On a recent UUPC podcast, we talked about setting up my (borrowed) Logitech Harmony remote control on Ubuntu.
The Logitech Harmony is a family of universal remote controls. Logitech maintains a database of all the devices (well, nearly all) on its server in The Cloud. You connect your Harmony to your laptop via USB and set it up using a piece of desktop software or a browser plugin. As far as I can tell, the browser plugin works only on Windows. The desktop software is available for Windows and possibly Mac.
Happily, the Ubuntu Software Centre contains a piece of software called Congruity. It has stunning reviews claiming it Just Works. And it has a graphical interface; not some obscure set of commands. So I installed it and it did Just Work. Here’s how you can too…
(Apologies for some of the patchy instructions; I had to do parts of this from memory. I’ll update as and when I do some of the updates again.)
Getting going with the Logitech Harmony on Ubuntu
- Install the Congruity software from the Software Centre.
- Go to http://members.harmonyremote.com/ in your web browser. (This isn’t easy to find if you browse from their website as they keep funnelling you towards the Windows setup instructions and installing Silverlight.)
- Register with the site. You can’t avoid this because a large part of the setup is through connecting to their database in the clouds.
Before you start, life is easier if you know the model numbers of your devices (eg TV etc). I have an old-ish TV, an old-ish Blu-ray player, and a new Virgin Media TiVo (PVR).
- In your browser, go to http://members.harmonyremote.com/ and log in.
- It’ll probably tell you that your software is out of date, but that’s fine. Just click Next.
3. You will probably be on the Home screen now (I can’t get back there now my remote has been set up!).
4. From here, you basically follow the instructions to set up your devices. It’ll ask for your device models and guide you through setting them up.
There are two concepts to remember:
The things you want to point your remote control at, such as the TV, the DVD player, etc. You can control pretty much anything as long as it’s controlled by an infrared remote control. You can’t control something that uses radiowaves (eg home automation systems).
The things that you want to do. Basically, Logitech help you care about what you want to do, not how you want to do it. So when the Harmony is set up, you can just tell it you want to watch TV (as you can see in the photo above). You don’t have to tell it to switch on the TV and the digital box, and switch to input AV5, etc. To this end, even the setup process predicts as much as it can for you.
If you choose the automatic option for setting up the activities, it’ll look at the devices you’ve added and work out all the most likely activities you’ll want to do using them. You can then choose whether you want to configure those activities.
Don’t get too clever first time through. Just let the wizard get the basics set up for you so that you can test it out. You can go back later to fine-tune the buttons.
- When you’ve set up your devices and some activities in the webpage wizard, you need to update your Harmony with its new settings.
- First of all you’ll get prompted to save/open a file called
Connectivity.EZHex. In the instructions on the web page, they’ll tell you to run the file. Don’t do that; that’s for Windows users. Instead, save the file (to your Desktop is fine).
- When it’s downloaded, double-click the file and it launches Congruity:
- Check that your Harmony is connected to your laptop via USB (the Harmony will display a USB CONNECTED message on its screen).
- Click through the short wizard. This just identifies the Harmony to the website/database.
- Next you’ll need to actually update the Harmony. Follow the instructions on the webpage and you’ll be prompted with another file to download, called
Update.EZHex. Again, just save it to your desktop.
- Double-click the file and it launches Congruity again.
- It’ll check again that it can connect to the Harmony. If it struggles to find your Harmony (mine sometimes does on the second time round), unplug and re-plug the USB cable.
- Follow the wizard through. This time it’ll actually do the update to the Harmony:
- And you’re done.
It’ll tell you to test it and help you diagnose problems if it doesn’t work as expected. To use the Harmony, just press the Activities button then select the activity you want (eg Watch TV).
A nice, if slightly spooky, extra touch is that when you choose an activity or when you switch off the activity (press the power button on the Harmony), the Harmony displays a message to check with you that it’s working. If, say, the TV switched on but the TiVo box didn’t, you can then press the Help button. The Harmony then tries a couple of things and checks each time to see if that solved it. As I say, a bit spooky but clever.
If buttons aren’t doing what you’d expect them to do, you can go back into the website and adjust the settings then go through the same update process of downloading and running the
If the Logitech database doesn’t know the command you’re trying to program the Harmony with, you can customise the buttons for the individual devices or for the activities you’ve set up (or both).
When you start the Watch TV activity (for example), the Harmony’s buttons send commands to the TV or to the TiVo box according to what makes sense (eg volume buttons send commands to the TV; the record button sends the command to the TiVo). If you want to control a specific device for some reason, you can press the Devices button on the Harmony to switch to control a specific device (eg the TV). All the buttons then send only to the TV. (Press Activities to get back to controlling all the devices in the activity.)
If you tend to work in the ‘activities’ mode rather than controlling each specific device separately (afterall, that’s why you’re using the Harmony!), make sure you customise the activity (on the Home page, click the Customize link next to the activity) not the device.
You can even train the Harmony to learn commands from your device’s native remote control. If you go through troubleshooting a button’s function, the wizard will eventually suggest doing this. It prompts you to download another file,
LearnIr.EZTut. When you double-click this file, it launches Congruity to run a tutorial. You basically point the remotes at each other when prompted. And it works!!