The Harmony 880 RemoteThis is the first in what I hope to become a monthly installment called “The Gadget Dad”, a look at the gadgets that I find incredibly useful in my everyday life. Right now there are things that are not in your house that you can’t live without, and you don’t even know it.

Take the Harmony Remote.

On the surface it’s an all in one remote, which means that it controls all of the devices in your living room. The first benefit is that instead of having 8 remotes in your living room, you can have 1. This is good. However that’s not what makes the Harmony Remote the best remote on the market. There are hundreds of remotes which can control all of the devices in your home with one remote…what they can’t do is activities.

For example, to watch TV in my living room you need to do the following:

  • Turn on the TV
  • Turn on the Cable Box
  • Turn on the Stereo Receiver
  • Make sure the TV is on Component in
  • Make sure the Stereo Receiver is changed to TV/Sat

With a normal remote this involves at least three clicks of buttons. With the Harmony Remote I click the activity called “Watch TV”, and it goes through all of the steps to do that.

To watch a DVD I need to

  • Turn on the TV
  • Turn off the Cable Box
  • Turn on DVD Player
  • Change the TV is on HTMI in
  • Change the Stereo Receiver is changed to DVD

To do all of that I simply click “Watch DVD”, and the remote cycles through all of the devices and does what it needs to.

The mom test:

To me the true measure of any gadget is how easily my mom can master watching TV. Before the Harmony my mom would call us up and ask how she got the TV going.

“Okay mom. What I need you to do is go to the TV and click the “input select” button twice, now tap the remote twice while touching the heel of your foot exactly twelve inches in front of the ball of your other foot. Now spin around three times and see if it changes anything.” four minutes of the most frustrating minutes of both of our lives later “Mom, what if you just go next door and watch TV at Jason and Rochelle’s?”.

Now she just clicks “Watch TV” and all the magic happens. It’s so easy that I even bought her one for home when Rogers introduced her to the digital box world. Now rather than clicking three buttons to turn on the TV (and occasionally clicking one that turns on the DVD player instead of the cable box), she just pushes what she wants to do, and it does it.


To set up the Harmony Remote you plug it into your computer, install some simple software, set up an account, and follow the wizard which will ask you what you have, and what you need to do in order to do common activities like watch TV, watch a DVD, listen to music, and play a video game console. There are hundreds of devices programmed into the database, and it will find the codes you need. For obscure hardware, you can simply point the remote at the Harmony, and let it learn the codes.

The Harmony Remote is one of those devices that you know changes your life the first time that it fails you. Our old one broke (probably due to all of the saliva that our then one-year old had put into it over the previous six months of her life when it was her favourite device in the world), and I frantically searched for the eighteen remotes that ruled our lives. After two days of living like savages, I went out and purchased a new Harmony Remote that we love like a second child to this day.

That’s the first ever Gadget Dad, I hope you enjoyed it. In the future I’d like to look at: Simple home theatre, build your own PVR’s, how to get the most out of your iPod, the right cell phone for you, how a video game system can be much more, how to keep the hackers out of your home, and what the nerds mean when they say “complete backup”.

If there’s a topic you’d like to see addressed, please give me a shout and we’ll see what I can do.