Pages

Making the Logitech Harmony 620 remote work with a Mac

I was buying a couple of items at my local Costco yesterday and saw the Logitech Harmony 620 sitting in a display for $99. I had been wanting a decent all-in-one remote that would help me integrate my primary entertainment set up down in my basement. The equipment is a bit dated but works very well, the only problem being the plethora of remotes that I need in order to make it all work properly.

What looked interesting about this particular device was that it had a USB connector on it and would allow me to program it with my PC. This beat the old process I had to go through on a previous all-in-one remote that required a series of numeric entries into the keypad that felt like a game of Twister for my fingers.

The packaging on the 620 indicated that it supported a Mac so I made the impulse decision to buy it. Turns out I could have saved myself $10 by buying it from Amazon/Target but I didn't feel like driving back and returning it over $10. Once I managed to extract the device from the blister pack it came in—no small feat mind you—I followed the gigantic fold out instructions and popped the included CD into my MacBook Pro.

Mistake 1: Don't use the software that comes with it
I really wish the Logitech people would get their software act together, especially on the Mac side of the house. The software that shipped with the 620 was version 7.3.2. I detest software that requires a reboot on installation and this one required two, meaning I downright despised it. I seriously considered taking it back to Costco at that point but kept plugging through.

Once the software was installed I followed the on-screen instructions and plugged the USB cable from my MacBook Pro to the remote. The software failed to recognize that the remote was plugged in. I tried the other USB port on my Mac, tried using a different USB cable and even went through the series of incantations that usually help me cure technical problems to no avail. It simply wouldn't recognize the device.

I ended up removing the batteries from the remote and plugged it into my Mac to see what would happen. The remote came to life, drawing power from the USB port, though the software still failed to recognize it. At least I knew the connection was good and that it was likely either defective software or a bad remote. Given Logitech's reputation I was banking on defective software.

Mistake 2: Don't assume the Logitech site will help you
I immediately jumped on the Logitech site to see if I could find some troubleshooting information on this. Unfortunately the Logitech site doesn't even have the Harmony 620 listed as a product from them! This led me to conduct a more exhaustive search on the web to find out what was going on. It turns out the 620 is functionally identical to the Harmony 670, which was on the Logitech site.

I deleted the old copy of the Harmony software that I had previously installed and downloaded the latest version directly from the Logitech Support site. They have rebuilt the software quite well and it now installed without requiring a reboot and it recognized the remote right away.

The only catch in all of this was that I expected the remote to actively display that it was connected to my Mac through the USB port but it did not, or if it did it was so quick on the little remote LCD display that I missed it.

Configuring the Harmony
Once the software was installed and running it took a little while to get it properly configured with my devices. I entered in the name / model number for my TV, PVR, Receiver and DVD player and it seemed to recognize them fine. I even added in the xBox 360 and Wii that we have hooked up to everything. The 620 was able to power up the xBox but could not handle the Wii since that apparently requires a Bluetooth connection.

Once it knows your devices you can walk through a wizard interface that handles what device needs to be set to which input and what should and should not be powered on for each task. After going through the hell of getting the software to work properly with the remote this portion seemed to work great.


The Remote Hardware
Using the Harmony 620 is actually pretty nice. It's got a very comfortable peanut shape much like the Tivo remotes I favored when that was my PVR of choice. With one exception the buttons are well placed, easy to "feel" for in a dark room and reasonably well lit after pushing the little "glow" button.

The only button that caught me a couple of times was the Stop button, which is located directly above the rewind button. It was a little too easy to hit that while jumping back and forth on my PVR, which would pull me completely out of the show I was watching and require I navigate back to it.

That little quirk aside I love that I now hit a single button and all of my inputs are properly set and I can jump between watching TV, a DVD or playing a game. One single button push on one single remote. The only thing missing is one of those little chains like they have at banks for their precious pens so that my kids won't accidentally hide it.

I'm not much of an audio or videophile so this was more of a layman's perspective on setting this up and making it work. I actually wrote all of this down because of the problems I experienced in getting it all to work and the fact that I didn't find solutions in one single place on the web. If you happen to buy a Logitech Harmony 620 and have a Mac, hopefully this post will be of help to you. Logitech, please get your software act together! I love your hardware but experiences like this one make it difficult to recommend your equipment. At a minimum you should list ALL of your products on your web site.

If you happen to use/recommend a good, inexpensive universal remote please note it in the comments.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the blog. I am a PC user who is considering getting a MacBook and your blog has been most helpful in assisting that decision.

I have a question regarding your remote control. I use a Harmony 525 and it has two behaviours that I find annoying almost to the point where I may give up on it. The first is if I have just watched a dvd and decide to select to watch tv, it has to cycle through each input on the tv (even though I have not setup those inputs), and I have to help it along after each intput until it reaches the tv. The second is that it sometimes gets it's knickers in a knot if the device it is trying to turn on/off/switch to is not in the state it expects it to be in.

Does the 620 suffer from these behaviours?

Thanks Don

David Alison said...

@Don: Not sure if the 620 will solve that problem. My 620 does not have to cycle through the inputs on my TV but can jump directly to them. My receiver on the other hand does require it to cycle through the inputs. I think this is more a function of what your TV will support (directly jumping to an input).

My 620 will also get confused if any of the devices are turned on/off independently of the remote. Since on/off is a toggle on virtually every set I've seen there's not much that can be done about that.

Glad to hear the blog is helping you with your Mac decision.

mike.mcavoy said...

I have an older Harmony 688 that I absolutely love. It is an excellent universal remote, easy to program and even easier to use.

