I went to Electronic Home Expo in Long Beach a week and a half ago, primarily to see what Control 4 was showing and try to make a decision whether to plan on using it for my home theater and rest of the house. Hereâ€™s what I saw.
Control4 booth had three distinct areas:
The first area was a static display showing all announced products. Basically, everything that is on their website (http://www.control4.com/products/com...s/lighting.htm
) was shown in display cases: speaker & audio points, dimmers, central controllers, keypads, etc.
Next to static displays was a pc system set up running Control4â€™s Composer software. Composer software is used to set up a house: define available hardware and configure system agents (macros). Composer looks like a well-written app. I got a chance to play with it at a demo station. With a C4 engineer talking me through it, I added two dimmers to the sample house by dragging & dropping from palette of available devices to â€˜roomsâ€™ where theyâ€™re located. I then created a scene with one dimmer at 50% and other at 100% and assigned the scene to a button on a 6-button keypad. The whole operation took < 5 minutes, including me fumbling around.
While doing that, I looked at what 3rd party components C4 has drivers for. C4 drivers are either serial or IR or both, depending on what the other component supports. I was primarily looking for drivers for B&K receivers to integrate with mine. Unfortunately there are no drivers for B&K. Receivers I did see were more mainstream, several Sony, Pioneers and others. You can, however, write your own driver. This is also done via Composer, but Iâ€™m not sure how. The rep said you start with a similar serial or IR driver and modify it to suit your needs. One of the reps said Composer can also import Pronto files from remotecentral.com and use them as starting points for drivers.
The second area was a stage/demo area with overview presentations running practically non-stop. Each one drew a standing crowd. The demo utilized a rotating stage â€“ one side of the stage was a bedroom and other was a living room / home theater. They configured the â€˜homeâ€™ during the demo to show how a C4 dealer would configure a clientâ€™s house.
The bedroom had two light dimmers and a 6-button keypad already â€˜installedâ€™ in the walls. They added these devices to the Composer software and s et up a scene triggered by a button on the keypad. They also configured a â€˜Wake Upâ€™ scene that turned on lights and started a Norah Jones track playing from the Media Server Controller. The wake up scene was assigned to another button on the keypad. There was also a â€˜bathroomâ€™ door in the bedroom, apparently with a contact relay on the door. The configured the bathroom light to turn on automatically when door is opened.
In the living room, they configured a one-button movie watching experience. They added the receiver and DVD changer to the C4 Media Controller. They added DVDs from the DVD changer that allows selecting movies to watch by cover art (actually they pre-added these ahead of time â€˜cause it takes a bit of time, 30 sec, to scan each DVD). They added a living room dimmer controlling a light load and a contact relay controlling the fireplace. Then they set up an agent that dims the lights, turns off the fireplace, turns on necessary components, and starts the movie playing when a DVD is selected by cover art. The whole sequence was initiated by a button press on the C4 Remote Control. (They had an audience member to press the remote button to start the movie sequence.)
Again, all this was done during the demo, with one rep talking us through it, and the other assembling and configuring different pieces via Composer software that we could see on a side screen. The was a small hiccup â€“ when the Remote Control button was pressed, there was a delay starting up the movie-watching sequence. The tech explained that the very first time a program was run after initial setup it took time to â€˜initializeâ€™ the program.
The third part of the booth was a demo wall with some (not all) C4 products up and running. I spent a fair amount of time trying these out. The demo wall had two dimmers and one switch controlling 3 light loads, two Mini Touch Screens, a 3-button and 6-button keypad, a Media Controller with TV display controlled by either the Mini Touch Screens or Remote Control. All these were up and working and communicating with one another. (I inferred from one of the repâ€™s comments that devices that are up and running will be the first ones shipping.)
My (poor) photo of working mini touchscreens, dimmer, and button keypads: http://www.eeeyore.com/C4EHX/PDRM1478.JPG
Media Controller (http://www.control4.com/cp/37-12D8A7DA/index.htm
guy was sitting with his back towards us (see photo). It was controlling all the various devices on this wall. Its hard disk had a number of CDs that were available to listen to. Without being firm on the prices, actually being kinda vague, I found out the Media Controller will retail for around $1500.
