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Home Automation


Insteon vs X10, Zigbee and Z-Wave - Best home automation E-mail
Written by Peter   

 

InsteonZ-wave

Insteon

Zwave

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Rating: 5 out of 5

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Rating: 3 out of 5

The promise of home automation is enticing. Press a button, watch the curtains close, lights dim and your favorite movie play – What’s not to like?

 

Helping to bring this orchestra of technology to the forefront is the decreasing cost of devices offered by a variety of vendors. You can still spend upwards of $50,000 on an integrated home automation system, but those are advanced systems installed by those with more money than time. If you're like me however, with the opposite situation – then devices such as Insteon, Zigbee and Z-Wave should pique your interest.

 

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Home Automation Review - Question & Answers E-mail
Written by Peter   

scratchinghead_border.jpgIf you're one of the many people considering home automation, but you aren't quite sure where to start or what the best technology is, this article is for you. It seems as though the majority of information about home automation is either extremely technical or focused on one specific product offering. There is no 'perfect' system in home automation, but that's the beauty of it too - the parts work together to achieve what you want your house to be like, not what someone else thinks it should be like. Read on for the top questions asked when starting out with home automation...

 

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Zigbee vs Insteon – Home-Ready or Hype-Riddled? E-mail
Written by Peter   
Insteon SwitchControl4 Switch

Insteon

Zigbee

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Rating: 5 out of 5

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Rating: 2 out of 5

There are a plethora of products out there that claim to be able to convert your home into the dream house you imagine it to be.  Auto-closing curtains, lighting that adapts to your mood, you know the drill.  For years, Zigbee has been working on refining its wireless, ‘self-organizing mesh network’ technologies outside of the scope of home automation, preferring to target the commercial groups and applications by providing kits for product developers rather than the end-user products themselves. 

 

Zigbee has always been more of a standard (802.15) than a brand name, which is why you won’t find much when searching for ‘Zigbee products’ and they’ve created an entire framework for development with the Zigbee Alliance, Zigbee PRO standard and Zigbee Home Automation application profile.  The idea is that by making life simpler for product developers we will see a variety of competing brands offering every product the consumer could imagine.  It’s taken about 9 years for the Zigbee concept to ratify itself into a standard, but now that it’s there, who is using it and how does it stack up?

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NetLinc (Smartlinc) Review - Essential Insteon device or waste of money? E-mail
Written by Peter   

 

NetLinc Image
NetLinc / SmartLinc

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Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary: While I’m not convinced that the newly released NetLinc is a replacement for the PowerLinc Modem and a good software package, it likely fills another role in that it provides incredibly easy access to view your house cameras on a wide range of devices including the iPod Touch, iPhone or any computer with internet access. The fact that it offers Insteon control and is relatively cheap is a bonus.



Smarthome just sent out an email talking about the release of the new NetLinc product, as well as an Insteon motion sensor and an outdoor 220v switch. I follow the home automation scene fairly carefully, and in the past lack of devices has been one of the few downfalls of Insteon so when several new products are released I’m curious to find out how they compare.

First, the NetLinc – This device is primarily designed as an interface between your home automation devices (lights, appliances, sprinklers etc) and any web-enabled device. Smarthome seems to think the most popular use for this will be using your iPhone or iPod Touch to control your appliances, since they now have several packages which include a free iPod Touch. While I think it’s great that the NetLinc supports mobile technologies, and the interface on the iPod/iPhone looks quite usable, I’m just not sure how much use most people will get out of this beyond the cool factor.

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Insteon Software Review - HomeSeer E-mail
Written by Peter   

Home Automation Software Review

HomeSeer Home
Automation Software

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Rating: 4 out of 5

For those of you hunting for the best home automation software, I empathize with you, it's not an easy task to sort out.  Compiling a list of which software supports which technology and on what operating system is just stage one, and then there's the part where you sort out the plugins, third-party modules and so on until you feel like this little project has just turned into something complex and it may be more work and less fun than you had hoped.  

Putting some of the fun back into the process is the latest version of HomeSeer, which supports every major home automation technology (Insteon, Z-Wave, X10, UPB & others) and has plugins to handle everything from sprinklers to security systems to RFID tags.  Having used other home automation software such as Girder and MisterHouse in the past, I was interested to see how HomeSeer would compare.  

