Ask a Pro
Q. Can I Have One Wireless Touchscreen Remote For All My Systems?
With DIY options limited and unreliable, professional systems such as Crestron and Control4 are the recommended choice.
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June 16, 2009 by Scott Varn

Q. Is there a system with a touchscreen wireless remote that will let me control EVERYTHING in my home? Lights, music, heat, security, video….. Thanks! - Todd/Seattle

A. Actually there are many but I have to ask ... do you want to control them all with one system or have multiple systems? I will infer that you really want it all under one hood. A do-it-yourself guy has very limited options. Most of which consist of multiple systems loosely tied together via X10 devices and possibly software. X10 uses existing wiring, RF, and line carrier technology to communicate with no new wiring necessary. It has been around for some time, is relatively inexpensive and is fairly simple for the home user to configure. However, it is not completely reliable, especially in older homes. But it’s biggest drawback is the it does not control everything - like you asked.

You need to find a programmable remote that can handle X10 and the A/V (that can be done), but the thermostat is a bit trickier. It could be a fun hobbiest-type system - that is, if stringing many parts, from many companies and somehow forcing them to work together is your idea of fun. And just so I don’t get 1000 e-mails from uber-geeks who claim to have done this themselves and think it is easy… Todd asked for a touchscreen system that can control everything. Unreliable, obscure technologies do not count.

Ultimately, the best solution is a professional system installed by a system integrator - the most powerful and expensive being Crestron. Their systems can do anything, but the programming is extensive and the hardware is not cheap. But it is still the most open and flexible of all systems - and because of this it requires a pro with years of experience to program and maintain. AMX and Savant Systems—an Apple-based control system—are also at this top tier of robust systems with wireless touchscreens.

Control4 is another professionally installed system. It is much more accessible in price and they manufacture most of their own hardware; light switches, thermostat, amps, controllers and various touchscreen interfaces. Both of these companies have the tools and the integrators to put it under one hood. I recommend a professionally integrated system, not because I want to endorse my industry, but because it is the only way to get the truly tight system you want. Once it’s installed, you can simply enjoy its functionality rather than being your own home automation maintenance man.

Someday, due to the prevalence of broadband access and iPhones, it is likely that companies like Apple and Microsoft will develop tools that will link all the devices in your home. In fact, that revolution has begun - but the complete solution is not here yet for the DIY guy.

Related articles:
10 Key Features in a Home Automation System
Home Control 101: Insteon vs X10
Let Your iPhone Take Full Control

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Scott has been in the technology industries for over 20 years. But his experience as an artist is what led him to create an award winning business that combines engineering and aesthetics for home theater design.

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