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


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.


When it comes to home automation central controllers a dedicated computer is most people's first thought, and certainly the power offered by a decent scripting language is unparalleled, but for the majority of cases this power isn’t needed and simply confuses the installation to the point where “good enough” becomes the mantra and the perfect home automation setup is a continuous work-in-progress.


With the entry of dedicated hardware designed to control your Insteon devices, you now have the ability to do 90% of what can be done with a dedicated PC, with 5% of the frustration.  While there are several of these devices on the market, including the SmartLinc (reviewed here) and EZSrve (criticized by the community), this review focuses on the ISY-99 and its variants.


The ISY-99i is offered in several versions at a variety of price points (listing of them all here) with the main differences being: inclusion of an infrared sensor to control events and devices using a universal remote (ISY-99 with IR), PRO vs regular (More devices and events with PRO, 1000 vs 300 for regular) and the inclusion of a PLM module if you don’t have one already (a PLM is required, so if you don't have one the package is slightly cheaper).


Apart from those differences, the core module is the same and setup requires three steps:
1. Connect the ISY and the PLM via the included Ethernet cable (preferred) or serial (for older PLMs).
2. Connect the ISY to your home network via Ethernet cable.
3. Plug the ISY into a wall outlet for power.


After this, the ISY should show up under your “My network places” (if using Windows) or can be visited in a web-browser on Mac or Linux (requires Java).


Using the ISY is generally intuitive, however some of the procedures aren’t as polished as the rest (for instance, resetting a forgotten password requires the MAC address and telnet) and may require a decent familiarity with technology to accomplish.  For users who would prefer a simpler, arguably friendlier user interface and are looking for simple timers and lighting groups the SmartLinc may be a better choice.  The ISY has a much more advanced feature-set than the SmartLinc, but with those features comes some added complexity (see the reference to the 5% frustration above).


Several key benefits exist to a dedicated hardware device such as the ISY over a computer.  With a computer as your central Insteon controller, the computer must remain on around the clock, which poses several issues:
1. Significantly increased power consumption over a dedicated single-purpose device.
2. Concerns about operating system updates or user reboots causing outage periods for your home automation system.
3. If the computer isn’t dedicated to home automation, concerns regarding software installs affecting system stability and malicious software causing undesired behavior exist (especially if opening the firewall settings to allow remote control of the home automation software).


Within the ISY-99i interface you can layout logical floor plans, organize lighting devices into scenes with triggers, custom ramp rates and on-levels, query devices for status and use conditional “if, then, else” statements.  Once you’ve taken the time to configure a device for your liking, the attributes can be copied to other devices, saving a tremendous amount of time.  The ISY can also recognize if a current lighting level was applied locally or through another controller, and react accordingly.


ISY-99i Screenshot


Notification features exist, but are limited when compared to a dedicated computer.  The functions to send an email or text message to a cell phone are available on the ISY-99i and can be incorporated into events and triggers, however more complicated messaging options such as growl aware network notifications or instant messaging are not available.


For an overall perspective of where the ISY fits in the spectrum, the following diagram shows the various Insteon controller products and associated complexity:

Insteon System Controllers


Conclusion: All things considered, the ISY-99i provides a lot of functionality for a very reasonable price.  Reliability of hardware controlled events and flexibility of regular firmware updates make the ISY-99i a favorite in the community.


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Granddude  - Is ISY-99i ready for prime time?   |March-19 13:23:17
One year ago I read the ISY User Guide and was impressed. Then I visited their
forum. It produced a lot of information about many issues and changes to the
system. This is all good. The problem is that they have not update the User
Guide. So, you have to read the User Guide and then go through all the formu
posts to understand the system as it exists.

I asked about support for a
table of my X-10 devices to simplify programming. Their response was that it
would be available in a few months. That was a year ago.

It seems to me a fun
device for a programming person who has lots of time to chase down the latest

Their system looks good. But, I don't want to begin a
project using a User Guide that's over a year old. Especially when it seems
they are still making many changes.
CRMiami  - ISY 99i is great   |December-26 06:19:47
Admittedly, I'm a tech savvy individual, but I'd have to say that this device is
great. There are tons of options for scheduling events and grouping your
lights. It also has very low power consumption. I had two thermostats, two RF
Bridges, and a light switch hooked up and working in about an hour (couldn't
afford much else :-). Everything worked the first time, I was very impressed.
Greg - Miami   |March-27 21:58:03
A professional installed this in my home about 2 years ago (whole house (approx
35-45 devices - total was under 8-9k for complete automation). I think the
system is excellent and very inexpensive for the functionality it provides. I
have friends with Control 4, Lutron and even Crestron who have significantly
less functionality than paid multiples of what I did (I use it for lighting and
irrigation - all controlled from my mmobile device and ipad). The programming is
very functional and the best part of the system is that you can have someone
assist you remotely (ie add new programs, troubleshoot (very rare but critical
when needed) etc.

The service of the company is beyond reproach. I mean
that. In this day in age, decent customer support is impossible to find (paid
or unpaid). The forums are great, but when I have a problem, the company helps
me out within hours and even on Sundays - all at no charge! I know I sound like
I have something to do with this company but I think that their service is so
strong I felt compelled to provide my experience. I will retrofit every future
home with Smart Home and the Universal Devices ISY controller. Significantly
less expensive (particularly post install) and much. much better flexibility in
the long term. The only knock I have is that the software could look better on
the PC and Mac (I use both). 3rd party software for iphone/ipad looks fine.
Forrest  - Question   |December-11 12:47:27

I was hoping you could provide some information about the installation
company that installed your ISY-99i. I am interested in having the system
installed professionally and haven't heard anyone mention it let alone for such
a price. Thanks in advance!!
Brent   |March-10 08:36:54
I agree... the PC GUI could look a lot better. It is not standard at all and is
almost impossible for me to read. Even as good as users say this system is, I
won't be buying it until they update the interface to look better and use
standard colors. I keep watching.

3.23 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."