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post #1 of 30 Old 03-14-2007, 11:31 AM - Thread Starter
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I am getting ready to wire my hometheater and its time to finalize the electrical plan.

I would like to have 6 different lights in the room (sconces, rope light, stair lights, reading light). All of my electronics are controlled via a computer so I would like the solution to have computer control. I need the ability to call each light with a specific dim value such as light1 at 50% brightness. This will allow me to setup the lighting scenes I want.

I looked at a graphic eye, and I think a 6 zone is quite expensive.

Any advice would be great on a brand and any issues to consider.

thanks
Itai

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post #2 of 30 Old 03-14-2007, 03:30 PM - Thread Starter
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I wanted to add one more bit, one of the lights is on a 3 way circuit. I don't think this complicates things too much more.

Itai

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post #3 of 30 Old 03-15-2007, 06:01 AM
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I use Insteon lighting controls, with their HouseLinc software (or other packages out there), you can directly control each light, the brightness level, etc...
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post #4 of 30 Old 03-16-2007, 03:58 AM
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go with the Graphic Eye...you will be much happier with it.

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post #5 of 30 Old 03-16-2007, 09:11 AM
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cubesys,
You have relatively simple lighting needs for automation.

Insteon / RadioRa /UPB / ZWave, GrafikEye even X10 can do what you want it to do. All but X10, are generally considered "reliable". And, X10 really isn't all that bad, especially when you factor in the cheap price (though you do get what you pay for).

With automation software like MainLobby, that is where the magic occurs with coordination of the lighting with your movie experience. (and coordination of rest of equipment and content too).

For example, 6 lighting loads (what you are calling "zones") would be about $400 including the power line controller ($80) with Insteon. UPB would be a wee bit more. The software minimum you would need with MainLobby would be around $220 that would run on your PC.

The nice thing, is once you do your Theater, you will then start automating all of the principal lights in the house where you actually will get more "value" (use).

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post #6 of 30 Old 03-16-2007, 10:00 AM
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FYI - i'm doing the next "Intro to HA" webinar next Fri evening; i do lighting (via zwave), and it's integrated into my whole setup.

If you're interested in seeing how this could be controlled from your PC live, check the links in my sig. If you can't make that session, it'll probably be held again in the 6-8 week timeframe at a different timeslot.

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post #7 of 30 Old 03-18-2007, 05:37 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the input so far. Do all of the solutions mentioned (insteon, zwave, upb) need their own software or can they be controlled via girder.

For those who are controlling the hardware from a computer, can you describe the software you are using to do this.

thanks
Itai

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post #8 of 30 Old 03-18-2007, 06:38 AM
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If you are interested in controlling the lights only, I would second the recommendation for a Grafik eye. You can control these serially, and can do it with Girder.

If you want to coordinate the entire theater, including lights, AV equipment, inventory of ripped media, etc. then I would look at one of the more costly solutions of CQC or MainLobby. You COULD do the same with Girder but not as cleanly and robustly IMHO.
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post #9 of 30 Old 03-18-2007, 08:13 AM
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Itai, MainLobby is software that can be viewed on any PC (wireless touchscreen, desktop PC, in wall embedded PC, others) that controls the server software. The server software manages talking to hardware (like a lighting controller like UPB or Insteon) and the coordination of events (like turn on the receiver, warm up the projector, que up the movie, dim the lights...it's Movie Time!).

Here are some pics of how one uses HA software like MainLobby:
www.cinemaronline.com/images/MLArchitecture.pdf

Girder is nice as it's user community has added support for controlling some hardware.

MainLobby integrates nicely with Girder as well, so there is reuse of those hardware drivers.

But, most of the drivers you will need are supported natively by MainLobby like most of the major lighting controllers.

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post #10 of 30 Old 03-18-2007, 10:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cubesys View Post

For those who are controlling the hardware from a computer, can you describe the software you are using to do this.

thanks
Itai

I use CQC for my setup. I tried all the others, indeed used Girder for 2 years before it went commercial. It worked great for what I needed at the time, but my needs grew and I wanted a package that I knew I could never outgrow. This is my hobby, and has been for nearly 18 months now. I have nearly every darn thing automated you could automate (well, no drapes yet, but I do have IR remote controls ones installed for use via a remote).

