December 14, 2010
| by Julie Jacobson
It used to be that home control systems came from home control companies. Nowadays, you can find home automation features built into security systems, thermostats, handheld remotes, power management devices and more.
We’ve recently come across several audio/video components with home control inside. None of them offer anything close to the range of features provided by dedicated control systems, but for people who want A/V first with a little automation thrown in, these solutions might just do the trick for you.
VidaBox, manufacturer of high-performance Media Center machines and software, has plenty of experience with home automation, having created a user-friendly interface for the often-challenging Charmed Quark Controller. Now that Charmed Quark is defunct (or not, depending on whom you ask), VidaBox is going it alone with its new vAutomation 2.0 software.
At the very least, vAutomation enables the iPad to control VidaBox’s Media Center, whole-house audio and a rack of A/V gear.
Soon, VidaBox will ship the new LiivController MZA, featuring multizone audio (no third-party system required) and vAutomation 2.0. The product provides the best of VidaBox’s flagship servers, without Windows Media Center.
VidaBox also integrates with Global Cache for controlling IR and RS-232 devices. The company is creating drivers for some of the most popular subsystems.
A newer company, HDI Dune, is gaining traction with its line of audiophile-grade media players, through which users also can operate a full range of A/V products via a TV interface.
The company recently became one of the first to embed the 4Home automation platform into its servers. 4Home, which was acquired by Motorola, provides a suite of home control services, but is best known for energy management, famously adopted by Sensus for its metering systems.
As for HDI Dune, the new HDI Dune Pro is an upscale HD media server that allows home monitoring, media management, and control of networked cameras, thermostats, lights and other Z-Wave devices.
Future high-end servers from HDI Dune also will include 4Home technology and an external box ($99) will be available for tacking onto lower-cost HDI Dune products.
Control4 wants manufacturers to embed its operating systems into everyday CE devices such as TVs and receivers. LG has demonstrated prototype TVs with the built-in OS, but we still have not seen mass-market implementation of the automation platform.
At least two niche A/V vendors are building Control4 into their A/V receivers.
NAD has gone through the formal channels - Control4’s iQ partner program - to integrate the OS into its card-based Modular Design Construction (MDC) line of receivers and processors.
The Control4 card, called the CM 200 Automation Module, essentially eliminates the need for a separate Control4 controller. The card features an Ethernet port, two USB ports, two IR inputs, two IR outputs, and a ZigBee antenna.
On the other hand, Emotiva, best known for its Internet-direct brand of high-performance A/V gear, has simply thrown an entire Control4 HC200 controller into its new PMC-1 processor. The 7.1-channel unit offers “the same I/Os as the HC200, minus the component video,” says CEO Dan Laufman.
The A/V and automation in the first-generation product “looks like two [separate] pieces,” says Laufman. In future generations, “the Control4 operating system will be completely resident in our hardware.”
Also building a little bit of automation into its A/V receivers is Sony, via a little-known feature called Quick Click. The feature basically turns the receiver into a universal remote, allowing users to operate connected components (via the receiver’s two IR outputs) through the on-screen display. Up to 20 macros are supported.
Multiroom audio systems seem like ideal candidates for delivering automation throughout the house. They already provide the infrastructure and the interfaces, why not a little lighting control to boot?
We’ve wondered when NuVo, Russound and Niles might integrate automation. Not this year, at least.
Aton, developer of whole-house Cat 5-based digital audio solutions, has beaten them to the punch. Aton recently introduced the six-zone AH66T with two RS-232 ports for iPod metadata and lighting control. The system is pre-configured to control Lutron’s RadioRa, allowing Aton keypads to double as audio controllers and light switches.
On the other hand, the forthcoming Nirv system from SpeakerCraft will be able to operate a full range of subsystems. The company has no intention of replacing the heavy-duty automation solutions, but the most popular brands will be supported out of the gate.
Nirv is a whole-house Cat 5 distribution system for HD video and audio. But since it is modular and offers a rich on-screen TV display and iPad/iPhone, you may as well use it to control the lights and thermostats along with the A/V gear.
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.