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|Insteon Software Review - HomeSeer|
|Written by Peter|
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.
Installation was trivial, I followed the prompts and all went well. After installation HomeSeer launched an Internet Explorer window as the interface to set things up. It's interesting to note that since all configuration is done via a web browser, I was able to change one setting (Enable Server for Remote Access) and then do all the remaining configuration from my Mac or any other computer on our network.
The HomeSeer interface is fairly ugly, but what it lacks in appearance it makes up for with a fairly intuitive interface - this is a stark contrast with Girder, which has a steep learning curve with it's array of option boxes for each module. Since HomeSeer would hopefully be my primary Insteon software, I was particularly concerned that the interface module would allow me to create events based on how I pressed my SwitchLincs and KeypadLincs. After digging into the events a bit, sure enough there are triggers based on the fast-on (aka "double-tap") as well as conditional events for "on", "change to on", local vs remote changes and ramp changes.
An example of how I'm using this is for our outside patio lights, which function like a traditional light switch for the uninitiated, but when we want to go in the hot-tub we simply double-tap on the switch and it stays on for 1 minute and 30 seconds - just long enough to walk the pathway and climb in, then the patio lights fade off so we can gaze at the stars without a light glaring into our eyes.
Adding Insteon devices is easy if you know the 6-digit device ID, and if pulling all the light switch cover plates to write down the ID's doesn't sound like a good time to you, you'll be happy to note that you can setup HomeSeer in tap-to-add mode, where you can simply hold each switch in the on position for 10 seconds (until it flashes) and HomeSeer will add it automatically - Just remember the order which you activated the switches since HomeSeer will list them in the same order you activated them in.
After a week of using the software I've added and configured about a dozen plugins including iTunes, the instant messaging connector and the caller-id plugin without any issues. I also like the fact that there's a Media Center plugin, so you don't have to run a separate instance of mControl to integrate your home theatre. One plugin that sounded very interesting but I couldn't get working was the mcsMovement plugin, which supposedly tracks the patterns of switch behaviour and allows triggering of events based on this (for example if the kitchen light is turned off and then the hall light is turned on, you're probably going to the bedroom so we'll turn that light on for you).
I'll have to troubleshoot that plugin a bit more because the potential is pretty impressive. For the security conscious, there's also a plugin to connect the Elk M1 to HomeSeer, I've made it available for download here.
Summary:The verdict on HomeSeer?
Pros: It's stable, easy-to-use and has plugins to fit almost any configuration. It avoids the steep learning curve of Girder and the requirement to shell code linux scripts like MisterHouse. It's not as pretty as Indigo, but spare PC hardware is much cheaper than spare Mac hardware and the configuration can be done from your Mac or iPhone anyway. It works with your Media Center like mControl and can speak status updates like the Elk M1 (which it also integrates with).
Cons: Interface is unattractive, some third-party plugins didn't work, slightly more expensive than other home automation software.