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Hi,


First, preliminary comments about the SST-659


Initial impressions.

This is the perfect family remote at least for this one. I've gone through the Marantz RC2000 MKII in the old days, as well as a Philips Pronto, but I think the Harmony SST-659 takes the cake in family-friendliness. Control seven devices with two separate displays is a cinch (once you get used to the "Smart State Technology"). Any family member used to a Scientific Atlanta Digital Cable remote control, doesn't even need to be told what to do with the remote - all the buttons are already there - TV guide and all. Button remotes seem to be preferred in the family. And I kept getting complaints about touchscreen remotes or the heavy weight of the old Marantz RC2000 MKII.


Activity Buttons...

They are great for the others who use my equipment. "Watch TV", "Watch a Movie", "Listen to Music" -- controlling all pieces of my equipment without time consuming macro programming. These special use buttons caught my attention for me to research the Harmony SST-659 remote further, as well as its very light weight. You may be familiar with the SST-659 review at RemoteCentral .


Smart State Technology...

I think it really does simplify a lot of things by eliminating most macros, at the expense of making it much more difficult to create a macros when I do actually need them. Hopefully a future SST-style remote will still permit easy creation of special-case macros, for the best of all worlds. The good thing is that there there always seem to be workarounds --- I even figured out how to create pseudo-discrete code for my Toshiba DVD player which only had a power toggle button, so that the Harmony never goes out of sync with my DVD player power state. You just have to think differently to program this remote compared to others. The Harmony remote is smart enough to keep track of which video input you are on, and I was able to do things like multiple button presses to do pseudo-discrete input selection, The Harmony SST was still able to keep track of which input I was on, once I forced my device to consistently power-up on a specific input, and there was only a button on the original remote to cycle through inputs. Harmony's SST architecture remember which devices are OFF and which devices are ON, and which devices are on which input, and realtime generates custom macros. Even if my DVD player was on, the VCR was on the wrong channel, and the cable box was turned off -- pressing the "Watch TV" button on Harmony -- Harmony automatically turns off your DVD player, automatically switch the VCR back to the correct input, and turns on your cable box. And this all happens even if none of your devices have discrete power ON/OFF codes nor discrete INPUT codes!! If anything goes out of sync, Harmony's HELP button automatically fixes things for you in a user friendly way. The LCD screen on the Harmony is very remiscient of cellphone style WAP surfing, asking you things like "Is your TV on? Yes | No" when you press the HELP button -- in order to fix your system for you if the SST-generated "macros" screw up. The infrared emitter on the SST-659 is so powerful (there are 3 high-intensity IR LED's pointing in 3 different directions inside the SST-659!). I could control my WHOLE system from the opposite side of my sofa. My worries of getting out of sync quickly dissappeared -- and with some of my pseudo-discrete improvements that I added, the Harmony will never get out of sync again with 4 out of 7 of my devices, and very unlikely with 5 out of 7 devices. The remaining device (Scientific Atlanta 3100HD box) will only get out of sync of SST if somebody powers it on manually without the remote, or if you cover the LED's of the SST while trying to an activity that turns on/off the cable box. I solved this sole remaining weak link by programming a custom "PowerSync" button that toggles the cable box power state without affecting the SST power state memory, then assigned it to an LCD screen button. (I did a Learn Raw, rather than reusing the power IR code for the Scientific Atlanta box). This will allow me to re-sync the cable box in the rare occasion it gets out of sync with the Harmony Smart State Technology (power state / input state memory). If you study SST programming further (which is completely differet from ProntoEdit or traditional macro programming), you can get really creative with Smart State Technology through some knowledge. For example, it is possible to develop a solution for the SST-659 to do things that you probably didn't think of. For example, you can do an X10 lamp control button that toggles a lamp on/off -- if you wanted to assign a lamp button to the LCD screen while you're watching TV for example so that you can put away that X10 remote away from your coffeetable. You simply add the X10 control as a passthrough device to an Activity, and do some simple custom SST configuring to accomplish adding X10 buttons to your "Watch TV" activity, for example.


Internet Dependency...

Can only be configured by web-based wizard. Arguably both a boon and bane because this remote completely depends on being connected to the Internet! Dependency could be a bane. But it is also a boon because of the near-realtime database of pre-learned devices. Another advantage is that the web wizard is like an always-up-to-date platform-independent configuration software program. (You can configure it on any platform, even Linux, but then you need to switch to a Mac or PC to do the actual connection to the remote for uploading a new config). Internet is not a problem here because this place is full of Internet on a reliable 3 megabit DSL connection at a five-backbone redundant ISP -- and there is Ethernet and Wifi everywhere here in my place.