A few of the things I really like about CQC:
1) Assistance with setup and config to your desires
1a) Passionate DIY community, willing to help others with whatever they want. After spending more than 2 minutes on each forum, you'll realize that the sheer volume of posts, many of which have nothing to do with CQC, is mindboggling. I just had someone help me with setting up my new concerto, then someone else help me with creating a custom UI for previewing what's on the various XM channels. I got both of those tasks done in minutes/hours due to that help.
1b) CQC chatroom to get live help
1c) Tutorial videos on the site to help you through learning the concepts

2) All free drivers means the cost of trying something new is pretty low - i can buy something off eBay, if I don't like how it works I can sell it again, didn't have to pay for the driver on it.

3) Average install is pretty robust - most CQC'ers don't just do one or two things, or just use one server. We do many things and use many servers, cuz frankly the price is the same. It's nice to know that there are others who have been there before me doing it, and are on the same forums I hang out on so I can get help if need be.

I built out a website to walk folks through what I did, a little stale but the screenshots are still legit, at www.myhometheaterpc.com.

The webinar I mentioned will walk you through the overview of CQC & Elk, and setting it up from scratch. Within the first hour, you'll see how to use the various CQC bits, and watch me actually create a very simple screen to do control. That'll help answer the question about whether CQC works in a fashion that makes sense to you, and whether it should be a viable option for you or not. If you can't make 3/23, no worries, there's a CQC monthly user group webex on the last saturday of every month. Plus, we repeat that Intro session every 6-8 weeks.

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post #11 of 30 Old 03-18-2007, 03:44 PM
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Itai,

For what you are trying to do, you will be happy with just about any lighting solution that isn't X-10. Most of the stuff recommended by "smoothtlk" is quite stable and reliable. Most importantly, it's supported by lots and lots of software.

Lutron is excellent quality stuff and just about anybody who's been in high-end A/V for years is going to tell you to go with that. That's because, for years, they held a near monopoly in the field and everything else out there was junk. Over the past couple years, though, the landscape has changed. You have many options.

My company does primarily Control4 lighting and we're very happy with it, but it's not a DIY solution. You'd need to contract a dealer to do it. If you're a DIY type, you're going to be much happier with Insteon or Z-wave.

Smoothtlk also had a good point in that you're likely to end up automating the rest of the lights in your house at some point. If you're already in something affordable and controllable by a lot of different software, then you've got choices.

Most importantly, everything that I'm recommending here requires no changes in how you're wiring your theater. These switches can just replace traditional wall switches.

You probably figured this out, but Smoothtlk works for Cinemar, who makes the MainLobby software. I've never tried it, but it looks good. Maybe it's worth buying. The good news is that he's not being pushy about it and almost all the lighting he's recommended is compatible with a lot of things. Try out a few pieces of software and see what you like. I think MainLobby has a free demo version, but I can't remember.

The important part is to choose hardware that's flexible and then find software to match, rather than the other way around. It's much easier to change software.

Best of luck. I hope you love every minute you spend in your new theater.

Kind regards,
Justis Peters
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post #12 of 30 Old 03-18-2007, 03:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cubesys View Post

I wanted to add one more bit, one of the lights is on a 3 way circuit. I don't think this complicates things too much more.

Itai,

Many lighting control solutions make this easy. Even if they don't, you can always remove the switch from the circuit and directly connect the wires that were previously switched. Then, you can use that slot on the wall for a keypad that triggers events in your lighting system. If you want it to continue working like a 3-way switch, you can put in a keypad that looks like a switch and program it to behave as though it were that switch.

Again, you really shouldn't have to change anything about the wiring for your lights in order to accomodate your lighting control system. If you want to try and hide the switches, that's a different matter. In that case, the lighting control gives you more more options.

Kind regards,
Justis Peters
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post #13 of 30 Old 03-19-2007, 07:01 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for everyone's great input. I should have been more clear, I do use a front end interface, I use Xlobby with my HTPC (actually I have 3 touch screen PCs in the house for music and the theater). The reason for girder is becuase I use it to control my IR and RS232 devices. I really like to keep the computer lean and mean as it runs my dvds and music for the theater, so I am trying to minimize the amount of software I am adding.

I have been toying with the idea of looking at cqc and mainlobby, but I lack the time to invest in a new interface at the moment... too busy building the theater.

I purchased insteon switches which I will do some testing with and see how well I can integrate them into my setup.

I thought the cost of a graphic eye was high given what you get for the money, although it is a very nice setup.

Itai

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Did I mention we are flat to 11?
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post #14 of 30 Old 03-19-2007, 08:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cubesys View Post

I purchased insteon switches which I will do some testing with and see how well I can integrate them into my setup.

Itai,

Good choice on the Insteon. When you've had a chance to play with them, let us know what you think. IMO, these forums are a little thin on advice about lighting controls.

