Logitech Harmony One Remote Review

I’ve been pretty content over the years with my Sony RM-AV3000 universal remote. However, a couple of my buddies have been really going on and on about the Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote. So I decided to give the Harmony another try. This is not my first Harmony remote. I had one of the earlier models and I just didn’t like it. It wasn’t very forgiving if anyone turned on or off a device by hand. It just seemed like it was more work than it was worth. This remote is much improved over the earlier models in several ways.

 

How do you set it up?

I’ve always dreamed of a remote that would be 2/3rds touch screen and 1/3rd physical buttons and the touch screen would actually look exactly like the original remote for the device you’re trying to control. Think of an iPhone like experience as a remote. This way no matter how many devices you bought or got rid of, your remote would never be outdated. The Harmony One is the next closest thing to my dream remote. There is a small touch screen at the top of the device with the rest being physical buttons for common things like volume up/down, channel changing and things like Play, Pause, Stop, etc. The buttons are uniquely shaped which makes it easy to operate it without having to look at it. It also feels much better in my hand compared to the rather large footprint of the Sony remote.

The Harmony One comes with the remote, charging cradle, Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, USB cable, setup guide and software CD. That’s right, you configure this remote from your computer which downloads the latest and greatest device profiles from the internet. This offers a huge advantage over other remotes that make you enter codes or learn every function manually.

The setup is quite simple actually. You start by just listing the make and model of each of your devices. In my home theater setup, I wanted this remote to control my Epson HD projector, TiVo HD, Apple TV, Sony PS3, Bose Lifestyle 28 sound system and my Lutron Maestro Lighting Control. The Harmony One is IR only and doesn’t control RF or Bluetooth devices. So in theory that would rule out the Bose which is RF based and the PS3 which is Bluetooth based. However, the Bose systems now include an IR receiver just so you can use universal remotes. I also solved the PS3 problem (so that I can watch Blu-ray and DVD movies) with the Nyko Playstation 3 BluWave Remote which adds IR remote capability to the PS3 via a USB dongle. This is child’s play for the Harmony One because Logitech has the device information on over 5,000 different consumer electronic devices.

In theory after you input your devices all you would have to do is then configure your "Activities" such as "Watch My TV" or "Watch a Movie". Activities are designed to be one button macros that automatically turn on the right components and switch to the right inputs. Although the Harmony One software seemed to know about all my devices, there were still several issues that I had to fix manually. For example, my projector just didn’t come on. I had to whip out the original remote and manually program the power buttons using the "Learn IR Command." Also it seemed that no matter what, it insisted on switching the input from HDMI to PC on my projector. I finally had to setup a NEW button called "HDMI1" and then I mapped my activities to use that input. Once I did that all was fine.

My three activities are "Watch TV/TiVo", "Watch DVD/Blu-ray" and "Watch Apple TV". The only one that worked first time with no modifications necessary was Watch Apple TV. I found it odd that the Harmony One software warned me that the PS3 couldn’t be controlled via IR and offered the Nyko remote as a solution, but didn’t offer to set it up that way since I already had one. I just set it up manually.

 

Switching sources

Although my projector stays on HDMI 100% of the time, I use an Octava HDMI and Optical 4 port switcher to switch each device to the one HDMI cable going to the projector and the one Optical Audio cable going to the Bose. The Harmony software knew of this switcher and I was able to easily incorporate it into my activities. For example, if I’m watching a movie and after the movies is over I decide to switch to watching TV, all I have to do is press the "Watch my TV/TiVo" on screen button. This will automatically switch the Octava box back over to input 1 which has my TiVo on it.

 

How does it work?

Once I got everything tweaked to exactly how I wanted it (a couple of hours later), the Harmony One worked beautifully. I must admit that it’s easier to use than my Sony. The reason for this is that I can customize just about ever aspect of it. For example, with my Sony remote there was no preset button or activity for controlling my lights. So I had to use one of the other functions namely the CD player. Since I don’t use a stand alone CD player, I used that button and screen for my lights. Not very intuitive! This is not a problem with the Harmony One. I not only have the exact components I need setup, but I can name the Activities, Devices or even the onscreen buttons to whatever I want. For example, the Lutron Light system uses one predefined light level that is referred to as "Scene1" on the Harmony One. I renamed it "Low Light".