Quick Internet Config...

In the world of a busy working life, I really do like the quick Internet configuration. It worked great for and a half out of 7 devices. After just 15 minutes of configuring the basic devices, one button OFF that runs amazingly fast, making it seem like all my 5 devices turned off simultaneously -- 0.5 second from first device to last device, for 5 devices, on the one-button OFF. I didn't even need to do any macro programming. However, 1 device is a little more tricky (Projector POWER button), and the last device had to be completely programmed from scratch.


Creating custom configs...

I said I had to do one device from scratch. I did a button-to-button teaching session for one custom device -- a remote specifically for a HTPC. A little more time consuming (but not by much) than a standard learning universal remote to create a custom device for SST-659, but vastly outweighed by virtually perfect pre-configuration for 5 out of 7 devices. My Internet connection is high speed, so the button learning only took about 1-2 seconds longer than what I would have done with a Marantz RC2000 MKII in the old days of button-to-button teaching. But finally, I managed to program a custom computer remote into the SST-659, so that I can control my HTPC like a DVD player too, or my regular DVD player. The computer remote is a StreamZap, and there was actually a device already in the Harmony database for it, but it was poorly programmed, which meant I had to do this all over again from scratch. The SST-659 had a really difficult time learning the StreamZap codes, even in "Learn Raw" mode. During teaching, I had to press the StreamZap buttons at the precisely right duration (very briefly, but not too briefly, and never holding down the button.). Too briefly or too long, the button wouldn't work. Distance and stability of the remote away from the learning sensor seemed to be pretty important. This was a big pain, but I finally created a better StreamZap config than Harmony's default StreamZap config. (Note: I use IRMAN and Girder to accept the StreamZap codes, rather than using StreamZap's receiver, since I wanted more HTPC remote-control flexibility)


Summarized Recap...

It is a huge time-saver in being able to seamlessly mix and match preconfigured devices massively more quickly than stitching together multiple Pronto .ccf files or button-by-button learning. One can truly can five home theater devices with working macro-style buttons running in as little as 15 to 20 minutes of unpacking the remote! However, there is the potential to crash into a wall of difficult configuration if your device is not found in the Harmony Internet database or if one of your home theater devices behaves very erratically. Ironically, power users who have never used a Pronto will probably find it easier to learn the Smart State Technology method -- it is so dramatically different from traditional unviersal remotes. The HELP button on the Harmony Remote manages to fix a home theater most of the time, simply by asking the remote control user simple Yes/No questions -- you no longer need to have to explain to a family member what to do if a cable box messes up during a macro.


Conclusion...

You have probably read this review this far if you're not scared away by the strict requirement of Internet or tolerating a completely different approach to programmable universal remotes. Anybody who needs a universal remote control, and prefers a hard-button remote, needs to give the SST-659 a serious look too. Multiply this advice a gigantic order of magnitude, if you have a family that prefers your complex home theater behave like one single TV set -- buy the SST-659 via overnight FedEx and your family will thank you later. Even Grandma.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
There is one thing that I am stumped on. Maybe one of you SST-659 pros can comment:


My projector requires me to hold down the Power button for 1 second before it turns on or powers off. (DILA G1000). The Harmony remote doesn't seem to understand this. However, the DILA G1000 definition on Harmony's Internet configuration software only sends a brief power signal. I've tried to relearn it in "Learn Raw" mode, which works if I assign it to another button. However, when I try to do a "Watch DVD" Activity using the projector, it doesn't transmit the G1000 poweron signal for a full second necessary to powerup my projector automatically. Does anybody know how to do a workaround for this on the Harmony SST-659, so that Harmony can power up/down the projector via Activity buttons?
 

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Mark,


Great review, and thanks. I was on the fence about this remote, and your comments are leading me to order it. I think the activity buttons and HELP feature will have great Wife Acceptance Factor.


