With different gadgets to run when I want to watch something on my VIZIO TV set, I’ve settled on a universal remote to sort things out. But not the one usually supplied by the cable or satellite provider, since they tend to be inflexible, often difficult to set up, and they don’t always include all the connection possibilities I need. They often fail on add-on audio gear, such as a sound bar.
I could go into more detail, but what’s the point? Instead, let me tell you about the one I bought five or six years ago, and how Logitech has apparently abandoned me and other customers of some of their remotes. But I’d like to cover the positives first.
So the Harmony 900 divides programming setups into activities, accessible from a tiny touchscreen. You would use one activity to watch TV with your cable or satellite box, another to add Apple TV, a third for a Blu-ray player and perhaps a forth for a gaming console. Fortunately the VIZIO, an older E-series model, has four HDMI ports, so I have all these options available without cable swapping should I ever care to add gaming gear.
While some universal remotes require manually entering arcane commands, such as a device number, Logitech has a better idea, by storing your Harmony profiles online using a fairly standard point and click interface. To its credit, Logitech has configuration profiles for loads of devices even from lesser-known manufacturers, so choosing the make and model number is usually sufficient. You can configure the remote in your browser, or with Logitech’s app. The 900 requires Logitech Harmony Remote Software for the Mac; the last version, 5.8.1, came out last year.
There has yet to be an update for El Capitan, and that’s where the trouble began.
So I’ve been known to switch TV services from time to time, usually when the 12-month or 24-month discount deal is done. In theory the lower prices vanish and you have to pay the full price. More often than not, when you threaten to leave, they find a way to connect you to a “retention” department that’s ready to distribute a handful of special offers so you can stay with them. After all, it’s rough to get customers these days. Growth among these companies has stalled, as more and more people look for ways to cut the cord.
Anyway, Cox Communications didn’t have an offer that appealed to me, but DirecTV was happy to welcome me back as a customer at a really cheap rate for one of their less-inclusive plans. But it was inclusive enough for my needs, so I said yes. This meant that I’d have to reprogram the Harmony to support the DirecTV box.
Doing that was simple enough. It took a few minutes to change the DVR setting from Cox to DirecTV in the Logitech app. Then next step, however, was to connect the remote to a Mac or PC via a USB cable and download the update to the remote. But that’s where things went awry because I’m using OS X El Capitan.
Nothing happened! I tried a different USB cable; it uses a mini USB plug to attach to the remote. Again, nothing happened. The download process normally takes less than a minute to complete, but I haven’t updated the Harmony for a couple of years, last time I switched TV providers.
So I checked out Logitech’s support FAQ, and found nothing relevant. I was using the last released version of the software, so I checked the support boards and found a clumsy solution. Logitech, it seems, has some work to do.
You see, the Remote Software isn’t compatible with El Capitan, nine months after its release. Heaven knows what’ll happen when macOS Sierra arrives.
In passing, the software also uses a Java library for cross-platform compatibility, and requires that you have SE 6 installed. That’s a version that’s no longer distributed by Apple, so you will have to dig deep at Oracle’s site to find a copy to allow you to run certain apps that require Java for certain functions, and that includes some older versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite.
Now about that workaround, here’s what a tech person wrote at Logitech’s discussion board:
“This issue is due to a new protection feature [that] appeared in El Capitan. Basically, it blocks non-signed [kernel] extensions. Harmony is installing three [kernel] extensions to communicate with the remote, and those extensions are not signed properly; thus, they are blocked (non-loaded) by OS X.”
The fix requires rebooting your Mac in Recovery mode, by restarting and holding down Command+R until the boot process begins. You then open Terminal from the Utilities menu and run this command: csrutil disable.” That command disables the system setting that protects your Mac from those pesky non-signed extensions. You cannot do it with Terminal under normal conditions, because it just flags an error.
I restarted the Mac, and attempted to update the Harmony. This time, it successfully fed the update within about a minute. Before restoring the protective feature, I checked to confirm that the new DVR recognized the remote. After it passed the test, I returned to Recovery mode to run csrutil enable, thus switching on the protection feature, after which I restarted the Mac.
Now the fix seems easy enough. But Logitech needs to follow Apple developer guidelines and deliver revised kernel extensions that are properly signed. While all is said and done, the software’s dependence on an older Java build ought to be fixed too. To avoid an overhaul, some app developers will simply embed Java so you don’t have to deal with finding an outdated download.
Now there were promises in the support board that Logitech planned the fix the problem, but this is an old remote. The current top-of-the-line model, the Companion, can use a Harmony Control app for iOS or Android to update the remote via its Wi-Fi connection. So maybe the Mac software will never be fixed. Perhaps they’d rather sell you a new remote.
In any case, Logitech is sending me a Companion for review. The current model also supports “Internet of Things” connections, so maybe it’s roughly equivalent to a simplified HomeKit. It also lists for $149.99. When the Harmony 900 first came out in 2009, it’s list price was $449.99. At least something’s changed for the better.