I was also amazed that not only could you setup your Favorite Channels for TV stations, but you could even use custom graphics as the buttons that show up right on the remote!

Although the Harmony software lets you use custom graphics for your Favorite Channels, they don’t provide the logos. They had a few sample ones from FOX, but that’s about it. So I found this site that had all the ones I wanted. Another very cool feature is that this remote has a motion sensor in it. When you pick it up it comes to life and lights up the touch screen and the keys. After a few moments of no activity it goes back to sleep to preserve the battery.

 

 

The Bottom Line

I’ll have to agree with other reviewers in that the only thing keeping this remote from being perfect is the lack of RF and Bluetooth support. Luckily for me my setup doesn’t require this, so this remote is perfect for me. So far I can’t really find anything wrong with it. I love the fact that it recharges when it’s in its cradle. Once you get it setup the way you want, it just works!

It’s pricey at a list price of $249, but Amazon has it for $187.08.




Blu-ray + Digital Copy

I don’t buy movies like I used to. I used to buy DVD’s all the time until I realized that I wasn’t very likely to go back and watch a movie that I had already seen unless I absolutely loved it. Even then it was rare. However, there are some (a few) movies that I could watch over and over again. So needless to say when I buy a movie now I have to really really like it. In this age of High Def Blu-ray movies and being able to watch movies on multiple devices such as a computer, DVD player, iPod, iPhone etc, I hate having to decide what format to buy the movie on. For example, If I buy a movie on Blu-ray, then I pretty much limited to watching it at home. If I buy a movie on DVD then I can watch it at home or rip it into a format that’s compatible with my iPhone or computer. However, I don’t get High Def that way.

 

There is an answer

A couple of movie houses have started offering DVD + Digital Copy AND Blu-ray + Digital Copy. When you buy a title that contains a digital copy you get a second DVD ROM for your Mac or PC that contains the movie in a rights managed MP4 format. Once you put this disc in your computer, you can double click on the file and it will launch iTunes. You can then enter the code from the packaging to unlock/license the movie to your iTunes account and the movie will then be transferred from the DVD to your Computer. From there you can either watch it on your computer or sync it to your video capable iPod, iPhone or Apple TV.

Lionsgate is one of the movie houses offering Blu-ray + Digital copy. For me this is the best of both worlds. If I decide that I like a movie so much that I’ll buy it, I won’t be limited to only watching it on a Blu-ray player. I decided to give this a test. The first problem was that their aren’t a ton of titles out yet that are on Blu-ray AND contain a digital copy. So I ordered "The Eye". It’s not a movie that I wanted to own by any means, but it was one that I hadn’t seen yet, that met the requirements for my test. I opened the packing and as promised there was a second DVD-ROM that was clearly labeled for your Mac or PC and will not play in your DVD player.

I popped this disc into my iMac and doubled clicked on the only file on the disc. iTunes then prompted me for the code to unlock the movie. I entered it from the DVD insert page and iTunes then copied the movie to my hard drive. No muss, no fuss. I now have the movie in Blu-ray format AND a digital format that’s compatible with my iPhone and my Apple TV as well as my computer.

Now I just need more of a selection and I’ll be all set. By the way the cost of "The Eye" was $22.95 which is on par with other Blu-ray titles. To buy just the digital copy via iTunes would cost $14.99. So for $8 more you get both a High Def Blu-ray disc and the digital version in Standard Def.

