Harmony SST-688 Remote Control
By Ron Goldberg
Intrigue Technologies had scored a series of hits with its Web-enabled, "activity-based" Harmony remote line. For many C-tailers, the Harmony is the poor man's Pronto (which in turn, would be the poor man's Crestron or AMX). This is a bit misleading, as the Harmony can be just as powerful in practice as the Pronto, not to mention simpler to operate, easier for the dealer to program and priced better. The company's latest model, the SST-688, offers convenient DVR control and features a slightly altered form factor, but retains the impressive combination of power and simplicity that has characterized the lineup.
As with the earlier H659, which the new model improves upon, and the earlier SST768, which won a CR Excite Award last year, the SST-688 is configured via a Web-based application (Windows or Mac) and a database of gear and commands located at the Harmony site, which connect to the remote via USB. User "activities" are strings of commands that make up an entertainment session, e.g., "watch TV," "listen to music," etc. While activities can be single-button affairs, the unit can also offer a control interface to the specific devices in the system, and combine component functionalities in the activities.
For example, I set up an activity to play my DVR. All the devices in this activity are correctly switched on and to the correct inputs and preferential settings when the activity is invoked by the remote. But I like to have access to all my components individually while I watch. Sometimes, I switch from widescreen program material to 4x3, and I like to adjust the monitor scaling. For a baseball game, I like to use the stadium mode on my pre-pro, and for a movie, switch to PL II or one of the Neo settings.
On a typical universal remote, you would have to invoke control over a specific device, make your adjustments, and then switch back to the normal operating mode. On the Harmony, these ancillary picture and sound parameters are entered in during the initial setup, and become resident in the activity. So while I watch my DVR, I can press the "picture" button and change the aspect ratio on the monitor, or press the "sound" button and get instant access to the audio modes on the pre-pro. Up to twelve of these special picture and sound adjustments can be resident per activity. And if that isn't enough control, you can always just press the "device" button, which then acts as the controller for a specific component.