How to Control Your Home Theater PC with a Logitech Harmony Remote

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So you’ve got a fancy new Logitech Harmony remote, ready to control your entire home theater–but one of your devices is a home theater PC. Don’t worry: Your Harmony can control your PC too, it just isn’t immediately obvious how.

Depending on the remote you have, you have a few options when it comes to controlling your media PC. You can use:

  • Infrared: All Harmony remotes support this option, and it’s the most versatile with the least amount of fiddling. You’ll need a USB infrared receiver, which is cheap, and if you have a non-Harmony Hub remote, you’ll need to point the remote at your media center to control it. Infrared can have a bit of lag on some systems, however (though some will be fine).
  • Bluetooth: If you have a Harmony Hub-supported remote, you can also control your PC with Bluetooth. You’ll need a cheap Bluetooth receiver (or a computer that already has one built-in), and it isn’t quite as versatile. On some PCs, it may not even be able to wake your computer from sleep. But it’s more responsive than infrared, in my experience.

I actually use a combination of both for my PC, to make up for each method’s inadequacies. In this guide, I’ll discuss how to set up each method, and how I use both in tandem for the best of both worlds.

This guide assumes you’ve already become somewhat familiar with your remote and the MyHarmony software, and that you’ve set it up with your other devices. If you haven’t, check out our guide to getting started with Harmony first.

NOTE: If you can, try to follow these instructions as closely as possible. While Logitech makes some great hardware, their software is not very good, and things can go wonky and get confusing very easily (especially when it comes to remotes with the Harmony Hub). The closer you follow these instructions to the letter, and in the proper order, the less chance you have of running into a problem.

How to Control Your PC with Infrared (Available on All Harmony Remotes)

Controlling your PC with infrared isn’t that different from setting up your Harmony remote with any other device. You just need to know a few simple things.

First, you’ll need a USB infrared receiver for your media PC. We recommend the FLIRC, though any generic USB receiver will probably work. Plug your receiver into your media center and make sure it’s within view of your sitting position, so you can point your remote in its general direction.

Once it’s all set up, open the MyHarmony software on your computer and select your remote from the list.

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Head to the “Devices” tab and click the “Add Device” button. If you’re using the FLIRC, enter “Flirc” for the manufacturer, and the name of your media center program for the model number (like “Kodi” or “Plex”). It will automatically import functions for your media center program.

If you’re using a generic USB receiver, you may have to enter something different. For mine, I had to enter “Microsoft” for the manufacturer, and “MCE Keyboard” for the model number.

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From there, you can map the buttons on your remote just like any other device in MyHarmony.

If you’re using the FLIRC, you can map your media center’s functions in MyHarmony to the buttons on your remote, and most should work without any issue. But if there are any functions missing, just assign a random function to a button in MyHarmony, then use the FLIRC software to “learn” that button on your remote. Just don’t leave the button “unassigned” in MyHarmony, or it won’t send any signal to the FLIRC when you’re programming it.

For example, MyHarmony’s “Flirc Kodi” profile doesn’t have a function to wake the PC from sleep. So, I assigned the “AspectRatio” function to my remote’s Power button in MyHarmony (since I don’t need the AspectRatio function), then plugged in the FLIRC and opened up the FLIRC software, setting it to “Full Keyboard”. After pressing the “Wake” button in the FLIRC program and pressing the “Power” button on my remote, the FLIRC understood to wake the computer whenever I invoked “AspectRatio” by pressing the Power button on my remote.

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The only downside to all this–whether you’re using the FLIRC or another infrared receiver–is that you can only map one key to one remote button. For more complex button combinations, you may want to use software like AutoHotkey to map button combinations to a single key. For example, I have Alt+F4 mapped to F7 with AutoHotkey, and then F7 mapped to a button in MyHarmony. You’ll have to experiment to see what works best for you.

How to Control Your PC with Bluetooth (Available on Harmony Hub Remotes)

If you have a Harmony remote paired with the Harmony Hub, you can also control your PC via Bluetooth. You’ll need a Bluetooth adapter if you don’t have one (I used this one), and you’ll need to install its drivers if Windows doesn’t do it automatically. But when that’s done, you can pair your PC with your remote and add it to your arsenal of devices.

You’ll need to use the Harmony app for iOS or Android to pair your remote with a computer–it won’t work through the desktop MyHarmony software. So, download the app and set it up if you haven’t already.

When you’re ready to add your computer, open the right sidebar of the app and tap “Edit Devices”.