 

Now I guess I’ll go watch my new creepy movie…



Follow up Review of the ScanSnap S510M

As you may remember I was pretty excited to order the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M after reading a review from one of my colleagues and talking with another colleague that used one. At the time I didn’t actually have mine yet and I promised a follow up review, so here it is:

 

The Good

The ScanSnap S510M is an amazing piece of hardware. I’ve never seen a scanner that scans so FAST! Not only does it scan fast, it scans both sides of a page as fast as it scans one side. It’s also more compact than I imagined and since I got mine they’ve even come out with a more compact model (ScanSnap 300M) that would be suitable for travel. I’ve been able to scan even small receipts without having to use the document carrier. It’s just awesome! OK, so that’s the good part!

 

The Bad

I must say that while the hardware rocks, I was a little disappointed in the software implementation. This scanner includes a FULL version of Acrobat 8 Professional. Wow! I was thinking that they would take advantage of this powerful app and sadly they don’t. There is no tie between the scanner driver and Acrobat at all. The scanner driver simply creates a PDF using the built-in Mac OS X Quartz driver. While I’m OK with that, what I was hoping for was an automated way to have Acrobat then OCR the scanned PDF which would make it searchable. What I want is to be able to walk up to the scanner, stick a document on it, scan it and then walk away. If I later need that document, I want to be able to search on some words that were in the document. Out of the box it won’t do that. Instead, it scans the document, gives it a basic name and either dumps it into a folder as a scanned PDF or opens it in Acrobat and then you’d have to do all the work manually. Sure I can probably setup an Acrobat Batch Sequence, Mac OS X Automator thingy and a watched folder, but I just expected this kind automated solution out of the box.

 

 

UPDATE: Thanks to blog reader “Vivek” for pointing out that the ScanSnap S510M does actually include a special version of Abbyy Fine Reader for Mac. This app does exactly the one thing I was missing in that it OCRs the PDFs immediately after they are scanned by the ScanSnap (if you set it to do so). It still begs the question of why do they include Acrobat 8 Professional and not tie into it though, especially since Acrobat 8 Professional can OCR directly? 

 

The Bottom Line

Although the ScanSnap doesn’t do what I want out of the box (see the update above), it is possible to setup with the supplied software. It’s incredibly fast and worth the money! It would be nice if they offered an option for this model to buy just the hardware for those users (like me) who already own Acrobat, but they don’t (yet). Once I have time to sit down and setup my automated workflow, I’ll be one step closer to my paperless office (hey, I can dream can’t I?).  So I’m happy with my purchase!

The Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M (The M is for the Mac version) goes for $430.23 ($510 list) and includes a full version of Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional. It scans in color or B&W and does two sided scanning of stacks of paper. It automatically converts the scans to PDFs and it’s blazing fast!

 


Shooting tethered: Mac or PC which is fastest?

I had been hearing a nasty rumor from my colleagues and photographer buddies that shooting tethered on a PC running Windows was faster than shooting tethered on a Mac. This was due largely in part to the native USB 2.0 drivers for each operating system. I shoot tethered into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 99% of the time when I’m in the studio. Having to wait 6-8 seconds for the image to pop up on the display doesn’t sound like a long time until you’re sitting there waiting. The advantage of shooting tethered is that you can see your results on a nice large display and make adjustments along the way.

 

 

So I put it to the test

Sorry guys I don’t have a tech lab with guys walking around in lab coats. It’s just me with a stop watch on my iPhone. So if you feel that I’m wrong, that’s ok. Just do your own tests then. My testing setup was simple: I have a MacBook Pro running the latest version of Mac OS X and Windows XP SP2 via Boot Camp. I shoot with a Nikon D300. I use Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2 to automate the process of bringing the image in from the camera to a folder. Since Camera Control Pro 2 ships with both the Mac and the Windows version on the same disc, I didn’t have to buy anything else. Once the image is in the folder I have Lightroom (LR) setup to Auto Import and display the image in loupe view which means it has to build a preview on the fly as well. I didn’t have any other apps running in either environment. I did each test after a cold boot. I also ran multiple captures to make sure the timing was consistent. I shoot 99.9% of the time in RAW so I didn’t bother testing JPEG shooting. I’m sure the times would be much faster since JPEG files are much smaller. Since I don’t plan on switching to shooting in JPEG, the faster times would be irrelevant to me.

