The Harmony Remote SST-659 is the latest Harmony universal remote from Canada-based upstart Intrigue Technologies. This AU$349 model uploads command codes for all your infrared-controlled gear using the same Web-based setup wizard as its predecessors, such as the SST-768. But the SST-659 has a much better ergonomic design and button layout.Design
20.3cm long and pleasantly rounded, the SST-659 resembles an elongated dumbbell. The remote is black with silver highlights and features an 84x48-pixel LCD and 49 plastic buttons. The screen and the keys are brightly backlit. The unit takes four AAA batteries.
The LCD dominates the top third of the remote. Flanking the screen are six buttons for accessing customised contextual commands. In the narrowest section, you'll find a five-way controller that provides easy menu navigation for DVDs and electronic programming guides. Farther down, volume- and channel-up/down selectors, a 12-key numeric pad, and a host of other familiar buttons are all logically laid out. But the transport functions are out of place at the very bottom; we'd prefer them to be closer to the middle of the remote.Features
To get started, you install Harmony's software on your Windows or Mac OS X machine and run the included USB cable between the computer and the port on the remote's nose. You then go to the company's Web site and fill out a questionnaire, which asks you to describe your home-theater components; explain how they're connected; and define their roles in activity-based functions, such as Watch TV, Watch DVD, and Listen To Music. For each function, you specify which devices and inputs the remote must enable. After you've completed the questionnaire, the software uploads all the relevant control codes to the SST-659. Impressively, Harmony's user-built code database covered all our gear, including some high-end and brand-new models.
The process involves some trial and error. You must verify that the commands work with your equipment as intended and modify them as necessary. Fortunately, the Web site provides advanced, macro-style options for delay times, multistep commands, and other functions. Even better, the remote's Help key aids in troubleshooting by asking natural-language questions on the LCD. For instance, the screen might read, "Is the digital set-top box on?" And Harmony's e-mail-based customer support is excellent--the company even proactively notified us that updated codes were available for our DVD player.Performance
The SST-659 isn't a panacea for A/V problems. Testing in our US Labs, our Samsung TXN3098WHF television, for example, has separate controls for the analog and highband inputs, so smooth transitions between the Watch TV and Watch DVD functions were impossible (as they would be with any remote). Fortunately, the LCD will accept four customized commands, and we were able to create a workaround with two.
The SST-659's infrared range is excellent, and the remote had no problem controlling a TV, a DVR, a DVD player, a VCR, and an A/V receiver. We still have a few nitpicks: the backlight blinks off a bit too quickly, and the online setup may daunt nontechies. But overall, the SST-659 is a well-designed, completely intuitive universal remote that maximizes Harmony's Web-based interface and improves on the company's earlier product.