Should You Buy Home Control from ADT, Comcast?
The mega companies are straying from their bread-and-butter, but will you buy in or go with a custom electronics pro?
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December 14, 2010 by Julie Jacobson

If you live in the Houston area, you may be seeing some unusual activity from ADT and Xfinity (Comcast). The giant security and cable companies, respectively, are working double-duty to install home automation systems on top of their traditional security and entertainment services.

What should you make of these mass marketers straying so far from their comfort zones? Can they provide good, cheap alternatives to the home-control systems offered by specialty home integrators? Should you trust them with your lights, thermostats, surveillance cameras, home networks and remote access?

Since both programs just launched in October, it’s too soon to tell. However, we can provide tips to help you understand the new services and make the best decision for your home.

Both ADT and Xfinity offer pretty much the same solution, powered by software vendor iControl. (Xfinity has yet to publicly declare its product vendors, but let’s just assume it will continue to use iControl, as it is doing today.)

ADT calls its offering Pulse (www.adtpulse.com). The cable company just calls it Xfinity Home Security (www.comcast.com/homesecurity).

Both companies start by installing a traditional home security system. To that, they add an Internet gateway that communicates with the security system, as well as with surveillance cameras and various wireless Z-Wave devices such as thermostats and light switches. Via the Internet, consumers can monitor and control their connected devices.

Most consumers have no idea what home automation is, so the ADT and Xfinity offerings probably sound cutting-edge and super-cool. But Electronic House readers aren’t “most consumers,” so what should you make of this?

I won’t bury the lead much deeper: iControl is an excellent platform. Xfinity makes me nervous. ADT can pull it off.

The old Comcast once had a security installation group, but they didn’t get far with it. In its history of trying to install home controls, they haven’t a single success. ADT obviously can do security and they have a long history of at least dabbling in home automation. Also, they have a service infrastructure like nobody’s business, but are they out of their league with Pulse? The short answer is: as long as they keep it simple—a security system, thermostats, lighting and cameras—they’ll be good.

If that’s all you want, and most consumers do, then you should look at ADT Pulse. But don’t expect any crazy ads screaming “$99 INSTALLED!” For a complete Premier package, you’ll end up paying a few thousand dollars for an appropriate security system, a thermostat or two, a couple of cameras, and some automated lights. Professional monitoring plus remote home management costs $57.99 per month with a longish-term contract. Comcast charges less per month.

If you’re simply price-shopping, you can probably get a similar deal from a traditional custom electronics (CE) professional. They won’t be quite as inexpensive, but they can offer more than ADT can (see box).

Bottom line? I wrote earlier that there’s no such thing as a $99 TV install from Best Buy. Same thing goes for ADT and Comcast. Sure, see what they have. Then talk to a local specialist and compare.

Qualifying Questions
If you’re looking for a simple yet elegant solution for remotely managing your home security, lighting and thermostats, ADT and Comcast could work for you. Here are a few questions to ask them—and your local specialist—before you sign on the dotted line.

  • Can I buy your system without a security monitoring agreement?
  • Who installs the light switches and other high-voltage devices?
  • What happens if my Z-Wave light switches stop working? Will you charge for coming out to fix it?
  • Since you’re working with my home network, will you service it if something goes wrong?
  • Can your cameras be tied to a whole-house video system so I can see them on any TV in the house?
  • Can I control my music through your touchscreen?
  • I like the good morning button to wake me up with lights and news radio. Can you do that?
  • If I decide not to renew the security contract, will everything else keep working?
  • Can your system integrate with some of the more advanced lighting-control products on the market?
  • I’m interested. What are some more cool things I can do with this system?

 

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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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