Harmony remotes and your Denon AVR

Logitech Harmony remotes are among the most popular universal remotes, thanks to their easy programming, huge database of supported devices, and their intuitive “Activity” based functionality.  Can’t teach the wife how to watch a DVD?  No problem!  Get a Harmony, program a “Watch a Movie” activity, and all she has to do is press ONE button and everything turns on and automatically goes to the correct input.  Did she screw it up because she forgot to point the remote at the TV?  No problem!  Just press the “Help” button and it rebroadcasts the commands and everything is in sync again.

However, the one area where Harmony’s fall short of their competitors from companies like URC is level of customization available for the “power user”.  Due to their “typical consumer” customer target segment, Logitech tries to keep things simple and doesn’t allow for users to manually input custom commands or special “discrete” codes that allow even more control.  Officially, Logitech only supports the commands that are on the factory remote that came with your Denon receiver.  However, there exist a wide range of special commands that CAN be added to your Harmony remote, if you are willing to go through the trouble and effort to gain a new level of customization and control.

Helpful Hint:  The default button assignments for most Denon AVR devices in the Harmony database have the up/down arrows on the directional pad assigned to “Tune Up/Down” for some bizarre reason.  So, if you are tearing your hair out trying to figure out why you can’t navigate the GUI menus with your Harmony remote, you need to go to the “Devices” tab, find your Denon receiver device, then click “Settings” and select “Customize Buttons” to access the button assignments; next, just change the button assignments for Up/Down to “Direction Up/Down”, and you are good to go!

Here are a few resources for customizing your Harmony remote to add even more control over your Denon AVR:


Option 1 – Adding additional Denon AVR devices to your Harmony profile

The easiest way to add additional commands to your Activities is to simply add different Denon AVR devices to your Harmony profile.  Because Logitech supports the commands that are on the factory remote, and the remotes have changed over the years, different models will have different commands available.

For example, starting with the xx12 models, Denon removed Audyssey control buttons from the factory remotes.  That means that if you want to turn Dynamic Volume on or off, or change the EQ mode from “Audyssey” to “Audyssey Flat”, you need to go into the GUI, navigate to the Audio adjustment menu, and then to the Audyssey settings sub-menu.

However, these control buttons did exist on prior models, so by adding a second Denon receiver device to your Harmony account, you can gain access to these commands.  For example, if you own an xx12 or xx13 model, and want to access these buttons, you can simply add the device “AVR 4311CI” to your Harmony profile.  In the 4311CI code set there is a command called “MultiEQ” (sic) which will cycle between the various EQ modes, as well as a command called “DynamicEQ” which will cycle between the various Dynamic EQ/Volume states.

So how do you add these commands to an Activity?  Simple:

  1. On the Activity tab, click the “Settings” button for any Activity, then select “Review the settings for this Activity”
  2. Next, select the option for “I want do add more control of options and devices for this Activity”
  3. On the next screen, you will see a list of Devices, including those which are Not In Use for that Activity; click the button to “Add” the AVR-4311CI device to that Activity
  4. Click “Save”, and then click “Next” several times to run through the rest of the settings for that Activity (note that you may need to select the “I don’t need to set an input” for the new device that you just added)

That’s it!  Now, the AVR-4311CI device has been added to the device list for that activity.  Click “Next” to accept that the settings are correct, and then click “Done” to back out to the main screen again.  Now, back on the Activity tab, you can click the “Customize Buttons” link for that Activity.  You will now find “AVR-4311CI” in the drop-down list of Devices that can be assigned to any button, allowing you to add the “MultiEQ” and “DynamicEQ” commands to any button you choose for that Activity.

Essentially, the new Denon AVR device is simply acting as a “dummy device” to gain access to the commands you want.  The only problem with this approach is that, if you have a Harmony remote that only supports a limited number of devices, you may start to run out of room for your REAL devices.  The best way to combat this is to buy a SECOND Harmony remote, create a “dummy account” for that remote, and use your second remote as a proxy to “teach” the commands you want to your primary Harmony remote using the “Learn IR” function.

