My low-cost home automation Project is starting - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 8 Old 08-03-2001, 06:57 PM - Thread Starter
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Well, I plunked down for the first hardware for my home automation system yesterday. Unfortunately, it's backordered and won't be here for a couple of weeks.

I thought as I build this I'd post the occasional message here detailing the decisions/designs/screwups/problems that I encounter, with the hope that it will spawn some interesting discussion and/or help someone else in the same situation. As I install the hardware in my automation/hobby room I'll post some pictures, along with my theater construction photos.

My Current Environment

We have a new house, which was pre-wired for whole-house audio, but done very poorly. For example, there are no low-level wires to any of the audio zones for infra-red control. Also, there is coaxial cable at the front and rear doors for security cameras, but they never ran power wires (either 110V or low-level) to those locations. I have in-floor heat in the basement (2 zones) and ensuite, and two furnaces for a total of 5 heating zones, but each one is connected to an el-cheapo mechanical thermometer.

The basement is unfinished, and I'm just starting construction of a theater, office, and family room.

The house is currently 2600 square feet on two levels. When the walkout basement is finished, the house will be about 4000 square feet. If anyone is interested, pictures can be seen here: http://members.home.net/danhanson/House

What I want to achieve

Here's what I would like to have when I'm done -
  • Whole house lighting control, with pre-configured lighting scenes. It doesn't have to be everywhere in the house, but just in the main living areas.
  • Complete lighting control in the theater, equivalent to a Lutron Grafik Eye.
  • Whole-house audio, in four different zones, with the ability to control the source material and volume levels from anywhere in the house.
  • Whole-house video, so that any TV in the house can show DVD's, VCR tapes, DSS/Digital Cable, the security cameras, or the display of the automation system.
  • The system should be connected to the security sensors for detecting movement in the house, doors left ajar, etc.
  • Some sort of whole-house paging/intercom system
  • Connections to the phone and doorbell. When the doorbell or phone rings, any movies being played should pause, the lights should come up, and the audio system should be muted.
  • Lots of expansion capability for the future
  • I'd like to not go bankrupt building it.

My Solution So Far

This is the stuff I ordered yesterday:
  • 1 ADIOCELOT Applied Digital Ocelot Controller $149.35
  • 1 ADISECU16IR Applied Digital IR Output Module $80.45
  • 1 ADISECU16I Applied Digital Analog Input Module $80.45
  • 1 CVT2/8PIA Channel Vision 2x8 Amplified Splitter $78.15

The Brains of the System

The whole automation system will be driven by a PC, and controlled by an Ocelot Automation Controller from Applied Digital. This little box connects to the serial port of a PC, and can run autonomously even if the PC is shut down. But the way I'll be running the system, the PC will have to be in the loop.

The Ocelot used X10 commands to control the lighting and other electrical components in the system. It also has an infra-red sensor input and an emitter output. That means you can use it as a means to get commands into the computer from a Pronto or other remote.

If you're not familiar with X-10, it's a system for passing control information through the house wiring system. In it's regular configuration, you basically have remotes that plug into the wall or wireless remotes that communicate with receivers that plug into the wall. Then you buy X-10 light switches, appliance modules, etc. Each switch is addressible with 16 different unit codes, and 16 different 'house codes', for a maximum of 256 devices on ann X-10 network.

But once you add a controller like an Ocelot, you can do lots of neat things. For example, the Ocelot can receive X-10 commands, send a signal to the computer which can do special processing, then the result of that processing can be sent back to the Ocelot for conversion into either different X-10 commands to go back out onto the powerline network, or IR signals for the zoned output module.


Infra-Red I/O

The Secu16IR is a 16-port, zone switched infra-red output module that is controlled by commands from the Ocelot. They will be connected as follows:
  • 4 IR emitters taped to the IR sensor of four identical low-cost receivers which in turn power the speakers in of four zones in the house. These receivers will give me AM/FM Radio, CD, DVD, VCR, and MP3 (from the computer) sources, all of which will be fed through an analog mixer to the proper inputs on each device. So each zone in the house can listen to a different source, and a different radio station, but if two people are listening to CD or MP3 they'll have to listen to the same stuff. Fair tradeoff.
  • 1 IR Emitter blasting the electronics in the Theater
  • 1 IR Emitter in the Projector Hush Box in the Theater
  • 1 IR Emitter controlling the equipment in the family room.
  • Several rough-in CAT-5 cables in other areas to expand emitters to the screen wall (for possible IR controlled curtains, etc), a rough-in in the back yard for IR sprinklers, etc. Lots of expansion room left.

