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post #1 of 4 Old 10-03-2017, 09:15 PM - Thread Starter
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Alternatives to Simple Control for A/V Remote & Home Automation

I am a Simple Control user who for has to find an alternative for a host of reasons. While Simple System (aka Roomie Remote) is at it's core based on an excellent design principle of providing a balance of preconfigured remote programming along with the ability to custom program them as well as build "activity" remotes as well. All functionality could be managed from with in the iOS app, except where use of their IR blaster is required for older equipment. (They also offer "hub" software as well as an appliance which in theory is critical for home operation, the implementation troublesome.) While the programming interface can be pretty clunky, and require quite a bit of repetitive operations (someday, I hope there is a home automation programming language so we don't have to endure these tedious programming GUIs!) the fact that most things are at least possible is more than you can say for a most of the other players in this space, especially ones that integrate so deeply with home automation. In summary, it is the fact that SC actually comes so close to being "the one" is possibly the most frustrating thing about it!

Therefore, I want to list the design principles that SC delivers or at least attempts to deliver that I believe at important in any alternative to it. There are some things that I mention here which SC simply does not handle (like Bluetooth support) , handles poorly, or claims to handle and simply can't.

1. While the remote should rely on IP control wherever possible, it should also have a means to support IR though an additional piece of hardware. (And if possible, though not crucial, Bluetooth controls as well.)

2. While it is okay for the remote to store state information when necessary, it should be able to query devices for their state in order to ensure that things stay in sync.

3. Using data from 2, it should be able to have "feedback" functions so the remote will change how it looks according to device state. A simple example is how SC will change the volume to be red text and change the "mute" button to a red icon when muting is enabled. There are numerous other examples, such as volume, the indicator for receiver source, sound mode, and that's just with the receiver that is has an HTTP API.

4. Using a combination of local channel guides from online providers, content derived from media database like IMDB, and feedback from set-top boxes, create "media guides" which allow you to browse channels and content right within the iOS app. This is probably the one feature where Simple Control sets itself apart. For instance, the support of TiVo devices is outstanding as you can peruse the channel guide and select shows to record or change channels to without interrupting what is playing.

5. Support for streaming media player apps should not be provided, they should leverage their specific APIs so that you can browser your library of content within the app. For instance, Plex users who are familiar with the iOS app know that it is not only a player of content from a Plex Media Server, it also acts as a sophisticated remote that both allows the user to browse the PMS library as well as stream content to other Plex capable devices. The Plex support in SC is limited to just Plex Media Player (which is actually now called Plex Home Theatre) so this level of sophisticated support is no available for Plex client apps like for Roku or Apple TV, but there isn't a good reason for this that I can see if the app can interface with the Plex Media Server and then "push" content to the open Plex Client app. The fact that SC did not support Plex in this was was a bit of a cop-put IMHO. Similarly, Kodi is allegedly supported similarly, though I have not really dug into how SC and Kodi integrates as I don't particularly care for Kodi as a player because of it's apparent lack of subtitle support, something Plex does in a rather sophisticated manner.

6. Custom menu creation and support should be programmable. SC sort of does this but menus are jammed together in arbitrary bunches so you can't filter out their contents. Where SC provides an "all or nothing" approach by give you the supported menu options that it provides, there is no way to filter what is provided. The result is menus for things like sound options which may or may not be relevant to state of the device you are controlling.

7. Integration with home automation should be provided by way of server software, a hub, or making use of other toolkits like SmartThings, IFTTT, or others. SC has some very barebones support of lighting controls like Philips Hue but fails to provide support for things like groups for some reason, for example. This is where an open programming standard like IFTTT would be highly useful.

8. Finally, integration with central command devices like Amazon Echo, Google Assistant and even Apple Home (though it's arguably the weakest of those three.) The point is to be able to initiate activity sequences by voice or by other triggers, such as ones built in IFTTT.

While there are some big players out there who offer custom built solutions, no one seems to take this tack providing a DIY solution, which is what I, and I imagine many others, are seeking. I would pay forward for a platform that prebuilt remotes for devices with a lot of thought, and if you had issues with how things behaved, would be open to making changes to those behaviors. Also, having good support that provided the information you need to develop sophisticated controls should be a given.

Anyone other there come across any solutions that come close to offering this realm of features?

Thanks!


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post #2 of 4 Old 10-03-2017, 10:51 PM
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That's quite a (good) list.

Maybe take a look at:
SmartThings / ActionTiles / Harmony Hub (and add a Harmony Elite if you want a hard-button remote). Also, check out Stringify.

Yes, Simple-Control (with Simple-Hub) does most of this. And while you are moving away from Simple-Control I would like to mention that IIRC, I understand there are 2 ways to setup Plex. One where you run the iOS App locally, and another with an Auxiliary Server that populates the Simple Control Media Guides. Kodi appears to be fully supported for Media Guides, as are Tivo and some others. I only mention it because Simple-Control is the only one I've seen that has attempted local Media Guides in this fashion.

For other solutions, you have to look to the TV screen for the guides. Or, most similar systems should let you pop-out and run Plex for iOS.

What I'm seeing is that most companies providing a simple/turn-key solution are supporting either Home Theater gear (like Harmony) or just Home Automation (like Vera or Wink) . Not many companies are taking on the whole enchilada (and I'm not even including cameras or security). Isn't that more like HomeSeer ? That's a lot of setup/programming and someone has to do it because everyone has different gear and requirements.

I would be interested to hear what others (more knowledgeable than I) have to say.

Living Room Home-Theater (Multi-Use Room):
Epson 8350 Projector (1080p @ 96") ~ Panasonic 850u 46" 1080p Plasma TV
Onkyo TX-sr607 AVR ~ Cisco 8742hdc DVR (Spectrum) ~ Panasonic BD60 Blu-Ray Player
AppleTV-4 (iTunes,Plex,DMA,Vudu) ~ Simple Control HA ~ Alexa Echo Dot
Harmony 670 Remote ~ HTPC (Kodi/Win10-64) Media-Server ~ Synology DS412+ 16tb Raid-5 NAS
Polk Audio Monitor Series-II CS-2 Center & 60,40 Pairs / PSW-505 12-Inch Subwoofer
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post #3 of 4 Old 10-04-2017, 06:53 AM
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"Not many companies are taking on the whole enchilada (and I'm not even including cameras or security). Isn't that more like HomeSeer ? That's a lot of setup/programming and someone has to do it because everyone has different gear and requirements. "

Allonis's myServer, Homeseer and CQC meet most all of these requirements.

All support DIY installations.
myServer supports providing programming and training for end users to do the programming themselves.
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post #4 of 4 Old 10-05-2017, 08:22 AM
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Although my list of requirements is much smaller than yours I am also looking for a new flexible control system.

Here is what I finding so far:

Simple but not flexible home theater control solutions - Harmony, SimpleControl, Savant's consumer products, etc. They are easy to setup and use but offer less customization options.

Home Automation Controllers - OpenHAB, CQC, etc. They are highly customizable and flexible but are not targeted specifically at the home theater market. Because of this, expect to spend a lot of time building/designing/programming things yourself that would have been done for you in more targeted systems.

Solutions only available to integrators/installers - All the best stuff is not available to general consumers which has been frustrating to me for years. I don't mind paying for stuff but I want the ability to manage it myself.

Sorry I don't have a real answer for you but let us know if you find anything. You are not the only one looking.
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