For a while now I have been controlling my Windows Media Center HTPC with a remote control app on my Android phone. Recently I have been playing with…er reviewing…a DirecTV remote control on the same phone. I control my FreeNAS home server from that phone. I could also control Windows Home Server, a TiVo, a Comcast DVR, and probably many other set-top boxes as well. All of this got me to thinking….will smartphones make things like the Harmony remote control a thing of the past?
For years now, Harmony has reined supreme as THE device to have for home theater geeks, and has even edged it’s way into the mainstream. Sure, there are other “universal” remotes, some of them are even higher-end than Harmony, like Crestron. Yes, Crestron can do a LOT more than the average universal remote, like control home security and lighting. But now there are smartphone apps for those things too.
What can Harmony do that my Android can’t? Well, there are a few things. Some are due to the limitations of my hardware and some are due to the limitation of the apps. For one, my A/V receiver isn’t networked and neither is my LCD TV, so they can’t be controlled from my phone. For another, the “one-app-to-rule-them-all” isn’t there yet. By that, I mean that Harmony can turn on my receiver, TV, and DirecTV HD DVR with a push of one button, even setting the receiver to the proper output and the set-top box to a particular channel. By contrast, my phone requires me to open each app separately to do these things.
So, can Android, iOS, and the others replace these universal remotes? Yes, but not quite yet. The hardware exits already. Virtually every home theater device available today can be found with network capability. If a device can be networked then you can be sure that an app will exist for it. What is stalling things right now is the “one-app-to-rule-them-all” part. Nobody, as far as I know, has come close to creating an app that can control multiple devices, like my HTPC and DVR. Until that happens, and I am positive it will, then Harmony and the others will continue to be survivors.