 

Here are my results, which surprised me!

First I just wanted to see which OS would import the Nikon D300′s 12 megapixel RAW (.NEF) images fastest? So I just ran Camera Control Pro 2 (CCP2) with nothing else open and fired off some exposures. The PC blew away the Mac! This wasn’t looking good at this point. The PC dumped the image into the folder in 3.2 seconds from pressing the shutter, while the Mac took 7.2 seconds. At this point I was starting to think that I’ll be shooting tethered in Windows under Boot Camp from now on. However, it dawned upon me that this is only half the story. The other half of the story is after the image is in the folder, how long it takes the image to get into LR and show on screen. So I continued my test by launching Lightroom 1.4.1 and setting up the auto import. I then ran tests of the complete process from the time I press the shutter until the image is on the screen in loupe view. The results surprised me! When it was all said and done, the PC was faster, but only by .7 seconds! It seems that either LR is either really efficient with Auto Import and building previews on the Mac or sucks really bad at it on the PC (glass half full or empty depending upon how you look at it).

  Windows Mac
CCP2 import 3.2 seconds 7.2 seconds
LR import (complete process) 8.2 seconds 8.9 seconds

 

The Bottom Line

If all you need to do is shoot tethered and get the images into a folder, then it would seem that Windows would be the way to go. However, if you shoot tethered into LR, then there isn’t enough of a speed advantage to switch from the Mac OS! Canon shooters, you mileage may vary as well. Since Canon provides an app to automatically bring the images from the camera into a folder, you may see different results depending upon how their software is optimized for each platform. Also if you use other apps to shoot tethered and display your images (such as the software by the camera manufacturer), your mileage my vary. I ran the only tests that mattered to my workflow which is Nikon D300 to CCP2 to LR.

 


Guardian Maximus for up to the minute protection

OK, you've heard me harp on the need to have backups. However, in some cases having an up to date backup could still mean losing hours of work. That's where a RAID-1 [MIRROR] comes in. OWC carries the NewerTechnology Guardian Maximus line of RAIDs. With a RAID-1 you have TWO identical hard drives in a case that are writing the data simultaneously to each drive. The idea is that if one drive fails, you would still have everything up to that second on the other drive.  

I tested the 1TB Guardian Maximus

This drive has USB2, Firewire 800 and Firewire 400 connections on the back and comes with all 3 cables. I connected the drive up via Firewire 800 out of the box and it mounted on the desktop. It was already formatted for Mac OS. I copied a couple of gig to it from my server and speed was acceptable. When it comes to speed you have to remember that the data is being written to both 1TB drives at once. The drive (enclosure) is relatively quiet. There are LED indicators for the drive activity of both drives. If one of the drives fails the indicator for that drive will go red. Once you replace the failed drive, the Guardian Maximus will automatically "rebuild" which means that it will mirror the data onto the replacement drive. The only downside to this that I can see is that there is no other indicator that the drive has failed that I'm aware of. In other words if you didn't notice the red light on the front of the enclosure you could be at risk. It would be nice to have software (like the Drobo) that monitors the status of the drives and automatically alerts you if one of the drives goes bad.  

This is not a substitute for backing up

OWC includes award winning backup utilities like Prosoft's Data Backup 3 for the Mac and NovaBACKUP for the PC. They also include Intech Hard Disk SpeedTools for the Mac. The reason that a RAID doesn't substitute for a backup is that it's writing and erasing data on both drives as you use your computer. Therefore if you accidentally delete a file the file will be deleted on both drives immediately. Also if you got some corruption or a virus, then your files will be corrupted or infected on both drives in the RAID. Instead use a RAID as your main drive or as a backup drive or both. This way you'll still have your backups if you need to recover a file or two AND if one of your drives crashed you could theoretically keep right on going.   OWC sells these starting at $259.99 for a 250GB solution (2 250GB drives). They also sell the enclosure so you could build your own using your own drives. The enclosure goes for $149.99.



