. A Samsung BluRay BD-P360. The hardest part is the FIOS DVR. It's by Motorola, and looking at the pictures on the FIOS site it appears to be a 6416. We'll see.
  • Launch IE8 on Hal (NNNNOOOOO!!!!!!!). Go to and create an account. Click on My Account. No registration box. Click on the safest looking link, Go to My Stuff There's a login screen and a registration option there. For some idiot reason they want a daytime phone number. Tempted to give them the one for our security, but refrain.
  • Click on Product Support. Says it will detect USB corded product. The unit comes with a USB 2 cable, but of course the connector on the remote side isn't standard USB2. Annoying, especially if I loose the cord, but I sort of forfeited the moral outrage option when I booted into Windows. So plug it in, let Windows find the driver software, and click the Detect your devices button. Of course Logitech has an IE add-on that has to be installed. It seems to work. It says I've got something called an N/N: N-10003 Harmony 650 remote. Well, I know the Harmony and 650 part are right.
  • It's not particularly obvious what to do next. Click Download Software and get version 7.7.0-WIN-x86 version of LogitechHarmonyRemote, I guess. Install that. You know, I'm kind of glad I'm doing all of this on the Windows side. Installation involves the usual number of clicks to accept the license. Eventually an Icon shows up on my desktop and the thing launches. First thing it wants to know is if it should check for updates. Surprisingly, there are none.
  • Log in. You'd think the account I just set up with Harmony would work, but no. So set up another account here. It's another complete registration, folks.
  • Now things start. It finds my remote (again). Keep hitting Next until we get to the Add Device page. Adding devices seems straightforward, so long as you have the right device numbers. Fortunately they give you examples of how they want the information entered in.
  • Once I finally got the right models in, the software found my devices. The only question I had to ask is if I wanted to turn the cable box off when it wasn't in use. I said yes. We'll see if that's a good idea or not. (I worry what's going to happen when I switch devices. Is the TV going to be out of sync with the cable box?)
  • Specify that FIOS uses HDMI1 on the TV, and the BluRay uses HDMI2.
  • And somehow we lost the signal, so I HAVE TO LOG IN AGAIN???? And it lost the connection to the remote. But now it has, indeed, started downloading the settings to the remote.
  • Looks done. I'm told to disconnect the remote and go try it out.
  • Preliminary tests done. It mostly works. There are several glitches, though:
    1. Both the TV remote and the FIOS remote have options for resizing the picture on the screen. It's especially handy when you are watching a standard definition channel, but they're broadcasting something in letterbox format (as in the above-mentioned Dr. Who special). Resize the picture, and it fits the whole screen. Not high-def, but in this case bigger is better. The 650 doesn't have such a button.
    2. The FIOS remote has a standalone DVR button, which bypasses the main menu and takes you to the stuff you use most. The 650 doesn't, you have to go through the main Menu (though the Menu, Info, and Guide buttons work exactly the way they should, as does the Favorites option on the 650's screen).
    3. The worst problem: If I want to stream Netflix using the BluRay, I press a button labeled B on the BluRay remote. One of four buttons, Red/A, Green/B, Yellow/C, Green/D. The 650 has unlabeled Red/Blue/Yellow/Green buttons, but they don't do anything to the BluRay. Since I stream Netflix as much as watch DVDs, if not more, this is a serious difficulty, and a deal-breaker.
  • Back to Win-Hal. Click the I need to make some adjustments box. Log in again. At least this time it remembered my password.
  • There's a Customize Buttons section for the remotes. For the BluRay, set up Blue to be Netflix, Yellow Pandora, and Green for YouTube. A/Red on the BluRay is Blockbuster, which we don't use. For the FIOS box, set A on the screen (not to be confused with A/Red below) to Aspect, which should set the screen size properly. While we're at it, set B up there to Close Caption, something we use a lot since we're old. Do that for the BluRay as well. I may have to tweak that later. Can't find a DVR button option, but I may have a way around that. Let me test out the new setup and get back to you in a minute.
  • OK, those changes work. Nice touch: the buttons attached to the screen are labeled A/B/C..., but you can change those to Aspect/Closed Caption/On Demand, etc.
  • Now let's tackle that DVR button problem. On the setup screen for the FIOS remote (labeled PVR in 650's language) there is a button labeled Learn Command. Click that, and go down until you find Learn a New Command. Type DVR Menu in the box and click the Learn a New Command button. Put the front of the FIOS remote to the back of the 650, press the DVR button on the FIOS remote. Wait. Go back to the Additional Buttons setup screen, and assign the button you want the new DVR Menu command.

And, for now, that's enough. If I encounter more difficulties I'll let you know. In particular, we'll see if the family can use it easily or not.

Preliminary bottom line: This isn't all that easy to program, especially if you have an exotic system. But it does seem to be straightforward to program, and you can add special keys as needed. We'll see how it all works in practice.