[Review] Harmony SST-659 Remote


Staff member
Harmony SST-659 Remote Review
by electron

With the prices of quality home entertainment equipment dropping, many people are now able to afford digital surround sound systems, High Definition TVs, progressive scan DVD players, TIVOs, and other audio/visual gadgets. In the midst of this big progression in home theater growth, a common complaint now is the ability to control all these gadgets and gizmos from one portable and convenient source. Many people are not familiar with habit of turning on several devices, selecting the different inputs and outputs just to watch a movie or even good old-fashioned television.

Obvious improvements are needed! Some will argue that their cheap universal remote, which might have come with their TV set, is sufficient enough to control their TV and VCR. However, once a DVD player is added to the equation, and a cable set top box, they’ll soon realize that there is no Guidebutton on their remote, or no Multiple Anglebutton, or worst case scenario, the remote control doesn't even support the DVD player at all! I personally ran into this situation many times. I would find a nice universal remote, supporting up to 8 devices usually, but they are always missing the important buttons, or just don't work correctly. I have a drawer full of remotes, yet only a few are useful.

Enough is enough! I finally gave in, and bought my first universal learning remote, so I could finally dump all my other remote controls, and started programming my new Radio Shack RS15-2117. One of the first things I noticed is the size of this thing… IT’S HUGE! Despite the size, this remote still doesn't have all the functions and buttons I need. Setting up macros is a nightmare and some of the important buttons are all the way at the bottom of the remote, making it cumbersome to use with one hand. So here I am, still fumbling with two remotes because the Radio Shack unit didn't support the some of the most important buttons on my HTPC remote, which is basically a cheap Pinnacle PCTV remote.

In comes the new Harmony SST-659 remote. When I opened the package, the first reaction I got from my wife was “Wow, that remote looks pretty sharp!†I can’t believe it, my wife liked one of my new toys?! The first notable feature was its light weight and comfortable grip, it is much smaller and lighter than the Radio Shack remote, . The buttons even feel great and you can hear/feel a tiny 'click' when they are pushed, which is a great way of confirming this action (a feature I miss a lot on all my other remotes).

Setting up the Harmony remote is a breeze. It features a built-in mini-USB port, which allows you to add or update new codes as your home entertainment center grows. Install the driver software on the CD or download it at Harmony’s website. Connect your remote to your computer using the provided USB cable, and go to www.harmonyremote.com to create an account. After creating your account, log-in to the website, select the brands and devices you wish to control, and download the codes to your remote.

One of the unique features that make this remote stand out is the ability to control all your devices without having to deal with complicated macros, a feature most remotes rely on. Just login to the site, select the devices you wish to control.

The site has almost every device code in the database, including TV tuner cards for computers which come with remotes such as the Pinnacle PCTV or the Windows XP MCE2004 remote. If the device isn’t in the database for some strange reason (even though I have found some of my more exotic hardware listed), the Harmony remote features a learning function to program itself with whatever you what it to control. Harmony even includes an upload function so the user may add the learned functions of their remote to Harmony’s device code database. In fact, the company will go as far as guaranteeing that every device, which uses Infra Red, is supported, including those exotic remote controlled fireplaces, lighting, and your desktop computer. Once you have your devices selected, you can define actions such as "Watch DVD," which will turn on the TV and DVD player, select the correct settings for the audio equipment, and dim the lights, all without having to know how to program macros. All you have to do is hit that one defined button on the remote and you’re good to go. It doesn't get easer than this!

Another impressive feature is the interactive LCD display. You can have a TV Guide downloaded to the remote when it’s synced with Harmony’s website. The display also allows you to have custom ‘virtual buttons’, in case your regular remote has special features which can't be controlled with the physical buttons on the Harmony.

Only the Philips Pronto would be comparable to the functions of this Harmony SST-659, but I personally am not comfortable with using a very expensive LCD based device as a remote control. Just think about how many times you might have dropped your cheap remote control, how it got stuck between the sofa cushions, how many times your children will touch it with their dirty, oily, sticky hands.

The Harmony SST-659 is a great high quality remote, it is definitely not a cheap remote, but it is a remote every home theater enthusiast/family should consider; the phrase you get what you pay for definitely comes into play here. I wish this remote had a few more physical buttons, such as instant replay, but you can always create a virtual button for that function or purchase higher-end models, which will have more pre-programmed functional buttons. If your wife or kids are constantly having trouble operating your devices in order to do simple things with your system such as watch TV, then this is the perfect remote for you.

If you like toys, or would like more features, check out this comparison table to view what the other models Harmony has to offer: Harmony Product Comparison

Do you like this remote and wish you had one? Enter the CocoonTech.com March Madness contest now for your chance to win this great remote!

Quick Specs:
Product Name: Harmony SST-659 Remote
Price: $199 USD
Manufacturer: Intrigue Technologies
Power: 4 AAA 1.5V batteries
Dimensions: 15.6 x 5.4 x 3.3 cm (6.1 x 2.1 x 1.3 inches)
Weight: 155 grams (4.5 oz)
Supported OS: Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP, Mac OS X with Safari 1.0
Where to buy: Best Buy, Future Shop, more...

Detailed Specifications
Is this remote RF and IR?
Will it learn Both RF and IR?

Z-wave is RF based... Are there codes for z-wave and if not will it learn the z-wave codes?

If it supports z-wave then ill take two ;)
no, the remote will only do IR, but you could control your zwave hardware using a IR receiver hooked up to homeseer (which is what I do).
Are there RF receiversand remotes on the market. I could be wrong but its seems that if you buy an ir remote then in every room that you want to control z-wave you will need some sort of ir receiver. I have and RF remote that came with my ATI all in wonder 9600 and that thing works from a pretty go distance.

I can't wait until we see sleek looking universal remotes with Z-wave function built in. I just hope it doesnt take too long
You won't see support for zwave in universal remotes any time soon, it just doesn't make sense. It took many years before X10 was even supported (which usually works by using an IRtoX10 converter, or in some rare cases, where the remote directly supports the X10 RF protocol, but I can only think of one brand which does this)
I custom install home audio equipment for a living and I personally like the Theatre Master remotes. The MX-500 is an all-time great remote and is easily programed without having to involve a computer. I hate to have to get out my laptop every time I want to make a slight adjustment to programming.

However, Harmony remotes are great for customers that don't know their DVD players from their CD players and don't know how to turn anything on. If there is a problem, you can just hit the help button and the remote will ask you questions and solve your problem via step-by-step problem analization.

Lots of my customers don't have wireless internet access and I have to connect my laptop to an available telephone line and use dial-up. Yuk. Sometimes the telephone is in the other room and I find myself making multiple trips back and forth getting the remote set up.

With the MX-500, I can do all the remote screen editing using IR-CLone and download it to remote. Then all I have to do is learn any buttons that don't work and set up macros.

Happy Universal Remoting :)

I will say that I love the Harmony Remote, and the WAF factor was extremely high, but I have found problems. In the last 17 months I have had to send three back. Full Disclaimer - the unit was a refurb from Overstock.com and I will say that Harmony has been very generous in replacing them for the price of shipping. I still love the remote, but it can have it's share of problems.