Automation Speak: What Does Two-Way Mean?
If you want feedback from your lights, music server or thermostat, look for two-way solutions.
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URC’s two-way MX-6000 remote control
May 25, 2009 by Julie Jacobson

You’ve probably stumbled across the term “two-way communications” when researching universal remote controls, home automation systems, even light dimmers.

What does that mean, and how does it compare to “one-way?”

In home-control speak, two-way refers to feedback.

A two-way remote control, for example, may not only operate the thermostats remotely it would also be able to display (in real time) the thermostat’s settings.

A one-way remote, on the other hand, could control the thermostats, but if you adjust the thermostat from the unit itself, it won’t be reflected on the remote’s display.

Two-way communications becomes especially important in a whole-house control system. You might want to know what the lights are doing in every room of the house. You might want to know what tunes are playing in each zone.

With one-way, you could do ALL OFF or ALL ON or dim the rooms to preset levels. But did the lights really respond to the commands? You may never know.

The biggie with two-way is metadata, most commonly associated with music playlists, artists, cover art, etc.

With one-way solutions, you may very well be able to view and browse through these attributes, but you won’t get the real-time “what’s playing” info delivered to your touchscreen, keypad or handheld remote.”

What it Takes to be Two-Way
For two-way communications to happen, obviously the controlling device (say, a keypad) must have the functionality.

But the device being controlled (say, a dimmer), also must have two-way capabilities.

If you press the OUTDOOR LIGHTS scene on your keypad, and you want to know for sure that the lights were turned on, those lights need to be able to send that information back to the keypad.

One-way isn’t bad, of course. Solutions are often less expensive, and they do just fine with virtually any control or entertainment function.

For richer applications and feedback, though, ask about two-way communications.

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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