I/O

The ADISECU16I is a 16-port Analog or Digital input module. Digital inputs are things like contact closure switches, doorbells, and the output of sensors that read the LED displays on devices to tell whether they are on or off.

One of the limitations of a traditional IR setup is that it's unidirectional. For example, if a device has a button that toggles on/off, then the system gets confused if someone manually turns it off. Then the next time you send a command to turn it off, it turns on instead. Also, if you have feedback, then if you want to turn something on and it doesn't go on for whatever reason, the controller can keep repeating the command until the unit switches on. This solves some of the reliability issues with X-10.

With this module, we can get feedback from various devices to let the system know absolutely whether they are on or off. Plus, I can connect inputs from the security system so the automation controller gets the same information about the status of security zones. The Doorbell and a telephone ring sensor go on here as well. Now I can do neat stuff like if the doorbell rings the system automatically mutes the audio system, pauses the DVD player, brings up the lights in the theater, switches the video input to the modulated channel for the door camera, etc.

The input module will also take analog inputs from thermostats, outside weather stations, light sensors, etc. By putting a light sensor outside, I can have the outside lights gradually come up as it gets darker. With a temperature sensor outside and my thermostats controlled by the system, I can anticipate temperature fluctuations in the house and intelligently adjust each heating zone for energy efficiency and comfort.

Another novel application is to use the inputs of the controller to control a masking system in a home theater. For example, I can use a motorized blind system plugged into the 110V system. Then put contact switches at the 'stop' locations for 1.78:1, 1.85:1, and 2.25:1 positions on the screen wall. That's it. Plug the drapery motor into an X-10 appliance controller. Now, when you select "1.78:1" on your pronto, the ocelot starts the drape motor. When it hits the correct contact switch, the Ocelot senses it and sends an X-10 command to stop the motor. In theory, anyway. We'll see how well it works when I build it.

The real advantage of X-10 and computer control is cost. As you can see, I've got less than $500 into this so far. By the time I add the IR emitters, wiring, and some X-10 keypads to control everything, it'll be about $1000. Individual light switches run about $20 each, and I'll probably have to buy about 30 of them, for a total system cost of perhaps $1500, plus another $500 or so for powerline filters, bridges, etc. And the cost of the PC, but that's free for me because I have a bunch of 'em. That's just a fraction of the cost of other types of systems.

X-10 has some reliability issues, but the combination of computer control, some feeback through sensors, and installing the proper bridges and filters on the incoming power lines should fix that up.

I'll post more about this as I develop the system. Still to come is a web interface and an 802.11b hub, so I can use a tablet PC, Pocket PC, or a laptop to control the automation system from anywhere in the house, or even from my office. And I can feed security camera output into streaming video for remote surveillance of the house while on holidays, etc.

Speaking of video - for each video device, I will be purchasing an RF modulator and integrating it into the video distribution network with the channelvision amp/splitter. So the VCR might be channel 92 on all TV's, the DVD changer channel 93, front security camera 94, back camera 95, and the automation computer display on 96. Those modulators will set me back another $500 or so.

In the end, the entire automation system will cost me less than a single Crestron touch pad. I hope.

I hope this offers some food for thought. Questions and/or suggestions welcome!
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post #2 of 8 Old 08-03-2001, 07:13 PM
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Sounds like your on the right road!

Some might think Crestron or AMX is overpriced but when you have real facts and capabilities then one would understand why there are price differences. We are talking about usability. Even though I can't/ wouldn't spend the money on a Crestron / AMX system I wouldn't bash it since it's like a high priced car I elect not to by. Car is a car? Yugo verse ........ So while a Yugo will go you from A to B don't bash your neighbor because he can afford a 100K car.

Not to imply you are building a Yugo just an example!

Good Luck. Keep us posted!
Dave


One Crestron color RF Panel is around $1200.

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Watch HDTV!!! Nothing else comes close!


[This message has been edited by David Richardson (edited 08-03-2001).]
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post #3 of 8 Old 08-03-2001, 07:59 PM - Thread Starter
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I certainly wouldn't knock the Crestron system. Sure, you can do it cheaper the way I'm planning to, but you'll note I'm not including my labor into this. I'm a software developer (and ex-network installer/developer), so I can get away with doing a fair amount of work myself. But this system, in the end, will no doubt have hundreds of hours of my labor built into it. When I used to do contract network installations, I charged $75/hr. By that standard, I'll probably have 20K worth of labor into this. The beauty of Crestron systems is that they can be made to work well without that much labor, because they are specifically designed for that specific application, whereas I'm taking general purpose hardware and converting it with a computer controller.

