I’ve been asked a few times now by subscribers whether the Harmony hub is really worth it when it comes to voice automation with Alexa, so here’s my two cents.
Logitech are big players and there’s no denying that there is some security in that. Your gear is going to be reliable and Amazon are less likely to suddenly put the kybosh on your experience than they might with a little known gadget from China.
The Harmony hub is a nicely packaged product with some beautiful craftsmanship, so the real question is whether or not you can afford the price tag and whether or not you’re happy to live with a device that despite it’s good looks can only really blast Infrared.
Perhaps right now you’re perfectly happy just controlling the TV and your set top box, but if you hang around me for long enough you’ll probably catch the bug and wish you could ask Alexa to trigger “cinema mode” and watch her dim the lights.
So this is where my preferred device comes into play: the RM pro.
The RM pro can blast both infrared and RF and will currently set you back just £30 on Amazon, which is a 3rd of the price tag of the cheapest Harmony hub.
There is one small snag; the RM pro is not natively controllable via Alexa… BUT there is a hack that will take just 20 minutes of effort and a spare Android device. It is an amazingly reliable solution and it’s really satisfying to feel like you cheated Logitech out of £70. You can see my easy to follow tutorial here
Controlling Infrared and RF in one handy package means you can create scenes such as “Cinema mode” which can dim the lights, draw the curtains, turn your TV to the right source, power up your Blu ray player, turn on your popcorn machine. There is no limit to what you can control and it will honestly leave you feeling like Harry Potter.
The problem with voice control for your TV
For both devices the commands are limited to “on” or “off” which makes for limited use. I tend to use “turn BBC one on” amongst some other neat shortcuts, but you can’t browse the TV guide or turn the volume up and down for example. It’s not like it’s impossible, it’s just seriously ugly. Who wants to say “turn guide on, turn up on, turn up on, turn select on”?
This brings us to the issue with both devices: Navigating your TV guide with your voice is the dream right?…
I honestly don’t think that it is. Having used voice control for my Media Centre for years I can tell you that voice control is great for shortcuts like “play the latest available episode of X”, but you can’t beat a remote or an app on your phone for browsing through movies and shows.
For those of you thinking “Logitech won’t let me down, they will make the skill better in time”, I’ve got an opinion you won’t much like; I am reasonably confident that Logitech have abandoned their Alexa skill and here’s why:
- They can’t know what set top box you have
- They don’t know who your TV service provider is
- They don’t know what country you are in
- They know the end user experience will be a frustrating menagerie of miss-heard commands, repeating yourself and calling Alexa names.
Imagine trying to write code that works one way for a Virgin customer, that works differently for a Sky customer, that dials different numbers for different channels depending on what country you are in, that knows which channels you are subscribed to, and that knows which IR signal to send to fire up your TV guide. The combinations are mind boggling and it is precisely the reason that they leave it to you to program the thing up. The Alexa control is a nice afterthought that was easy to implement.
The big hurdle Alexa developers all face
The biggest hurdle Logitech face is getting Alexa to remain listening as you navigate but stop listening when you’re done choosing. and also know that “play” and “pause” mean the TV and not your Spotify account and volume up means your TV and not Alexa herself.
Perhaps Amazon will help them out by having Alexa remember she’s watching TV so the commands are applicable during that session, but I can’t see it. I imagine the discussion has already happened and Amazon have offered a compromise command: “Ask Harmony to XYZ” and Logitech have figured it isn’t worth it.
If I had all the money in the world I would still buy an RM pro, scratch that, I would buy 3 RM pros for 3 different rooms because it’s a 3rd of the price of the Harmony hub.
In summation the RM pro is cheaper, more capable and more malleable. In my opinion there is absolutely no contest.
That said if Logitech want to send me a hub for review I won’t say no 😉