Kind regards,
Justis
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post #15 of 30 Old 03-19-2007, 08:13 PM
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cubesys, MainLobby integrates nicely with Girder, so you can introduce MainLobby "gently" as your time permits. You should be able to reuse your Girder commands and just call them initially from MainLobby events. The MainLobby Girder plugin is free with MainLobby, so the cost is easy too.

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post #16 of 30 Old 03-20-2007, 05:03 PM - Thread Starter
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I will definitely update the group. Although my lighting plans are quite modest right now, but you never know.

thanks for the great advice

Itai

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Did I mention we are flat to 11?
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post #17 of 30 Old 03-22-2007, 03:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justis Peters View Post

Itai,

Good choice on the Insteon. When you've had a chance to play with them, let us know what you think. IMO, these forums are a little thin on advice about lighting controls.

Kind regards,
Justis

There's been quite a few lengthy threads in the past about the pros/cons of various lighting controls....For retrofit where you don't have the luxury of wiring all switches and loads to a central cabinet it basically boils down to:

Lutron Homeserve - The best most robust but also the most expensive. Uses Lutron's proprietary wireless protocol and can be mixed with hardwired as well.

Centralite's Starlite - Just a small notch below Homeserve but a very robust system as well.

Lutron's RadioRa - The next best thing from Lutron to their Homeserve. Lutron wireless protocol but has the deficiency of not reporting remote dim levels to a central controller.

Zigbee - A promising protocol but only used by Control4 AFAIK.

Z-wave - A subset of Zigbee and currently gaining favor among many installers. Uses wireless technology and the repeater ability of each individual device to communicate to the next. The more devices, the more stable the network.

UPB - Powerline technology and the most expensive of the PL devices. Better Quality and repeatability of the Insteon products, but has an annoying lag between pressing a switch and the lights coming on.

Insteon - ah, Insteon. Lots of promise and lots of disappointment. Historically abysmal QC control and hit or miss with its success in an installation. Installers avoid like the plague. But the price is soooo attractive. Of course that's changed with the recent increase in ICON prices. Uses powerline control with the promise of RF backup, but that's yet to really be implemented.

X-10 - The oldest and largest user base of the powerline technologies, but also the most difficult to get reliable and repeatable.

PS....Justis, nice to see another triangle area enthusiest.
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post #18 of 30 Old 03-22-2007, 03:24 PM
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Nice summation Robert.

Please do not send me PM's asking for software! You will not get it.
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post #19 of 30 Old 03-26-2007, 08:08 AM - Thread Starter
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I got the switches and did some basic testing with a single switch, 2 RF repeaters, and the USB controller.

Took some time to understand the software but then it was smooth. I am still researching how to send a command for turning a light on at a specific percentage (75% for example) so I can create my scenes.

So far I am happy with how the switches look, feel and work (at least one of them)

Itai

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post #20 of 30 Old 03-26-2007, 10:10 AM
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Nice summary, RobertMee

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post #21 of 30 Old 03-27-2007, 11:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smoothtlk View Post

Nice summary, RobertMee

On that note, can someone explain to me why you would want to wire all switches and loads to a central cabinet in the first place. It seems to me that you use so much more wire and make it that much more expensive unnecessarily. It seems that using either a switch or receptacle with the technology you want built in is so much more efficient. I also am not sure what you are talking about with the lag in the UPB devices. I have not noticed that yet but maybe it gets worse with more switches and receptacles you install, I only have a few I have been testing with.

I am new at all of this but I am trying to put a system together and am testing out different technologies. Cost is not an issue for me I just want it to be dependable and efficient. I am building a couple of new houses and going to be doing some retrofits on existing homes that I own as well. I was pretty sure I wanted to use UPB for the reliability and efficiency and the ease of controlling it with a variety of different controllers.

Thanks,
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post #22 of 30 Old 03-27-2007, 11:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GeoffQ View Post

On that note, can someone explain to me why you would want to wire all switches and loads to a central cabinet in the first place. It seems to me that you use so much more wire and make it that much more expensive unnecessarily. It seems that using either a switch or receptacle with the technology you want built in is so much more efficient.

Geoff,

It's almost always for aesthetics. Many people are tired of what's called "wall clutter" and want to bring it down to a bare minimum of switches on the wall. Once you introduce a product line with 6 button keypads, then it becomes something they drool over. Less wall clutter, more ease of use.