Thanks again,

Blake
 

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I am a new 659 owner as well and I love it! My only complaint is that if you have a device that no other Harmony owner has, you may have a tough time programming your remote. I have a studio professional Tascam CD burner/player in my system and in RAW mode was able to program basic functions, but for some reason it won't learn commands like the number keys. Emails from Harmony just suggest using the RAW mode. When I tell them I've done that with little success, they seem stumped. As I said, most of the commands that are necessary were learned; just the "added convenience" buttons gave me trouble, so it's not a deal breaker for me. Also, I have Tivo and the button placement seems to annoy many Tivo users. I've used the custom buttons to create a set up that doesn't annoy me too much. It isn't as intuitive as the real Tivo remote, but it works.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by Mark Rejhon
Does anybody know how to do a workaround for this on the Harmony SST-659, so that Harmony can power up/down the projector via Activity buttons?
This is something that could be done by modifying the XML, which you could do yourself with the 768, but not with the 659. I would call Harmony and tell them your problem. They should be able to modify the activity accordingly for you.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
>>"but for some reason it won't learn commands like the number keys"


I had similiar problems with the StreamZap remote, which is a remote control used only for computers. I succeeded by experimenting with duration of button presses.


Along with holding button down using normal Learn, try these too:

(1) One single sharp ultra-brief button press (as brief as possible)

(2) One quick button press

(3) One medium-quick button press

(4) One medium-length button press


Do all the above using both methods:

- Try this using normal Learn

- Try this using Learn Raw


Also, during learning:

- Turn off all fluorescent lights and dimmer lights (flicker can interfere with learning)

- Vary distance of remote during learning process

- Keep both remotes very still during the learning process, for the cleanest IR signal.

- Use fresh batteries in both remotes. Signals may be too dim for the SST-659 to learn very well from.


This will require a few attempts. To speed things up, you can do different attempts on different number buttons, and see which attempt yielded the best success rate. Repeat until all your number buttons work. Sometimes this solves the problem!
 

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Discussion Starter #8
>>"This is something that could be done by modifying the XML, which you could do yourself with the 768, but not with the 659. I would call Harmony and tell them your problem. They should be able to modify the activity accordingly for you."


I'll do this after a last-ditch attempt. What I am going to try to do is try to delete all the original power button signals from the G1000 configuration and teach only one instance in Learn Raw. That will probably force the Harmony to use that code. I'll create a new G1000 configuration if I have to, in order to pull this off. :) But that's for another day.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
An addendum to the review:


The SST also greatly benefits users who have discrete codes too. The SST automatically generated macros are pretty efficient and 5 devices are controlled in parallel (simultaneously). Essentially, the IR codes are optimized in order to accomodate device delays, inter-device delays, power-on delay. So that means Harmony SST-659 is smart enough to know that it should turn on the projector first, then turn on receiver, cable box, VCR, DVD player (all done while waiting for the receiver to boot up (1 second)), then going back to the receiver to select an input, then automatically going to VCR (after its 0.5 second bootup) and selecting an input, then back to the cable box to select a specific channel (after its 2 second bootup). Depending on which devices you own, all this IR blasting lasts only about 2-3 seconds to control 5 devices simultaneously. With an average of about 2 button presses each for a total of 10 infrared codes for 5 devices crammed into just a space of 2-3 seconds reliably! It smartly controls other devices while waiting for other devices to boot up, before going back to the original devices to do things like switch channels, inputs, etc. And with zero configuration -- the SST auto-generated macros are usually much much much much faster and more efficient than human-generated macros (unless you have some technical knowledge about the power-on delay, inter-device delay, and inter-button delay, and manually optimize macros to be as fast as possible while still being reliable. It's hard to do this type of macro optimization manually! But the SST-659 does it like a champ, and reliably! You actually can manually adjust FOUR DIFFERENT delay values PER DEVICE. Things like power-on delay, inter-device delay, inter-button delay, etc. And already usually predefined in the database. The SST-659 will do the optimizing for you. Most defaults are power-up bootup of 1500ms, inter-device of 100ms, inter-button of 500ms. These values are changeable.


The SST-659 is also a fully automatically queueing IR command remote. It queues your button presses. You can press an Activity button (SST generated macro) followed by a channel number such as "281". It queues the transmission of the channel number AFTER the macro has finished. No waiting for a macro to finish before you can change channels! Many touchscreen remotes do this, but not many button remotes.


Plus, SST also remembers delay requirements! Harmony automatically keeps track of the last time each device has been commanded and inserts appropriate delays for the codes for a specific device if the timeout has not passed for that specific device. Power-on delay versus inter-button-on-same-device delay, versus inter-device delay. If your receiver requires 9 seconds to boot up, you can program that into your Harmony -- that any queued receiver IR codes requires 9000ms after a poweron. By the way, you can control your other devices while waiting for the receiver to boot up, then press a new IR code for your receiver. You'll notice the Harmony SST-659 automatically adds a delay before your new IR code for your receiver if you just powered on your receiver less than 9 seconds ago! (My receiver only requires about 2 seconds, but I have noticed this intelligent optimizing behaviour in my SST-659).


