What usually happens when you pull back the curtain on a magic show is that you see the girl wasn’t really sawed in half—the magic is exposed as less magical and more mechanical. After my first day of Control4 installer instruction, I’m still seeing the magic.
I’m in Chicago right now for four days of Control4 training. As someone who’s spent years writing about advanced home automation systems and the amazing homes they get installed in, I realized I still knew very little about how they worked, how they fit together. After doing a review of a Control4 product, I decided I wanted to get deeper into the system, so the company offered to let me take their installer training. (Read the review of Sony’s STA-DA2800ES receiver with built-in Control4)
Throughout the first day we learned about the products, discussed the importance of networks (the backbone of a control system), did some basic system design, loaded drivers, made connections in the software and talked about where the best BBQ can be found in the Chicago area. Through all these steps I found myself thinking about what the finished product would look and act like.
When I was a kid I received for a gift a large box of artificial dinosaurs bones. The finished product was supposed to be a T-Rex about the size of a German shepherd dog. I had to assemble the bones based only on a photo of what the live dinosaur would have looked like. Nowhere were there instructions for attaching x bone to y bone or why y bone went where it did. I had to envision what a working dinosaur was like and try to find the connections that would duplicate it. This bone most certainly is too small for a T-Rex femur—he’d never be able to catch those little dinosaurs with it. Designing a home control system is like making a dinosaur from a box of bones.
Actually, with a dinosaur, you’re at a bit of an advantage. The parts were all made to work together. With a home control system, that’s not always the case. Sure all the products from one control company work well together, but what home has products all from one company. Imagine trying to make a T-Rex buy using the bones from four different species of dinosaur (museums have made mistakes like that before). This is why companies like Control4 work to get other companies’ products certified for their system, to make sure they work well together and not like mismatched limbs. This is also why many integrators will recommend one product over another—they know from experience that it will play nicely with everything else.
Getting back to the magic—when the programmer can take those disparate products, all manufactured by different companies with their own individual goals, make them fit together like proper bones and function to fit the goals of the larger project, well, that’s magic to me. Even when I know how it works, it’s still pretty impressive.
More about home control/automation here:
Frequently Asked Questions About Home Automation
Is IP Control Replacing IR?
A Good Home Automation System is Worth Repeating
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.