Last year, Logitech announced a new Home Hub which began a transformation of Harmony into a home automation hub by integrating a number of third party devices including as Philips Hue, Nest, SmartThings, and more! Not only could you control your media devices with a single remote / app, but we now also had the ability to control your lights, locks, and temperature of your home. Mix and match devices within your activities to create powerful new automations.
Sadly, at the time, Logitech left their older Smart Hub customers out in the cold. The new Home Hubs seemed to just be software updates, rather than any kind of additional hardware updates. Whether it was a change of heart, the angry voice of Harmony enthusiasts, or a little of both, Logitech has now provided an update for the older Smart Hub bringing it up-to-date with the Home Hub feature set.
Features of the Hub
To take a step back, it’s probably a good idea to lay out the Harmony Hub lineup as these features now apply to both the Smart and Home line. The hubs themselves boil down to three flavors depending on your needs: Hub only, Hub and basic remote (Control), and Hub and touch remote (Ultimate). Each flavor gives you a little more.
With the Hub only approach, you must use the Harmony app on your smartphone to control everything (iOS / Google Play). For some this might be feasible, for others it’s not. If you are old school like Dave and need a clicker, you’ll opt for the the Control or Ultimate bundle. Both of these versions come with a physical remote with the Ultimate adding a touch screen.
One thing to note, the new Home Control remote does differ in one way from the older Smart Control in that you get 4 buttons at the top for home automation. The older Smart Control remote did not have these buttons. The Ultimate remote gives you the ability to use a touch screen to start activities and control devices and also contains the normal media buttons to control your devices. The Ultimate remote also allows you to control up to 15 devices, whereas the Control remote only allows up to 8. Confused yet? :-)
On to the software side… Prior to the upgrade, Smart Hub users only had the ability to control media devices such as TVs, stereos, speakers. With the Ultimate Smart hub, you had some ability to integrate with Nest and Hue, but you needed to upgrade (at the time) to the $349 Harmony Ultimate option. Now with the new software update, older Smart Hub owners now have the ability to integrate a lot more home devices and also create activities to take advantage of them.
Logitech has a post that outlines the new features of the software update which brings it up to the “Home Hub” functionality. At a high level, all Hub users now have the ability to
- Integrate outside products such as Nest, Peq, Hue, Honeywell, Lutron, etc
- Create activities that can include both media devices and home devices.
In essence, Logitech has used the Harmony Hub as a trojan horse to become the central unit to control all the devices in your house.
How I use the Harmony Home Hub
Over the years, I have owned a few models in the Logitech Harmony lineup. From the lowly 650, to the One, to the Smart Hub with phone app, each time I progressed up the line as I needed additional features. When Logitech announced the Home Hub last year, I bit the bullet and upgraded to that as well. This allowed me to control both my Lutron and Hue lights. At the time, I also had Nest integrated with Harmony, but we all know how that ended. :-)
Outside of the Lutron and Hue lights, I use the Harmony to control my TV, AppleTV, TiVo, and Roku. With the added ability to control the lights, I love being able to setup new scenes that take advantage of that functionality. Instead of just “Watch TV”, I can now extend the use cases specifically for “Watch Movie” (one lamp at low level), “Just Relaxing” (all ceiling lights dimmed to 10%), etc.
I’ve also used the Harmony Hub to start to automate lights as well, specifically around sunrise and sunset. I have a number of Cree Connected bulbs on the outside of our house. With the Home Hub, you can set schedules based on sunrise and sunset so that the lights will automatically come on at night and shut off in the morning. You could also do this from the Hue or Lutron apps, but being able to have this functionality in one place just makes it easier to use.
One other use case the new Harmony software provides in relation to lighting is the ability to create groups. Now that might seem very special, but if you’ve ever tried to use the Hue app to do this, good luck. What a mess. At least Dave found a way to group them with the Echo. As for the Harmony app, you now have the ability to not only group Hue lights, but also Hue and Lutron lights together. This goes back to having that one app that controls all, instead of having to go into the Hue app to change something, and then into the Lutron app.
One last thing that the update brings is remote access. You now have the ability to use the Harmony app on your smartphone to control your devices while away. Looking to scare your wife by turning on all the TVs at once a la Poltergeist? Now you can do that! :-) The ability to have remote access is intended more for the home devices than any media device, but this addition is welcome.
Two items that have yet to materialize in Logitech’s new home automation world are the August Smart Lock and the Home Hub Extender. August lock integration was announced when the Home Hub was released last year. Since then, the release date has been pushed back a few times. It currently sits at “mid year 2015” according to Logitech’s site.
As for the Home Hub Extender, this add on provides the ability for the Harmony Hub to add ZigBee and Z-Wave devices directly to the hub. So instead of having to use an additional hub such as Staples Connect or Wink to control these devices, the Harmony Home Extender allows you to bypass those and control them directly. This opens up the Harmony system to a plethora of new devices such as more locks, door/window sensors, water sensors…practically anything that can connect via Z-Wave or ZigBee.
My guess for the extender not being released yet is the complexity of trying to support these extra devices. Although Z-Wave/ZigBee are supposed to have common protocols, Logitech is probably finding it’s not as easy as just “adding” them to a compatibility list. In fact, Dave posted that Apple has just finally given the go ahead to release the first HomeKit products. HomeKit was announced over a year ago! This just goes to show hard it can be to have one solution that meets everyone’s needs.