POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 14, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 1:51 a.m. HST, Feb 16, 2011
ATLANTA » A few weeks ago a dinner guest's face contorted into something between amazement and disgust as he looked at my coffee table and noted: "My gosh — you have six remotes."
He was only partially correct. The coffee table in my den does have several remotes on it: There is one for the HDTV, another for the sound system, still another for the DVD player, one for the cable converter box. And there are a few more, worthless testaments to my inability to throw anything away. They are remotes for gadgets I no longer own.
Like a coward, I didn't tell him that the cabinet near the TV held another two or three remote controls.
Unfortunately, at least four of my remotes are actually used every day to control the array of gadgets in the den. That's why, until recently, the simple act of watching television often required more than the two hands that (I hope) are permanently attached to my arms.
That awkwardness, along with my dinner guest's remarks, set me off on an online shopping quest to find a single remote that could control everything.
Now, all this might seem like small potatoes in a world crammed with more exotic gadgets. I realize that today's column could offer helpful instructions on building a nuclear submarine in the basement, or constructing a PC using materials found at the hardware store.
So I began my search for the perfect remote: something that could control every function of every gadget yet easy enough to program so that even I could do it. I wanted all that at a price that would not trigger my wife's recurring fear that we'll end up living in a cardboard box under a bridge in the next year or two.
My first shock was price. I found remotes that seemed to fit all my criteria — at least based on the online descriptions — but many of them were priced near $500. For that kind of money, I was prepared to continue juggling multiple remotes.
The next shock was trying to understand (again based on online descriptions and reviews) how simple these things were to use. I remember one online reviewer's comment about a particularly pricey remote. He said something like, "Within a few weeks I got the software for programming it working on my PC and was able to start programming the remote."
I wasn't looking for a new hobby as a programmer of remotes. I just wanted to be able to tame my gadgets.
Finally, as often happens, I turned to Cnet.com, one of my favorite websites for high-tech reviews. Once I reached this page — tinyurl.com/4lszz7x — I felt like an explorer who had finally found the city of gold.
Based on what I read there, remotes from Logitech seemed like the answer. And while some of the Logitech models were priced near the $500 mark, I did find one that was affordable enough to forestall my wife's box-under-the-bridge nightmare.
I ended up buying and using the Logitech Harmony 700 for just a bit over $100. This remote is not perfect. The rechargeable batteries it uses run down too quickly. And there are times when my farsighted wife hands the thing to me because she has trouble viewing the device's relatively small screen without her reading glasses.
You'll find more details on the remote, along with other pluses and minuses, on the Cnet site at this Web page: tinyurl.com/4q23de2.
I'm convinced that there's no perfect remote when balancing ease of use, features and price. But my Logitech does work. It works so well that one of these days I'm going to remove those other five or six remotes from my coffee table. But not today.
Bill Husted writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.