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ISY-99i Review - Insteon control system E-mail
Written by Peter   
ISY-99i Image
ISY-99i

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Home automation holds tremendous promise, however much of the excitement felt when installing the devices turns to frustration when dealing with the current array of software packages.  Difficulties with software installation, hardware communication issues and steep learning curves for many of the packages leave the uninitiated with little progress after hours spent with configuration.  All of this while the other members of your household are screaming at you to stop turning the lights off on them…  Is the ISY-99i the answer?  Read on to find out.

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IR543 X10 Infrared Controller - Mini-Review E-mail
Written by Peter   

 

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IR543 X10 Infrared Controller

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Rating: 3 out of 5

IR543 X10 Infrared Controller Mini Review

UPDATED: The introduction of the IRLinc has changed the interactions of Infrared to Insteon communications a bit, and reduced the importance of the IR543.  While the IR543 is still a valid low-cost option, the flexibility and convenience of the IRLinc (no programming X10 codes for your Insteon devices, additional dim levels, direct to dim percentage) are far superior for those looking for an Insteon infrared solution. 


Which came first, the infrared remote or the X-10 devices? Well, it doesn’t really matter, because either way you now need them to talk to each other. While there are a few options that you can buy, none are as inexpensive and readily available as the X10 IR-543. The simple receiver takes an infrared command, sent by any device capable of sending the correct sequence (universal remotes, Harmony remotes, laptops, PDA’s, Media Centers and PVR’s, just to name a few) and translates this command into a signal which is sent via the powerline to control an X-10 device. 

 

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Insteon Venstar Thermostat Review - Hot or Not? E-mail
Written by Peter   
Insteon Thermostat - Venstar T1900
Insteon Thermostat

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Home Automation is about more than just lighting.  Sure, that's where most of us start our obsessions but it quickly becomes apparent that the rest of the house could be tied into the same system and one of the first thoughts is the automation of the home heating & cooling system. 

 

To address this need, Venstar has come out with several thermostats that accept plug-in modules on the bottom which allow them to be controlled by infrared remote (including Logitech Harmony series), telephone or (my favourite) your Insteon network.  How well do they work?  That depends on which model you get...

 

 

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Insteon Review - PowerLinc Serial Modem E-mail
Written by Peter   
PowerLinc Modem
PowerLinc Modem (2412s)

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Rating: 4 out of 5

You may be looking to take your Insteon installation to the next level, or perhaps you’re just getting started with home automation and want to ensure you have all the pieces necessary to realize your vision. Either way, you need a way for your computer to send Insteon commands, and the PowerLinc serial modem is just that.

 

For a bit of background, Insteon computer interfaces originally came in two flavors: USB, with an integrated “memory” of settings and the serial version, which is essentially a direct link between the computer and the powerline. The USB interface, which is sometimes referred to as the PLC (PowerLinc Controller) was the preferred device initially, as USB is the dominant interface on today’s computers. As developers attempted to work with the PLC however, the integrated memory began to cause erratic behavior and for a variety of reasons (some political, some technical) the serial interface began to become the favorite with its simplistic style of interaction.

 

For the average Insteon purchaser, this all boils down to two things:

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Insteon Motion Sensor Review E-mail
Written by Peter   
ISY-99i Image
Insteon Motion Sensor

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Home automation is one of those addicting things that feeds off itself once you get going.  For example, many people (myself included) begin with an assortment of light switches and remote controls, thinking that controlling any light in the house from the couch is as good as it gets.  Once the system works, we begin to take the functionality for granted, and almost become annoyed with the prospect of having to reach for the lighting remote.  "Shouldn't it just know what I want?" begins to enter our thoughts and the next phase of upgrades begins.

One of the key aspects of having a system 'know' more about us has been termed presence awareness and basically it involves sensors...many of them.  There are some very cool projects out there involving RFID tags, bluetooth proximity applications etc, but they all have shortcomings for the average person (RFID is still very much a hacked technology with no solid integration offered yet, and bluetooth proximity requires you to always carry your cellphone...even at night, when you're wearing your robe.)  As these mature, I'll be all over them however for now a more practical solution involves motion sensors - Affordable, easy to install and they don't require you to carry anything for them to work. 

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