More on the iPhone 3g

Now that the dust has settled a bit on yesterday’s announcement of the iPhone 3g, a few little tidbits are coming to the surface:

  • The iPhone 3g will REQUIRE in-store activation! So no more picking one up, never activating it on AT&T (or whomever) and jailbreaking it just to resell it.
  • The AT&T data plan is going up by $10/month to $30/month instead of the original $20/month. Rod Harlan has an interesting take on that and the price comparison between the iPhone 1.0 and iPhone 3g.
  • As it stands right now, no online orders for the iPhone. You’ll have to go into a retail outlet to get one!
  • See the Steve Jobs WWDC ’08 Keynote introducing the iPhone 3g and iPhone 2.0 software update here.

So it looks like even though the entry price for the iPhone is only $199, Apple has tightened up on making sure you activate your iPhone with the appropriate carrier (and sign up for the 2 year contract). Also for those that ask the question: “why is it that I can get a 16GB iPhone 3g for $299 while an iPod touch 16GB goes for $399?”, the answer is with the iPhone you can’t use it without signing up for phone service. Apple appears to be taking a more traditional method of using the service contract to bring down the entry price of the phone. It will be interesting to see as time goes on, whether they will officially offer an unlocked version here in the states at a higher price?


iPhone 3g coming July 11, 2008

As expected Apple announced the iPhone 3g today! This is the iPhone that takes advantage of faster 3g data networks for near wi-fi data speeds.

 

It’s the software stupid

Apple lead their keynote today with lots of talk about software. As with any successful platform, it will live or die by the apps that are available for it. Apple realizes that they can’t do everything that everyone wants. So many 3rd party developers announced and showcased their apps today. Apple also showcased their support for Microsoft’s Exchange syncing which is HUGE in the corporate world. Not to leave consumers out, Apple announced “mobileme“. Mobileme is the successor to Apple’s .Mac service. This service will provide push email, calendar, contacts and photos to consumer users of the iPhone.

3rd party iPhone apps will range in price from FREE on up. You’ll get your apps directly through the iPhone App store on your iPhone running the 2.0 software.

 

What we know…

  • Shipping: July 11, 2008
  • Software: iPhone 2.0 as a free download to existing iPhone users and $9.95 for iPod touch users
  • Capacity: 8GB (only in black) and 16GB (available in black or white)
  • Speed: 3g data network
  • GPS: YES!
  • Push Data: via Microsoft Exchange and Apple’s NEW mobileme (no announcement of when mobileme goes live)
  • iPhone 2.0 Software and the iPhone App store: a free download to existing iPhone users ($9.95 for iPod touch users) in early July.
  • Terry’s Pet Peeves Addressed: Not sure what else from my list of “50 ways to make the iPhone better” will get solved in the 2.0 version, but one thing that has been added is a Search feature for Contacts. Also we now get Bulk Delete and Move of things like email messages.
  • Other NEW Features: View PowerPoint, and iWork (Pages, Numbers & Keynote) document attachments. New Scientific Calculator. Adding photos from emails to your iPhone Pictures library. Also many more languages are included.
  • Price: 8GB model $199!, 16GB model $299

Learn more here.

 

iPhone 3G: Twice as fast. Half the price!

Probably one of the biggest shocks of this announcement was the price! You’ll be able to get a iPhone 3g 8GB model for a mere $199. The 16GB model will go for $299. Both models are slated to be available Friday, July 11th (I’ve got to imagine that there is some idiot out there who is already standing in line. Please tell me it isn’t so!) Don’t get me wrong, I plan to upgrade on day one, but camping has never been my thing :-)

When you think about it, $199 is a STEAL for a touch screen iPhone, with a GPS, that is also an iPod that plays video, does web, email, mapping and allows for 3rd party apps. Wow! The first 5GB iPod was $399 if that gives you some perspective.

 

Start the countdown…. July 11th can’t get here fast enough!