I usually try and avoid wiring to a central location, though. One of the criteria I look for in lighting controls for our product lineup is that they must work even if the controller fails. Lighting and HVAC are the two things people automate that, IMO, should always work and should never be compromised at the cost of automation.

Sometimes, I compromise with clients and the switches get wired into a closet nearby. Thus, if you ever need to use those switches, it's not a hike to the far end of the house.

Did that answer the question? A couple other people here may be able to weigh in, too.

Kind regards,
Justis
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post #23 of 30 Old 03-27-2007, 11:49 AM
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Yeah thanks Justis,
I am trying to get my head around no wall switches at all and just some LCD touch panels but then I also get back to "they must work even if the controller fails" worry as well. I find it totally ridiculous how many wall switches are still in the many ultra high end homes I have been in lately. If I have the money for a 5 million dollar house and don't have a whole house back up generator I am probably very stupid, especially in Florida. So I figure I might not need a wall switch because the probability of an HAI or ELK controller panel failure is remote, but if it does and I have no way to turn on the lights my wife will kill me.

Anyway just rambling thoughts, thanks for the input and your thoughts.
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post #24 of 30 Old 03-27-2007, 12:19 PM
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GeoffQ,
If you are building new construction, and can "cover" the additional cost of home run wiring to a central closet, that provides the flexibility to use centralized switching OR remote (smart switches).
On a general level, the central systems are more expensive, but also the next notch more reliable. We are talking less than a percent reliabilty difference here, but even that small "Six Sigma" level can show up to where an end user notices that they occasionally have to ask their switch twice to do what they want it to do.
Minimizing this happening goes up dramatically in price (including the home run wiring extra cost).
Of course there is also the brand recognition, ego, resell value that comes into this as well. If you are in a affluent market, then some of the top (most expensive) solutions bring those value statements into the equation (resell value?).

Eliminating wall switches and replacing them with touchscreens though nice looking, is not what I suggest. There is something to be said for stumbling into the bedroom bath and swiping the wall with your eyes closed and turning on the light. Even a good user interface on a touchscreen takes more concentration than that. The reliability factor comes in here too. Yes, touchscreens can be very reliable, but not as reliable as a simple contact switch.
This is similar to "should I use a hard button remote control, or a UMPC touchscreen in my theater room?". My answer is use both. Hard buttons for channel surfing, touchscreen for picking a movie to watch. Similar issues with ligthing controls. Touchscreens are best for controlling all lights in all places, common wall switches for a light in a room. Best is both in the right locations.

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post #25 of 30 Old 03-27-2007, 01:51 PM
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Touchscreens are an add on for lighting control in most cases. Every centralized lighting system that I am familiar with (Lutron Homeworks, Vantage) replace the light switches with a single keypad with x number of buttons. Code still requires a lighitng control device at the entrance to each room etc.

Look at http://vantagecontrols.com/products/Product.asp?id=1
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post #26 of 30 Old 03-27-2007, 04:55 PM
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There is truth in both views expressed above with respect to keypads over light switches and touch panels. However, and here it comes again, Crestron and AMX purposely manufacturer some of their touch panels with hard buttons. I often use touch panels with buttons to replace lighting keypads, security keypads and audio keypads. I would probably not put one in a bath room or any location where 2 or less smart switches could be located but a button is a button, whether on a keypad or a touch panel. If you are resorting to third party touch panels you may only be able to program soft buttons and you will have to install a keypad or smart device at room entry and exit points. I walked out of a consultation Saturday with a client who had a 9 button Lutron keypad beneath a Crestron touch panel with 10 hard buttons. After I finished the client asked me, were they to win the lottery and do their renovation over again could I remove those lighting panels and have the touch panel take on its functionality. He understood, after meeting with me, the poor job of utilizing technology his last contractor did. I never suggested removing the keypads. He reached his own conclusion after I explained the way a properly designed control system ought to work. If your touch panel has hard buttons it will pass code as a stand alone lighting control device. If it only has soft buttons it will not. It would be foolish not to take advantage of the touch panel with hard buttons and not remove the wall clutter.

With respect to centralized lighting system, I find myself in agreement with Smoothtlk. It is slightly more expensive but it is more reliable and more importantly more flexible. I cannot tell you how often a light specification calls itself magnetic but when you obtain the actual device it has electronic ballast. There a fewer issues with load types, load sizes and lamp chatter with centralized dimming systems. You also have the flexibility to reprogram has a user interface will be programmed. A keypad can be endlessly programmed to control different lights. A decentralized dimmer can only control the device to which it is hard wired. Flexibility, better build quality and the ability to change the wiring if the load turns into something unexpected make the centralized lighting system the better value, even if it is slightly more expensive. Adding a 3 way after your home is finished is much more expensive.