I work for GE Industrial Systems. We manufacture PLC's, touch panels, and write control software. Our HMI software alone (the equivalent of the software in the Crestron, but with functionality for industrial automation) costs more than a complete Crestron system. Our 12" Viewstations (basically like a Crestron tablet, but with a full PC running windows CE inside) go for about $2500 a pop and up. We regularly get automation contracts worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. By those standards, the Crestron stuff is peanuts.

But you can go a lot cheaper if you can roll your own.
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post #4 of 8 Old 08-04-2001, 07:05 AM
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I like the approach you are taking on home automation. A couple of questions for you.

1. Where did you get the $149 price you mentioned for the Ocelot? I have struggled to find that low of a price most are list around 190.

2. You didn't mention climate control as one of your goals, was that an oversight? The reason I ask is you have 5 zones in your house, I have four. Most of the good, inexpensive, x-10 thermostats I have seen only cover 2-3. Higher than that and it gets pricey.

3. You mentioned taping the IR emitters to the IR sensors. How cheesy does that look? My wife is a designer and would frown on anything that looks too technical or degrades from the house design.

4. Do the IR and analog output devices need to be located near the Ocelot. I have run out of room near my computer desk (and outlets too). The usual suspects (printers, scanners, speakers, cable modem, 802.11, etc.).

Thanks. Look forward to the progress updates.
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post #5 of 8 Old 08-04-2001, 07:36 AM
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dHanson_ I'm not sure why you did not use some PLCs and Touch panels from work. There is obviously some that would not pass quality control for some of your contracts, but fine for home tinkering (like a TP with 6 dead pixels). I am sure the boss would give you a deal and would encourage you to work on your own time relating to the projects at work. I really don't know much about your business, but I just wanted to ask why you didn't use the other stuff?
I wished you would have researched the ADI Cmax software before you decided to purchase the Ocelot or the Leopard. I like both devices and Have used them both---ONCE. The Cmax software currently cannot compare two variables. They are working on the software revision now to allow this. But bugs have to be worked out. I am watching them closely to see how things progress. One project I have with a friend is using the leopard to control a Salt water reef tank. I have a backup, used Crestron system if the ADI test don't go so well. I would suggest you have a back up plan too. Some items to keep in mind: The HAI stuff at Worthington distribution and The SmartAmerica thinkbox. Also, if you decide to use x-10 based control, please check out the two-way stuff from Powerline Control Systems. Im my opinion and testing, they have one of the best set of switches and dimmer modules. Would I sell a job with x-10-Not a chance. Would I recommend it for home tinkerers-absolutely! I have some if you need more.
Your 5 zone HVAC should be on a separate controller. Enerzone makes some nice communication Thermostats, but 4 to five zones will be well over $1K
The front, back and computer modulator will be in the $350 range, but the STEREO modulators for the DVD and VCR, or Sat will be in the $1K range again. You might consider a used Autopatch or Extron video switcher on ebay or the classifieds. Much better quality, you have the control and the ability to expand. The downfall is may not have the wiring to the TVs.
ramosa- Take the DVD, VCR or receiver apart and locate the IR emitter INSIDE the case next to the OEM IR receiver. The equipment will look much better and the wire can exit the back of the case through a small hole you can drill or find. This is time consuming but worth it for the WAF. You can extend the inputs and outputs of the Ocelot with the bobcat modules. They work off of a proprietary RS485 network buss. 4 Wires: two data, Two power for the module.
Good topic- please keep us updated.

[This message has been edited by truaudiophile (edited 08-04-2001).]

