Hands On: VoicePod Voice Commands for Control4
A hands-off approach to home control.
March 07, 2013 by Grant Clauser

A couple weeks ago when I was having a Control4 system programmed in my home theater (as part of a Sony DA2800ES receiver review, which I’ll post shortly), the local installer who was helping, HouseLogix, told me they had something else cool they wanted me to try at the same time. Sure enough, they were right.

It turned out that HouseLogix is the developer of the VoicePod, a voice control device that Electronic House’s executive editor, Lisa Montgomery, ran across last year at CEDIA and was suitably impressed by. HouseLogix’ Ryan Quinby told me the VoicePod was designed for use with Control4 and would permit voice control over anything the Control4 system could do.

A few days later, the installer arrived, got the Sony receiver (with its built-in Control4 processor) all suited up, and then set up the VoicePod. That took a little longer, and I could hear Jonathan from HouseLogix in the basement testing key phrases while the room lights dimmed and brightened.

A little while later he said it was done and ready for me to use.

If you’re familiar with Apple’s Siri, and I know you are, then you understand the concept. Say something, and something happens. The magic is in how well it actually works. Anyone who’s struggled trying to get Siri to send a text message without tragically misinterpreting it will no doubt be skeptical of VoicePod. However, I can assure you that VoicePod is considerably better at hearing and understanding commands than Siri or my 16-year-old daughter (to be fair, I haven’t asked VoicePod to clean toothpaste off the bathroom mirror).

The product itself is a little bigger than a hockey puck and contains both a speaker and a microphone. It doesn’t send out any commends itself; rather it sends a signal wirelessly via Zigbee to the Control4 system, which then does all the heavy automation work it was programmed to do. The module is small enough to not be noticeable in most rooms, but it includes a microphone input and speaker output so you can hide the main unit.

The product idea was born after HouseLogix was involved in putting a control system into a rehabilitation hospital near Allentown. The team realized that one thing which would go a long way toward giving disabled people more independence was voice control. They soon set out to develop a product, and three years later we have VoicePod. 

My VoicePod installation was pretty basic. I just had one room, a standard theater with a projector, receiver, a couple of source components and some lights. HouseLogix programmed some sensible lighting scenes on Control4 dimmers. The company gave me a cheat sheet of commends, which included some special “remote” commends that allowed me to drill down a little bit, but for the most part I was able to ignore the cheat sheet and just wing it. VoicePod can be pretty forgiving.

The device can be used to control just about anything. For instance, when I enter the room I wake up the device with the keywords “Hello VoicePod,” in the same way that some Samsung 2012 smart TVs responded to “Hi TV.” The neat thing about VoicePod is that you know it heard you because it answers, “How may I help you?” The system recognizes about 300 commands, but most installations will use only a small fraction of those—300 is a lot of custom commands for a person to remember so it makes sense to pick just the ones that will be used.

In my room, it easily handles most theater requirements. Speaking the command “Watch,” causes the VoicePod to ask me what source. In my room that means a choice between Blu-ray, Roku and Playstation 3 (incidentally, VoicePod doesn’t know the word Roku, but it does know Media Player, and speaking that caused the Sony receiver to switch to the Roku input). From there I can either pick up the Control4 remote to find my streaming service and select my video, or issue another command, “Remote Control” which lets me says things like “Move Left,” “Play,” etc. to navigate around a menu (this works with any onscreen menu including Blu-ray players and DVRs). Commands like “Set Volume Low” are also convenient. For my room, HomeLogix programed in three volume settings to make selection easier. Light dimness settings were also programed in for multiple scenarios which could easily be activated through voice commands.

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
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. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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