- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

There’s one unlikely gadget almost certain to find a place atop my holiday gift list — the $99 Logitech Harmony 520.

Its Fremont, Calif., seller touts it as “the first activity-based remote” that has “a simple online setup process for complete customization.”

You can set up the remote to work with your TV, digital cable box and DVD player/VCR combo using a computer and the Logitech Harmony Web site. Once configured, one press of a button will turn on the TV and digital cable or the TV and DVD player. And, just about everything works perfectly.

This is important to a couch potato such as I — and for several reasons. One is, to my shame, that I have somehow irretrievably misplaced the DVD/VCR remote. That means aerobics anytime I want to watch a Netflix video rental. Now, I can sit back and relax, leaving the exercise to the gym, where it belongs.

Another is that this remote, again costing just $99 or less, simplifies operating your gear. Press “Watch TV” and both the TV and cable box turn on; press the power button and they both turn off. Menu commands for each device and for the cable service in general all come through on the Harmony 520. One small command on the DVD player didn’t work right, but was corrected quickly.

I like the online configuration, although, truth be told, it only worked on a Windows-based computer and not, as advertised, on a Mac running OS X.

Once installed, the Harmony software updated the remote with new programming from the Web and then led me through each step of setting up my devices. I could have had any number of items, I suppose, running off of the Harmony 520, but for now, our three units were enough.

One caution — take the time and get the precise model numbers for each item you want to add. This really is essential to making the online setup process work.

Other users and reviewers, such as my colleague, David Coursey of the “Gearlog” podcast (www.gearlog.com), say they’ve had less success with the Harmony’s big brother, the Harmony 880, at up to $249, claiming their audio/video gear was too old. That might be the case, but I had no difficulty with a 10-year-old RCA TV, a three-year-old (at least) Motorola cable box and a two-year-old Toshiba DVD/VCR unit. My advice? Start with the Harmony 520, and see whether it works for you. Details can be found at www.logitech.com, and it will be well worth it, in my opinion.

• SPEAKING OF NETFLIX, which may be one of the best online commerce ideas ever, the Web-based DVD rental service is offering gift subscriptions via www.netflix.com. If you haven’t heard of Netflix, here’s how it works: Sign up, specify DVDs you want and they come in the mail, with a postage-paid return envelope. For my money, it’s easier and better than going to a video-rental store, and there are no late fees. One popular monthly subscription offers three DVDs at a time for less than $18; a three-month gift will cost you less than $54.

• WEB PROJECTS, ANYONE? Matthew MacDonald’s new book, “Creating Web Sites, The Missing Manual,” from O’Reilly Media of Sebastopol, Calif., is an entertaining romp through the basics (and beyond) of Web site creation, all for $29.95.

E-mail [email protected] or visit https://www.kellner.us

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