Technical computer professional can liken SST to a command-optimizing command-queueing SCSI RAID disk array that reorders disk-access commands efficiently depending on where the disk head is presently located. In a way, the SST in the Harmony remote is similiar in that kind of "smarts" -- it literally optimizes the blast of IR signals accordingly when you press an Activity button. (Note: Some of this smarts is handled on the website, like during Activity button creation -- while other smarts is handled on the remote itself, like keeping track of device-time-state)
 

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Quote:
The SST-659 is also a fully automatically queueing IR command remote. It queues your button presses. You can press an Activity button (SST generated macro) followed by a channel number such as "281".
I didn't realize the 659 did this. I'm always waiting for the "Watch a Movie" activity to complete before pressing my soft label "open" button to open the DVD player drawer. Old habits die hard from my days using a Marantz RC2000 universal remote. :)


Thanks Mark!
 

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Scott M, why not add "open/eject" to your activity for watch DVD? I did and it is great. :D


Sorny
 

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Quote:
why not add "open/eject" to your activity for watch DVD? I did and it is great.
I did that, then removed it. It was irritating when I had a DVD already in the machine (especially if I wanted to start from where I had stopped the DVD). And it would be even more irritating with a 5-disc DVD player (which I will have by this weekend). To each his own.
 

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Scott M, why not add "open/eject" to your activity for watch DVD? I did and it is great.
Similar to bierboy, I sometimes leave a disc in the player, so I do not always want to open the drawer when switching to the DVD player. I did, however, add commands to change the viewing mode on my Toshiba 16x9 TV to FULL whenever switching to the DVD player, then switch back to TheaterWide when leaving the activity.
 

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Update....


My comparision of the Harmony SST-659 to a command-optimizing command-queueing SCSI RAID disk is actually a little more accurate than I expected.


I have an experimental Projector Activity macro that takes 15 seconds to execute, because the SST-659 waits for the projector to powerup before selecting an input. However, I'm able to do things like change TV channels right away and adjust receiver volume, as if the macro was already finished! The Harmony SST-659 is a truly multithreading remote control that sends independent queues of IR commands to separate IR devices, and a pending IR command/delay doesn't block other devices from being used while a delay is being executed on a single device.


Another test is that I set the delays between keypresses on one of my devices to 500ms between keypresses. I banged the buttons on the SST-659 randomly and the SST-659 kept transmitting for 10 seconds. I even tried to change TV channels in the middle of it all, and changing TV channels worked. The SST-659 just automatically crammed the TV channel change in between the queued command signals to the other "slow" device.


It appears that the Harmony SST-659 keeps independent IR command queues on a per-device basis and executes each queues in parallel, allowing IR commands for other devices to go through while a delay is being executed for a certain device.


The IR signal is strong enough that I can put the remote down on the coffeetable pointing in any direction (even backwards) and all the commands will reach all the devices in the room. I don't even have to point to my projector either. It appears I don't have to keep holding the remote until a command finishes executing.
 

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I can point the remote anywhere in the room and it will work on everything except my DirecTivo without exception; the only exception being when the batteries are low. ;)


I, too, hit my activity button and plop the remote down.


Sorny
 

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Discussion Starter #16
One glitch:


Whenever Harmony's website has problem, you may have problems updating your remote control. Also, if Harmony ever goes out of business, you're out of luck in configuring the remote control as well because of the full reliance on a web based system. (Unless, theoretically, open source software is released for an online community to develop a PC-based editor). However, their SST technology should be profitable enough to Harmony that the theoretical going-out-of-business worry is probably not a concern.


Early February Harmony website glitch:
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...hreadid=361246


However, Harmony is adding a backup feature to the website, so that you can make backups of your remote. Already, you can also save configurations locally so that you can restore them even if you have no access to HarmonyRemote.com although they cannot be edited locally.
 

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I just received mine yesterday and although it's taking some time to get everything 'perfect', I do have one concerning issue... When i first played with it yesterday, the glow light worked fine. Now this morning, it won't work at all! Anyone know what's up with that??? Thanks!
 

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It could just be the batteries--downloading the programming takes a great deal of power, and the ones that come with the remote usually don't last very long.
 

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well, considering i didn't get it from the ups guy until last night... less than 24 hrs and already dead? I hope not. I don't have any extra AAA batteries around here, but i'll have to pick some up.
 

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There have also been several postings on RemoteCentral.com about 659's arriving DOA and/or the backlight dying quickly.
 
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