The Media Controller (one with wires): http://www.eeeyore.com/C4EHX/PDRM1479.JPG
Photo of a Media Controller's insides (non-working static display): http://www.eeeyore.com/C4EHX/PDRM1482.JPG
Wall Dimmers & Switches (http://www.control4.com/products/com...s/lighting.htm
): The wall light dimmers and switches are great. Very good feel, an â€˜organicâ€™ curved design of the on/off paddle, by which I mean that the top of the paddle is convex and bottom is concave. The two lights on the switches are tri-color LEDs and can be programmed to be any color. The ones on display were a brilliant blue. I love these dimmers! They have a better feel than Lutron RadioRA and a way better feel of anything PLC. The rep told me each wall dimmer should retail for around $100. Iâ€™ll be installing many of these.
Button Keypads (http://www.control4.com/products/components/keypads.htm
): I liked the 3- and 6-button keypads as well. They have a similar solid feel of the dimmers and utilize same tri-color LED. The rep said he wasnâ€™t sure of the price, but thought the button keypads would be somewhere in the $150 range. I can see using these around a typical house a lot â€“ basically to invoke predefined macros. It will be possible to engrave the buttons on keypads somehow.
Mini Touch Screens (http://www.control4.com/products/com...uchscreens.htm
): There were two of these connected to and controlling other devices. Basically, you can find and control any and all devices that make up your house. From the main menu you can go into lighting, comfort, music, etc.
In the music area I was able to scroll through available music stored on the media server and call up desired tracks by touching the screen on cover art. This is kind of slick, though I wasnâ€™t immediately obvious whether I should use the touchscreen to select something or the wheel selector. You do figure it out rather quickly. When scrolling though available tracks, the display sometimes flickered and jumped. I pointed it out to one of the reps and he said theyâ€™re aware of it and will improve prior to shipping.
I switched to the lighting area in the touch screens. Recall from a previous post that a touch screen is a full-fledged controller. I was successfully able to create a lighting scene (see photo) and execute it. The upside is that you can do it, but Iâ€™d rather use Composer software to define scenes and configurations. The main point is that from the touch screen you can navigate to and control any C4 controllable device. (If you imagine one of these on your home-office desk or in the kitchen or by the sofa, you can drive the whole house â€“ way cool.) The price on mini touch screen is over $500 and under $1000. In my house I can envision one or two of these.
Photo of mini controller with scene I set up: http://www.eeeyore.com/C4EHX/PDRM1483.JPG
Another way to control everything is via the Remote Control and TV interface connected to a Media Controller. This works rather well. The remote is very well designed, important buttons fall naturally under your fingers. The TV interface was configured on the same wall controlling the same devices. The user interface is very similar (maybe even identical) to the one on touch screens, so I was able to perform same functions as on the mini touch screens â€“ you look at the TV screen and drive with the remote.
TV Interface photo: http://www.eeeyore.com/C4EHX/PDRM1480.JPG
The remote (http://www.control4.com/cp/34-AF53B11E/index.htm
) also has another mode of operation, without requiring a TV. The remote has a 4-line LCD display that runs what C4 calls a â€˜list navigatorâ€™ of their software. Basically, you can still get to and control all devices on the C4 network â€“ call up songs off the media server, control lights, invoke any predefined macros, etc. Instead of pictures as on the mini-touchscreen or the TV, you get a textual, list-based interface. This could work rather well, considering that each remote is approximately $120 or so. Itâ€™s inexpensive and can do a lot.
(Note that the LCD button keypad (http://www.control4.com/cp/28-BCA88827/index.htm
) will have the same list interface as the remote. According to C4, it will ship in Jan / Feb, in the second phase.)
There were also two 3rd-party thermostats that were interfacing with C4. The was a model of a door, which, if opened, turned on a light.
Conclusion: In a nutshell, Iâ€™m excited. What I saw working was very well designed, and worked quite well. The price point is right, at least for me. The whole system is intelligently architected. Of course some parts will be baked more than others initially, but thatâ€™s the nature of product development. For me the trip to EHX was worth it â€“ I saw Control 4 product in action, talked to C4 people, and left with a positive feel about the company. I will be installing C4 in my house, starting slowly and proceeding cautiously.
Feel free to ask if something doesn't make sense.
Keep in mind that standard disclaimers apply. Iâ€™m simply reporting what I saw and what I think I understood from demos, conversations with C4 reps, etc. Use this info at your own risk. :)