Alan
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post #27 of 30 Old 03-27-2007, 05:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audiblesolutions View Post

A decentralized dimmer can only control the device to which it is hard wired.

Alan,

There might be some other product lines that do this, too, but I have been able to program Control4 dimmers to be both a dimmer module and a 2 button keypad at the same time. You can separate the dimming functionality from the programming of the buttons. We've used this to swap light switches that were in strange locations.

You and I target different markets and I can't really speak to the mindset of the customers you work with. Our customers (usually homes under 1 million) tend to be wary of technology and have been bitten before. It's probably because they've always purchased a much lower class of electronics and definitely a lower class of service. One of the things that seems to put them at ease is stressing the "fail safe" aspects of this. Thus, if I replace their light switches with automated switches, they would still work even if the controller takes a power surge or the cable installer unplugs something by mistake.

So many people have responded well to this idea that I've just started offering it by default. For a lot of these people, they're afraid of technology and they can't afford to pay you (or even me) what it would cost to explain all the nuances and reassure them that I'm talented enough to make sure that it never fails. It's only because of the effort you invest in your client relationships that people are willing to let go of these fears. I wish I could invest that time in the relationship. It's one of my favorite parts of the business: taking the thorn out of the lion's paw.

So, I'm not saying that I disagree with you regarding centralized wiring for lights. I'm just saying that it's not as cut and dry an answer as yours or mine. I go with mine because it's a safer bet for the money the client has available. Different clients. I still have respect for your answer and the reasons behind it, though.

Kind regards,
Justis
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post #28 of 30 Old 03-27-2007, 05:55 PM
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I am not attempting to start an argument as I suspect we both agree and the only difference in the angle from which we are viewing the problem. The superiority of system A over system B is irrelevant if the client does not believe in the system. But the fact is that a centralized system is better, who ever makes it, because they don't have to manufacture it to fit in an electrical box. They can add a lot more heat sinks ( and what else would you call a metal back box in which the dimming module is installed ) to dissipate heat better, control more types of loads and loads of greater size than any decentralized dimmer. All of this melts into air, to paraphrase Marx if your client does not believe in the technology. But there is not system as reliable as lighting control systems in part because they have their underlying programming done by real programmers that the installer just cannot screw up all that badly ( though I have come across a few examples ). I have seen lighting processors stop working but it is rare. I have more often had to replace dimmers that failed but even that is not typical. The improvement in the interior design is significant when multiple 5 and 6 ganged electrical boxes disappear from the wall. Moreover, and this does not become self-evident until it's too late to change, the ability to reprogram what loads a keypad will control is not an unusual request. You may begin the job assuming that keypad will control only the lights in that room and then after the client has lived in the space a while he may request that a button turn function as a press and hold, a double tap or control some other load not physically present at that location. Certainly Control4, Homeserve, Vantage and Crestron have systems that permit you to control other loads from a light switch. Some of these track the load's state, others such as those from Vantage and Crestron provide the same flexibility as does C4. But no decentralized system provides the flexibility and luxury as a centralized lighting system, irrespective of manufacturer. I am certified to program Vantage, Lutron and Crestron lighting systems but I'd suggest that Centralite is a superior product design to any decentralized system, whether made by Vantage, Lutron or Crestron precisely because it is centralized. You can only engineer some much into a device that has to fit into a single gang electrical box. You get to detach 2 buttons from your C4 dimmer--for which you sacrifice dimming--and gain the ability to program those buttons to perform other actions. What happens if you wish to program a third action that is not related to the primary load's state? What happens if that load turns out to be electronic or to be larger than the dimmer is rated to handle? These are also very common occurrences, though less so if the job is a retro-fit.

Alan
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post #29 of 30 Old 03-28-2007, 06:08 PM
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I want to thank all of you who have answered my question. You have taken the time to explain yourselves very thoroughly and have given me a lot to think about. I appreciate you all very much and I have a lot to learn. This is the reason this forum is so great.
Thanks,
GeoffQ
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post #30 of 30 Old 03-28-2007, 06:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GeoffQ View Post

I want to thank all of you who have answered my question. You have taken the time to explain yourselves very thoroughly and have given me a lot to think about. I appreciate you all very much and I have a lot to learn. This is the reason this forum is so great.

Geoff,

You're welcome. And most importantly, best of luck and skill on your projects.

Kind regards,
Justis
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