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post #6 of 8 Old 08-04-2001, 01:23 PM - Thread Starter
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In order:

Ramosma said:
Quote:
1. Where did you get the $149 price you mentioned for the Ocelot? I have struggled to find that low of a price most are list around 190.
I ordered the stuff from Worthington Distribution - www.worthdist.com. They seem to have good prices for much of this stuff.
Quote:
2. You didn't mention climate control as one of your goals, was that an oversight? The reason I ask is you have 5 zones in your house, I have four. Most of the good, inexpensive, x-10 thermostats I have seen only cover 2-3. Higher than that and it gets pricey.
I haven't given a lot of thought to the multi-zone heating system as of now. Being Canada, we don't have air conditioning, just heating. And two of the thermostats are in places where it will be hard to get additional wiring. I've been planning to research that stuff next. But it's not all that important to me - I find I don't even mind the system we have now, even though it's all manual. I might just wind up replacing each thermostat with a cheap digital one with a timer in it for day/night control. I'm certainly open to suggestions here! Are there any relatively inexpensive thermostats than can use the existing two wires for serial communication back to a controller? Or am I stuck running new wiring to thermostats?
Quote:
3. You mentioned taping the IR emitters to the IR sensors. How cheesy does that look? My wife is a designer and would frown on anything that looks too technical or degrades from the house design.
You can get stick-on emitters for this very purpose, and they are quite unobtrusive and very small. But there will be a small wire showing. So if that bugs you, you can open up the equipment and install it internally.
Quote:
4. Do the IR and analog output devices need to be located near the Ocelot. I have run out of room near my computer desk (and outlets too). The usual suspects (printers, scanners, speakers, cable modem, 802.11, etc.).
There is a limit to how far you can run an emitter, but I don't have any hard numbers for you. In my last house, I used a cat-5 cable to run an emitter about 30' from the control unit (a Niles system), and it worked fine. I also had sensors in four rooms using Cat-5, and they all worked fine.

But if it is a problem, you can locate the IR module elsewhere, or buy extra ones. The Ocelot communicates with its modules over a serial bus, so you can locate them a long way from the Ocelot. You can also put multiple ocelots on the same network, or you can get a Lepoard, which is essentially an Ocelot with a touch screen, and put multiple units on the serial network. One of the things I need to experiment with the hardware when it gets here is things like maximum wire distances, if the documentation isn't clear. I'm still concerned about the reliability of the whole system, which is why I only bought the first three modules now. Only if they work well in the test system I'm setting up with several switches and a couple of sensors will I go nuts and start implementing the whole system.

Trueaudiophile: I would LOVE to have used the PLC's and our HMI software and touchpads. But I can't afford it. I can get GE to give me a copy of the software I'm sure, and maybe even a couple of older PLC's. But the touchscreen controllers are OEM'd for us from Digital, and even at GE's cost I can't afford them. They would also require running Ethernet cabling to every screen location, which is problematic in my house. And I don't really need PLC's anyway. You'll note that so far I haven't even spec'd a relay module into my system, because I don't have a current need to run anything that sinks a significant amount of current. The Analog and digital IO on the PLC's would be nice, but it still leaves the IR out of the mix, and would require some custom programming to support it.

We did just upgrade our small touchcreens to SH4 processors, and the word is that there might be a flood of the SH3 boxes available. These are little touchscreens with Windows CE built in, along with an Ethernet port. And we have a kernal for CE that has a mini web server built in. So I could do amazingly cool things with these, but it's still not clear if I can get any. If I can, they'll make their way into the system at least in a few areas.

I wasn't even sure if I wanted to use the CMAX software. I was originally thinking of rolling my own. What I wanted to do was build an ActiveX control to communicate with the Ocelot, and hook it into an IIS web server. Then I could control the whole system from any web page. That's where the SH3 boxes would come in, along with a tablet PC with an 802.11b wireless ethernet card.

Certainly the software is an issue, and it's something I plan to dig into more once I get the basic hardware. If I decide the whole system isn't suitable I'll probably offer it for sale on here at a cheap price and look elsewhere. But budget is a major factor for me. What with also finishing my theater and having to buy all the electronics for that, I simply can't afford to drop even 5K on an automation system. And once the basement is developed it'll be very hard to retrofit one. One option if I decide that the X-10 thing is just too unreliable and slow is to spend the money roughing in the wiring for a real system, and then installing it in a year or two when the finances are healthier.

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post #7 of 8 Old 08-04-2001, 01:31 PM
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Are there any SPST dimmers that have a hard-wire setup for the IR? I have a switch that is out of line of sight from the seating area that I want to control. It's not far, but the angle is wrong.

Dan

My HT is an oldie but goodie!
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post #8 of 8 Old 08-04-2001, 09:21 PM
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DHansen, you mentioned that you only had a single coax with no power wires to your camera locations. To solve this, check out a company called Netmedia. They have cameras that run the 12vdc over the coax with the video signal. They also have a built in modulator and are a piece of cake to install. There is probably other brands that do this but this is the only one I could think of off the top of my head. Hope this helps.
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