If you really want to utilize this approach to add a lot of customization, I strongly recommend you buy a second Harmony remote that can act as the “teacher” and allow you to add custom commands directly to your primary Denon AVR Device!

The cheapest current production Harmony remote that allows full customization is the 600 model, available for under $50 at Amazon.  Alternately, by searching the used market, you can probably find an older model like the 520, 550, 670, etc. for even less money, sometimes as little as $30 or less.  If you really want to customize your experience will extra commands, this will be money well spent!

This technique will unlock a whole range of cool commands that used to exist as standard issue on older Denon remote.  By searching through older Denon models, you can find all sorts of useful buttons: the “Dimmer” command to dim or turn off the front panel display; the “Speakers” button to toggle between “A” and “B” front speakers, or even “SpeakerA” and “SpeakerB” discrete codes; the “SurrBack” button to toggle between different matrix modes for the Surround Back speakers; discrete surround mode controls which allow direct access to modes like “All Channel Stereo”; Input Mode discretes which allow you to cycle between “Auto”, “Analog”, etc.

Finding the codes you want may take some time and experimentation, but it can be well worth the effort if you want to achieve a new level of control with your Harmony and your Denon AVR.


Option 2 – Buying a second remote that can learn raw pronto hex code

Custom A/V installers have access to all sorts of fancy custom commands that allow them to create complicated custom macros for high end installs.  Thankfully for the rest of us, these codes are published and publicly available if you know where to look.  Universal remotes from other brands (e.g. URC) can be manually taught these raw codes for custom discrete commands.  By manually inputting the codes into this secondary remote, you can then teach the commands to your Harmony by using the “Learn IR” function.  Using this technique, all sorts of crazy custom commands can be added to your Denon device profile.

Here is a link to the complete custom command set currently available; note that this document is for the Denon AVR-4520CI, and not every code in there will work for your specific model.  However, by browsing this monster 30-page document, you can see a whole world of possibilities open up.  For example, there are discrete commands for “HDMI Audio Out” allowing you to switch between “TV” and “AVR” modes at the touch of a button.  There are discrete commands for “Reference Level Offset” values, individual commands to adjust the volume of ANY speaker directly, discrete commands to access any surround mode, and so forth.

The process for adding these commands is a little more complex obviously, and I will not discuss it here (for more info I suggest you head to RemoteCentral.com), but for the “power user” who really wants total control over their receiver, this is the way to go.


Option 3 – Ask Harmony support to add the raw pronto hex code for you

The codes listed in the document linked above are not directly compatible with Harmony remotes.  Over at RemoteCentral.com, a user has come up with a tool to convert these pronto codes to a raw hex format which is compatible with Harmony remotes.  As above, this is some complicated “power user” stuff that is beyond the scope of this site, so I will not get into the full details here, but once the commands are converted into the compatible format, you can email them to Harmony tech support and ask them to add them directly into your Denon receiver device.

Technically, you can also do this yourself as the end-user following the instructions described in this link.  This involves converting the pronto codes to a usable format using this hex code conversion tool and then “hacking” them into your Harmony account using the instructions linked above.  Please do not email me asking me how to use this, as to be honest I don’t really know!  It’s technical stuff, so if you really want to pursue this angle I suggest you head to RemoteCentral.com where the real remote junkies hang out.  Doing some Google searches and browsing RemoteCentral you should be able to find the info you need if you are diligent and posses a sufficient technical background.  However, for the “lay user” it is MUCH easier to simply ask Harmony tech support to it for you.

For those of you that don’t want to or can’t figure out how to do it yourself, I will maintain a public list of raw hex code that you can copy/paste into an email and send to Harmony tech support.  Ask politely, cross your fingers, and hope they comply!  Click this link to see a database of Harmony compatible hex codes that you can have loaded into your Denon AVR device profile on your Harmony remote.

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