iControl Smart Homes Will Offer URC Remotes

Long Live the Remote: iControl Adopts URC Remotes and Touchscreens

The world of home automation and home theater control once dominated by remotes and touchscreens has moved 99 percent over to smart phones and tablets. There are lots of good reasons for that—tables and phones are cheap, powerful and always with us, but after a while users often lament that it can take multiple taps and a passcodes just to turn off a light or change a TV channel.

Top remote manufacturer URC joined popular app-based smart home company iControl’s OpenHome Partner Program to provides a solution for this problem. Users of iControl’s Converge or Touchstone systems (which are deployed through a variety of service providers such as Comcast/Xfinity, Time Warner and Cox, will soon be able to use a dedicated UCR wand-style remote, color keypad touchscreen or wall-mounted single-gang keypad.

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One of my main gripes with the newer, entry-level smart home systems, the kinds often available from phone and cable companies, is that the only control interface is your phone or tablet (the same can be said for the new crop of DIY systems). Phones and tablets can be excellent for this, but they’re not always ideal. Who wants to tap in a password, find an app, swipe to the correct screen and then press the button just to turn on one light or raise the volume? In my own media room, which is integrated with Control4. I use the tablet app to launch light scenes or fire up the home theater five minutes before I enter the room. When I’m stilling on the sofa watching a movie I use the remote for everything else.

Most of the major professionally-installed control systems, including URC’s Total Control, understand this problem and offer standard remotes and keypads in addition to apps. Control systems from companies like Comcast and Time Warner don’t have that option (security companies usually provide a keypad for arming the system, but that’s not quite the same thing). Now companies offering iControl systems (which includes some of the above-referenced providers) now have the option of offer dedicated control devices. This may be a game changer for that part of the smart home market.

But wait, it gets better. Not only will iControl system providers get to offer real remotes, according to the press release from URC, these systems will also be able to integrate audio/video equipment—your TV and sound system. Previously basic smart home systems offered good solutions for security, heating/AC, sometimes lighting, but didn’t include audio/video integration. The combination of A/V integration with everything else has been something only the more comprehensive installed systems could do.

On one level, this is pretty cool news, but ask anyone who’s had to deal with a cable television installer–is that someone you want responsible for integrating all your A/V gear as well as your home automation? Who’s going to train these cable and security people the ins-and-outs of home theater setup? Professional A/V integrators live and breathe this stuff. They know instinctively which input to use for which product, what audio settings to make, and how calibrate a TV out of showroom mode. Cable TV and security installers may be experts in their own equipment, but if they didn’t sell you the TV or the surround sound receiver, will they be the best person to integrate it with your automation system? Of course, we may eventually find that there’s a DIY component to all this and maybe some self-guided tutorial.

Currently URC isn’t offering any details on how they’ll help iControl achieve this. I’m told that there will be other products in addition to those mentioned above. To add A/V integration, iControl is going to need a way to communicate with IR-controlled devices (TVs, surround sound receivers, Blu-ray players) and will also need a database of device codes for programming. A TCP/IP to IR box, such as what iRule uses to allow app control of A/V gear would work, but iControl’s software would need to be expanded to include the all additional devices and to create activities around them. URC has that technology, so perhaps there will be more to this relationship.

More recent headlines about home automation:
Lutron’s New Smart Bridge Pro Makes Lutron Lighting Easier to Integrate
Verizon is Working on Home Automation Again
Smart Lighting Scenes for Home Automation Systems


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