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Next, tap “+ Device” along the bottom to add a device.

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Choose “Computer” from the list of possible devices.

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Select the operating system of your computer (in our example, Windows), and click the Next arrow in the upper right-hand corner.

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Power on your computer, if it isn’t on already, and press the Next arrow.

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When asked if you want to create an activity, choose Yes. You won’t be able to control it until you add an activity with it, since that’s how your remote pairs with your computer.

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Select your Windows Computer from the list of devices.

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Select the devices to be included in this activity and click the Next arrow.

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Turn on all the devices and click the Next or “My Devices Are On” button.

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Select which devices do what, and which inputs you use, as you would for any other activity. Click Next when finished.

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Now your Harmony Hub will go into pairing mode. On your PC, open the Bluetooth settings by going to Control Panel > Bluetooth (or by right-clicking the Bluetooth icon in your system tray and choosing “Add Device”).

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Select the “Harmony Keyboard” option that appears and click Next.

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Your Harmony Hub should pair with your Windows PC and you’ll get a success message on both your PC and your tablet. From there, you can map the buttons on your remote just like any other device through the Harmony app on your phone or tablet, or the MyHarmony app on your desktop.

However, there are a few…quirks. You’ll see that, despite your remote being connected as a “Harmony Keyboard”, Harmony can only send a few specific commands to your computer. You’ll get some media functions, a few traditional keys (like Escape), and F1-F12. You can assign these to buttons as described in our Harmony setup guide. But for many people, this will not cover all the commands they need to send to a PC.

If you need every keyboard command at your disposal, you’ll need to use infrared instead of Bluetooth. However, if the list is only missing a few, there’s a workaround you can use.

For example: I use this to control a Kodi-based media PC. Most of Logitech’s media functions work with Kodi–play, pause, fast forward, back, and so on. The Harmony is only missing a few keys I need, like M for menu, or I for Info. In these cases, I can just remap the F1-F12 keys–which I never actually use–to M, I, and any other keys I need.

To do this, I recommend using a program called SharpKeys on Windows. Just download the program and launch it (it’s portable, no installation required). Click the Add button, choose the key you want to map from in the left sidebar, and the key you want to map to in the right sidebar. For example, I mapped the “F1” key to “M”, then assigned “F1” to the “Menu” button on my remote in MyHarmony.

When you’re finished, click “Write to Registry” and restart your computer for the changes to take effect.

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Alternatively, if you’re willing to do a bit more work, you can use software like AutoHotkey to remap buttons. This has the advantage of letting you map button combinations to a single key. For example, I have Alt+F4 mapped to F7 with AutoHotkey, and then F7 mapped to a button in MyHarmony, so I can close apps on my PC.

How I Combine Infrared and Bluetooth for the Best of Both Worlds

Both methods are decent, but have their flaws. Infrared is a bit laggy, at least on my system, and Bluetooth–while very responsive–can’t wake my PC from sleep. Not every PC will have either or both of these problems, so there’s no real way to know until you try it.

So what happens if these issues rear their ugly head? Use both! In my case, I use Infrared to wake up the PC, and Bluetooth to control it–and thanks to Harmony’s activity-based setup, it feels very natural.

To do this, you’ll just need to perform the steps in both sections above to add both devices to your Harmony account. Add your IR receiver as one device, and your Bluetooth PC as a second.

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Then, create an activity called “Watch TV” (or whatever you want) that includes both in its list of devices:

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When asked which device streams media, choose your Bluetooth PC:

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When you’re finished, configure the remote buttons for the “Watch TV” activity using the Bluetooth PC rather than the IR receiver.

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As long as your IR receiver is within view of the Harmony Hub or one of its IR blasters–I actually have mine duct taped to one of the IR blasters behind my media cabinet–this should work beautifully. When you start the Watch TV activity, it will turn your PC on using the infrared receiver, but all your buttons will be programmed through the Bluetooth receiver, thus negating any lag or other IR issues.

The Bluetooth still has a few second delay before you can use it after waking up the PC, but it’s much more responsive once it connects. The fact that this is even necessarily is pretty pathetic on Logitech’s part–it’s embarrassing that Bluetooth is so limited–but for now, these workarounds do the trick, which is what really matters in the end.

Whitson Gordon is is the editor-in-chief of How-To Geek. He is also a Windows user, PC builder, metalhead, chopstick-using potato chip eater, and Midwest-to-Southern California transplant. You can follow his nerdy exploits on Twitter and Facebook.