Turning your iPad or iPhone into a universal remote control isn't a new idea, but we had high hopes that Logitech could do it right, given the company's excellent line of Harmony remotes. The Logitech Harmony Link ($100) also goes one step further with its iPad app, by integrating the full listings of your local TV providers and letting you browse shows with a slick interface, rather than the clunky grid your cable company offers up.
While the Harmony Link gets a lot right (like including Harmony's activity-based buttons like "Watch TV"), its limitations hold you back from what you really want to do: browse and set recordings from your iPad rather than your DVR's interface. There are also inherent problems with using a touch interface instead of physical buttons, and you'll find yourself constantly looking at the screen to do even simple tasks like adjust the volume. Until the Logitech Harmony Link can integrate more deeply with DVRs (like the apps available from cable companies themselves), buyers are better off sticking with the traditional line of Harmony remotes for their "one remote to control them all" solution.
There's not much to the Harmony Link. It's a sleek puck-shaped device with a glossy black finish, and just a few ports (USB, power, and two IR blaster ports) around the back. There's an indicator light that just peeks out from the bottom, and though it's useful for knowing the Harmony Link is working properly, we could always use fewer glowing LEDs in our home theater cabinet.
In addition to the main unit, there's an AC adapter, USB cable, and IR blaster in the box. We thought the USB cable and corresponding port may have been an option for powering the device, but instead it's only used for setup.
Before you place the Harmony Link in your living room, you need to connect it to a PC for the initial setup. It's all browser-based via Logitech's My Harmony Web site, and you'll have to answer a series of simple questions about how your home theater is set up. (We were surprised that the My Harmony site doesn't support Google Chrome as a browser; we switched to Firefox.)
The most painful part of the setup process will be writing down all the model numbers of home theater devices, which might involve crouching behind your home theater cabinet. The only major hitch you may run into is if you own a PS3. The Harmony Link is an IR-only affair and the PS3 only works via Bluetooth, so you'll have to shell out another $50 for a Logitech Harmony Adapter if you want to control your PS3.
Once the Harmony Link is configured, you'll need to place it in your living room. The Harmony Link "blasts" out IR commands like a standard remote control, so it's tempting to think you'll need to place it so that it's facing your TV and gadgets, but luckily that's not the case. Like last year's Logitech Revue, the Harmony Link's IR-blasting capabilities are powerful enough to bounce off walls and objects in your room, so you can place it right under your TV pointed toward the couch, if you want. It may seem like a feature that is just bound to be finicky and unreliable, but we've had nothing but perfect performance from both the Harmony Link and the Revue.