In the mid-1990's, Microsoft built a demonstration 'Home of the Future' (originally code-named: Jetson, as in "The Jetsons") to show off their vision of the Smart Home. They envisioned a home where everything was connected and where possible it could be automated and controlled centrally.
Fast forward twenty years and the advances in Smart Devices has brought about a plethora of technologies that can do amazing things.
Thermostats that learn when you are home or away and the temperatures that you like and adjust accordingly.
Smart Lights that can be adjusted to various colour and brightness combinations
Wi-Fi speakers that can stream audio from pretty much any source
Locks for Doors that can be automated.
Blinds that can be open
Smart TV and Games Consoles that do more than just play games or show TV Programmes.
But, for all the devices, there is still little cohesion between them. Competing standards and proprietary adaptors make it more difficult than necessary to set up the smart home of the future to make it easy to manage.
This is where the Logitech Harmony Companion (Smart Control) and Home Hub enter the picture, acting as an intermediary between all of these disparate technologies and standards.
The Home Hub, a curved, sleek black box with a few ports on the back and a status light on the front, can be configured to talk to many of the smart products. Powered by a micro-USB cable , the device can be configured either by PC / Mac or via an iOS or Android App. Sorry Windows Mobile users, there is no official Windows 10 app from Logitech for this.
Partnered with the Home Hub, the Smart Control can then be programmed to assign different tasks to any of the buttons.
Every button on the remote can have it's function changed to another task, with some buttons also capable of having a combination of tasks assigned to it. For example: "Watch Movie" can be set to turn on your TV, sound system, turn down the lights and set the heat to a comfortable temperature. "Play Games" could turn on your TV, Games Console and Sound system, but turn off your DVR. Or you could create a custom "Relax" setting, which would change the light settings, turn off everything except for your Sonos system and have it play relaxing tunes.
The remote control can have six primary functions stored in it's three main buttons - one for a short press, another for a long press. The other face buttons can be used for any tasks on your normal remote control, replacing up to 8 existing remotes. If the Harmony Device is not aware of how to send the requisite action for a particular button, it can be taught the function by pointing the existing remote at the Hub and having it 'learn' it.
Setup of the Hub and Remote is a relatively painless experience. The PC app only allows for a limited configuration - mainly just TV and DVR functions. The app will perform a quick search of your network for compatible devices or ask you to enter their details manually. The Android / iOS app has the same function, but makes it possible to add controls for your other Smart devices and create combination functions.
The Companion remote itself is comfortable to hold, with evenly balanced weight and a textured grip that makes it less likely to slip from your hands. Initial doubts about whether the control would work as seamlessly as advertised are blown away when you start using it. To use an overused phrase: It just works.
Trying to catch it out by performing unexpected button presses caused no real issues. The buttons were quickly and logically mapped to the remote control. A slight hiccup between our test Samsung TV and Samsung DVR going through an Xbox One meant that a menu button that should have brought up the DVR menu to view your recorded programs brought up an unexpected menu from the TV. A brief trip to the Harmony app, teach the hub the correct button and just map it to the desired button on the remote and it was running exactly as it should.
The smartphone App also doubles as a remote control as well. You see, it is not the Harmony Remote that talks with your devices. The remote sends the button presses to the Hub and the Hub speaks with all of the devices. Running the app on the phone behaves the same way - it tells the hub what it needs it to do and it just does it.
The Logitech Harmony Companion also works with Amazon Alexa, adding voice control to the mix. You ask Alexa to tell your Harmony device to perform an action and similar to the Harmony App it sends the message to the appropriate devices. This voice control didn't work as well as the remote and the App in our tests - more often than not Alexa responded with just "OK" but didn't do anything with the devices in question.
Overall the Harmony Companion and Home Hub do a good job of unifying control of your smart devices. It makes it easier to have one point of control, rather than separate apps and remotes for everything.
That being said, it is still amazing to think that the Jetson prototype that Microsoft showed off in the mid-90's quite accurately depicted the notion of a Smart Home that we see today. even if the specific appearance of the tech looks very dated. It is a wonder that Windows 10 is not at the core of everything - it makes it possible for devices like the Harmony series to step up and bring the smart things together.