Belkin Mini Surge Protector – almost perfect!

Although Belkin doesn’t specifically label this Mini surge protector as "Travel", they do go out their way to talk about how "hotel rooms and airport terminals never seem to have enough power outlets to charge all the devices today’s traveler brings along." So that leads me to believe that they intended their "Mini Surge Protector with USB Charger" to be used by Road Warriors. I have been looking for a compact surge protector/slash power strip to keep in my computer bag for travel. We’ve all been in those hotel rooms where you’ve had to decide between having a lamp, a clock or power for your phone or laptop, due to the lack of available outlets (I also love it when the only outlet is behind the bed). This mini surge protector has an added bonus of two USB powered ports on it to charge up my USB devices (such as iPods, GPS units, phones, etc.) When I traveled to Spain, I bought a universal adapter that also had a single USB port on it, but I was disappointed in that the USB port didn’t provide enough juice to charge the iPhone.

It’s seems that that iPhone uses a little more juice than most standard USB ports provide. For example, my old Treo 650 would still get enough juice from my MacBook Pro while it was sleeping. Not so with the iPhone. I’m very happy to report that the Belkin unit DOES provide enough power through the USB port to also charge the iPhone. That means one less adapter I have to carry around.

I could never figure out why Apple didn’t design a USB port into the power adapter of its portables. Seems like a natural fit since most MacBook owners I know also either have iPods or iPhones (or both).

 

It’s almost perfect

It’s a little on the large side. However, that doesn’t bother me because after all there has to be room for the surge suppressing circuitry as well as the two USB ports too. What does bother me is that the AC prongs don’t retract or fold down. To Belkin’s credit they did design the prongs so that they rotate. This allows the strip to be horizontal or vertical depending on how your wall outlet is configured. The protruding prong thing is not the end of the world, but it’s one more thing to have to deal with in an already crowded bag. If I were a ratings kinda guy, this would be one of those things that would keep me from giving it a full 5 stars. I give it 4.5 stars. Hopefully the next version will be designed to fix this small little issue.

 

Also since this is one of those little items you might forget and leave behind in your room, don’t forget to put a label on it.

 

Amazon has it for $16.99.



Too many video cards?

Apple typically makes things easy. However, a couple of buddies have recently pointed out that if you’re not careful you could end up with a extra video cards in your Mac Pro that you don’t need.

The problem seems to be in the way Apple words the video card selection in their configure to order page for the Mac Pro.

Some users are mistaking the 2 x, 3 x and 4 x selections above to mean 2, 3 & 4 times the performance instead of 2, 3 or 4 video cards. I mean after all, if you were spending a few thousand on a New Mac Pro, what’s another $359 for a 4x speed video card right?

The sad part is that if you do make this mistake, there are no returns on custom configs, so you’re stuck with the extra video cards you probably don’t need or you’d have to eBay them.

I know some of you are probably thinking this is no big deal and it’s very clear to you, "how could anyone not see this?" However, I know TWO different people that it’s happened to recently. So obviously it’s not clear to everyone.



Need more room?

I like to keep at least 20-30 GBs free on my MacBook Pro hard drive. Lately I’ve been working with less than 10 GBs free. It really started becoming a problem over the weekend as I started getting "out of space" errors right in the middle of a photo shoot and while working in Photoshop.

 

I started wondering "what could be taking up so much space?"

I know that the Mac OS X Finder can list the size of your items and folders and sort that way, but it’s too slow. So I downloaded the really cool shareware app – WhatSize. This was the best $12.99 I’ve spent in a while. With this little gem I was able to immediately identify about 7 GBs of files that I either no longer needed at all (like two very large podcasts) or files that didn’t need to be on my internal drive. This app is amazingly FAST! I could quickly drill down on those large numbers and see exactly "WHAT" was taking up so much space? Within about 10 minutes I had over 13 GB free and I’m still cleaning stuff off and I probably will upgrade to a larger drive soon, but for now this app rocks!



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