I have a fairly complex entertainment system. My wife hated it, mostly because she could not figure it out, even for basic TV. I had a Philips Pronto remote, which looked sorta cool, but was more trouble than it was worth. After about 30 hours of work, I still didn't have it adequately programmed, so the other remotes were still laying around, and it was a confusing mess.

When I got the Harmony, I spent about 10 minutes programming it, with all the basic functions working (about 30 minutes of tweaking came later). The true test came when I just handed it to my wife. She gave me a frustrated look, and said, "OK, what do I do?"

"Look at it," I suggested.

She grumbled as she looked it over, and tentatively pushed the "Watch TV" button. Then she smiled!

The Harmony is easy to maintain as well. While the software does have room for improvement, it only takes a couple minutes to swap in a new component and reconfigure the activities. Since your setup is maintained on Logitech's servers, using a different computer doesn't mean starting over.

@anon: If the signals aren't being received reliably, there is a setting to adjust how fast they are sent. I don't remember what it's called, though.

And when it gets confused about what's on and off, or if inputs didn't get set correctly, use the "help" button. It will attempt to resolve things itself, and then ask questions ("Did that fix the problem?", or "Is the TV on?"). USE HELP!

Regarding cycling though the inputs on your TV, it's possible that your TV is designed that way (i.e., push "input" multiple times to select). If you can use a combo, ("input", then "4" for HDMI), you might be able to set that with a custom IR sequence, although mine does this automatically.

I heartily recommend Harmony remotes, especially for a home theater system.

Paul said...

Hi David,

Check out Remote Buddy, which I know supports a lot of different remotes. I bought it only so I could better use the Vanilla remote included with my Macbook Pro, but I bet you can do some very cool stuff with Remote Buddy on a handset such as that!

Also, are you are a Google Calendar user? If so, I found a great service to automatically sync my Google Calendar and iPhone calendar. Check out nuevasync.com . It's been a revelation to someone such as myself who was struggling to get my Google cloud syncing across devices.

Paul

Jacob Taylor said...

I think shipping a software package that requires two reboots and is not replacing the kernel should be outlawed. Thank you for your instructions. I found your instructions while waiting on hold for tech support (10 minutes to answer). Worked like a charm. It was a little confused about my VCR and one of my DVD players is now non-responsive, but all of the other devices worked great.

Jacob

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! Just like you I went to Costco and wanted this and can't get it to work. I was getting so annoyed!

Sagar said...

this is just amazing this remote replaces the 7 into 1 don't have to make a stock of remotes and keep finding which one is for which one... it's good and reliable.


http://www.karlonia.com/2008/12/27/buy-logitech-harmony-one/

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this "lesson"! If not for your clear instructions I would have returned the remote!
skipper's wife

Anonymous said...

From JR: Some interesting comments on here about the Logitech Harmony products. The concept is great and they have come a long way but still have a few major bugs to work out. I bought a Harmony 880 last November from Costco when they were on sale for $159.00. After some doing I got it working fine. It was fairly easy to program and go through the overall setup. The major problems are you need the base to recharge; when it's off the base it doesn't hold a charge for long at all (this is bad as it is common to leave the remote on the coffee table and not on the charger). The button size leaves a lot to be desired, they are fairly small buttons and not easy to find unless you are looking at them in the light (not a good feature when watching TV). Overall the 880 worked okay but I would not be able to say it was either "fun" or a "charm" to use, I can say it "did the job" and that's it - BUT - always remember to put it back on the AC-tabletop charger and that had poor connections. Apparently according to Logitech support the 880 is discontinued and they say they had a lot of trouble with the charge issue. So, in the end I finally returned my 880 to Costco and noted they still have them in stock selling them even though they are discontinued by Logitech. Costco accepted the return without issue and they were great to deal with. I now bought the Harmony 620 from them as it is powered by 4-AAA batteries and I hope that will work better. It was also a little cheper so it will make it easier to accept any of the little quirks the remote may have. I just wish Logitech would get there act together and resolve these issues and include a better and larger button layout. I could handle a larger remote if that's what is needed to do the larger button thing. I just got the 620 so can't comment yet on how it works (or don't ...lol).

Anonymous said...

From JR: I just got the Harmony 620 after returning the 880. I had to come back here and give my initial comments. So far it feels like the 620 is acting far better then the 880 ever did. A better feel to it, easy set up, much better layout of the various buttons, and far more or a sturdy and robust oveerall feel. Wow! this is good spend less money and get what so far seems to be a way better performing remote. If things change from this dramatically I will update.

David Alison said...

@JR: Thanks for the comments. I've lived with the 620 now for nearly 9 months and it's worked out pretty well. The controls are very hard to see in the dark because of their size. Pushing the "glow" button does help but THAT button is also hard to find in the dark.

About the only issue I have is that my son refuses to use the 620, manually turning on some of the devices. This means the 620 can't figure out when our AV receiver needs to be turned on. Not a fault of the 620 mind you but something I always seem to have to deal with.

Overall though I still like the device.

Anonymous said...

Hello David,

I discovered your blog after buying the Harmony 620 from Costco. I am so glad I read it before installing the software that came with the remote. Logitech no longer lists software support for the 620 or 670, but I managed to find the 670 latest software for Mac from versiontracker. It took me less than 15 minutes to download the updated software, gather my model numbers & program the remote for 5 devices including an ancient VCR. I was using my PVR remote as a universal, but some of the buttons are wearing out & the power button no longer functions. I was skeptical about the 620, but it is working like a charm. I did not have to do a single tweak for my PVR, VCR, DVD, home theatre or flat panel. There are higher end harmony remotes out there, but sometimes simple is better.

Thanks for the taking the time to share your experience & recommendations.

LV