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/HouseWhat I want to achieve
Here's what I would like to have when I'm done -
My Solution So Far
- 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.
This is the stuff I ordered yesterday:
The Brains of the System
- 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 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.
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!