Not too long ago, home automation systems consisted mostly of remote controls for garage door openers, electronic appliances like televisions and VCRs, and a device called, “The Clapper.” Before the technology caught up with the dream, these devices were nothing more than labor savers. You didn’t have to get up to change the channel or start the VCR anymore, or turn on or off the lights in a room. The garage door opener allowed you to open and close the door from the safety and comfort of your car.
Home Automation Systems: You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
Even though the industry, as well as the associated technology, is still in its adolescence, it’s come quite a long way since those early days. Now you can do things such as open the garage door, disarm the home alarm system, and turn on lights in the house from the safety and comfort of your car with a basic system. Another more advanced system allows you to turn your HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system on and off remotely, sometimes even from the Internet while you’re at work!
There are also systems that combine all the features of the smaller component systems. We may not be at the stage where we can walk into a room and say “Computer: Lights to 25 percent, soft rock at volume level 4, close the windows and drapes, and set the ambient temperature to 70 degrees.” However, we are close.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the industry leaders, and what they have to offer in home automation systems.
Crestron Brings Everything Together in a Single System
One of the leaders in home and commercial building automation, Crestron, takes the idea of the entertainment system remote into the 21st Century by letting you control your “whole-home entertainment system” from a single-touch screen control pad. Crestron systems are the Ferraris of home automation systems.
I’ve seen some of their systems at work, and as a certified geek, I want one. There is a house in Westchester, New York, that is highlighted on the website, that has 22 flatscreen TVs, a lighting system, and a 14-zone HVAC system with multiple thermostats. The company has come out with modules that allow you to perform such tasks as:
- Opening and closing window drapes or blinds
- Turning on and off and dimming lights
- HVAC system control
- Monitor your solar photovoltaic system output
- Home security system control
- iPod control
- High-end home theater control
- Many other features
HAI by Leviton
HAI by Leviton is another leader in the realm of home automation systems. Leviton started out supplying electrical parts, such as duplex receptacles (power outlets), switches, boxes, lighting control panels, telephone and network outlets (jacks) to homeowners and construction contractors. Their foray into the home automation industry is relatively new, but they’ve hit the ground running with a number of offerings that the average homeowner can install without the need of a contractor’s expense. Even better, some of their control devices can be accessed via the Internet.
HAI technology allows you to control your home’s HVAC system, home entertainment system, and connected lighting systems, from a connected keypad, by telephone, or a web-based Internet control system. Their systems are modular, too, so you can pony up and install only what you want or can afford, and then add to it.
mControl Combines Affordability and Functionality in a Single System
Image via Embedded Automation
According to TopTenReviews, Embedded Systems’ mControl home automation systems deliver the most bang for the buck. The system they tested and reviewed, the mControl v3 has an asking price of $170 and offers a nice variety of features that include:
- Support for iTunes and Windows Media Player/Center
- Support for X10 devices
- Support for all versions of Windows as well as mobile operating systems
- Support for Z-Wave devices
- Support for HVAC Systems
- Supports thermostats
- Voice recognition capability (“Computer. Lights please!”)
Overall, TopTenReviews rated the mControl v3 a 9 out of 10, saying that it has a powerful feature set, great compatibility, and is very easy to use. The only bad thing they had to say was they wished there was a better set of customer service options. One really cool thing the reviewers made note of is that the system allows the user to program macros that can be triggered from the remote, or that automatically trigger when certain conditions are met.
Main Photo Credit: Port City Sound