Which home automation system should I start with? - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 24 Old 08-06-2019, 08:20 PM - Thread Starter
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Which home automation system should I start with?

Hello all,

So I was replacing some of the LED bulbs in my house, and of course I had some trouble with (non-smart) dimmer compatibility. I could keep trying to find bulbs that work, but I have actually been considering finally taking the dive into home automation, but not sure where or when I should start, so I thought I would come to this forum and test the water.

I started looking at Lutron, from Caseta up to HomeWorks QS. The former looks way too low end and limited but cheap, and HomeWorks QS appears to be for 50-bedroom mansions with pro installation only and you are looking at $20K or something even to get moderately into it. My conclusion was that before I start spending or wasting time and money on this, I should field some opinions on which system to start with.

I have been avoiding this for awhile, because I know it will be a horrendous time and money sync, and I am the type of person who obsesses over things like that, I am sure I am in good company.

A little bit about me:
- I've been an engineer in IT for almost 30 years, currently do servers and virtualization
- I'm into high-end dedicated home theater, in the $50-$100K price range
- My house is 2100 sq feet, 3 stories + basement (theater / garage)
- House built in 2014, Cat6 throughout + interduct to pull future stuff
- I build my own servers, routers, commercial-grade WiFi, and so on
- I have solar, Tesla Home batteries, and I drive a Tesla car
- More recently I have been working on automation for my reef aquarium
- I have friends who like iRule, and others who are into things like Logitech Harmony, Crestron, and other stuff, I have been tempted to get into these

However, so far, the only real home automation products I have are Ecobee thermostats, Rachio Irrigation system, and maybe some smart TVs. I don't even tend to get into universal remotes and instead just have 10-14 individual remotes for things. I have about 14 various servers, desktops, laptops, tablets, and most recently a Google Pixel 3XL w/Google Fi (which is awesome by the way), but I haven't seen an automation system I really wanted to jump on board with yet.

I have a fair bit of background in IT security, and that is one of the reasons I have not got into this yet, and I am not heavily into social media. I think the whole Alexa/Google Assistant/people with open MICs in their houses is a bit of a loaded weapon waiting to go off (if it hasn't already started).

So, my hope is to find a system with some advanced capabilities that might have the flexibility to tie together home automation, home security, home theater, and maybe a few other things that I can start learning about and get started with and won't quickly give me reasons to hate it. Maybe it still doesn't exist yet, maybe there are too many to choose from.

But, I thought I would at least ask the question to possibly increase my chances of finding a better direction than I might find on my own.

Thanks

-JCL

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post #2 of 24 Old 08-06-2019, 08:23 PM
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If you’re into doing a little bit of your own interface design, check out Charmedquark.com.

It sounds like you’d have the requisite skills to take advantage of this system.


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post #3 of 24 Old 08-07-2019, 01:48 AM
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You sound like a perfect match for Indigo software. It runs only on Mac but a Mac Mini is more than adequate. It interfaces with a ton of devices and protocols, is intuitive, and has the flexibility and granularity to do anything you can dream up. Custom control screens (HTML) are a breeze to create and run fine on tablets, computers, and phones.

I've used it for years and highly recommend it.


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post #4 of 24 Old 08-07-2019, 10:28 AM
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I think people often approach this looking for a solution, rather than first determining what the question that solution is meant to answer.

So, what are you trying to accomplish?
What, if anything, frustrates you about your current setup?
What, if anything, have you seen or read about that you would like to incorporate into your home/lifestyle?
In your specific case, given that you have a high end HT setup but you've lived with a bunch of remotes and never even felt the need to integrate those into a universal remote, what has kept you back from that? Because HA is basically a somewhat more complicated version of a Universal Remote. If sequencing through a bunch of remotes doesn't bother you, how much would having other systems automated or simplified really improve your life?

Once you answer that, you move on to canvassing and evaluating the appropriate solutions. With your technical background, if you have the desire to spend time on this there is no system that is likely too complicated, but do you really want or need that or would you prefer a more basic system or a professionally installed one?

As to your initial topic, I heavily endorse (just a customer) Radio Ra2. Incredibly reliable, attractive, DIY and professional installation options, and integrates with virtually any solution you are likely to choose?
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post #5 of 24 Old 08-08-2019, 12:11 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Haddad View Post
For lighting, Lutron, and there are other (Lutron) Radio Ra options between Lutron Caseta and Homeworks.
Yes, I found this comparison here:
http://www.lutron.com/TechnicalDocum...comparison.pdf

I have also seen mention of a Caseta Pro. But reading this over, it looks like the Radio RA might be the place to start for me, it looks like it might have some hardware in common with Homeworks QS.

I am getting multiple recommendations for Lutron, and it looks well supported by many of the automation systems being suggested, so this might be a good starting point for me.

-JCL

Do unto others, before they do you! - Benny Hill
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post #6 of 24 Old 08-08-2019, 12:18 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChopOMatic View Post
You sound like a perfect match for Indigo software. It runs only on Mac but a Mac Mini is more than adequate. It interfaces with a ton of devices and protocols, is intuitive, and has the flexibility and granularity to do anything you can dream up. Custom control screens (HTML) are a breeze to create and run fine on tablets, computers, and phones.

I've used it for years and highly recommend it.


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The only Apple product I own is an iPad Pro, I got it so that I could see the comparison between Android and iPhone apps, or even some that only have one or the other.

I am primarily a Linux / Windows / Android guy, but being "Mac only" isn't necessarily a deal breaker, I could always fire up a hackintosh ;-) We have around 100 or so Power Mac's at my office.

Certainly the list of supported devices and controls looks impressive.

Thank you.

-JCL

Do unto others, before they do you! - Benny Hill
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post #7 of 24 Old 08-08-2019, 12:47 AM
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Yeah, I'm very technical and have far more PCs than Macs. I looked, quite a bit, for something in the Windows world to rival Indigo and finally decided it wouldn't be a big deal to keep a Mini as a dedicated HA centerpoint.

I started off with SmartThings and figured out quickly that all of my HA being dependent on Internet connectivity and external systems wasn't for me. I'm all for enhancing with Internet-based features like Alexa and Home but want my backbone to be locally controlled.


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post #8 of 24 Old 08-08-2019, 12:54 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by freeoscar View Post
I think people often approach this looking for a solution, rather than first determining what the question that solution is meant to answer.

So, what are you trying to accomplish?
What, if anything, frustrates you about your current setup?
What, if anything, have you seen or read about that you would like to incorporate into your home/lifestyle?
In your specific case, given that you have a high end HT setup but you've lived with a bunch of remotes and never even felt the need to integrate those into a universal remote, what has kept you back from that? Because HA is basically a somewhat more complicated version of a Universal Remote. If sequencing through a bunch of remotes doesn't bother you, how much would having other systems automated or simplified really improve your life?

Once you answer that, you move on to canvassing and evaluating the appropriate solutions. With your technical background, if you have the desire to spend time on this there is no system that is likely too complicated, but do you really want or need that or would you prefer a more basic system or a professionally installed one?

As to your initial topic, I heavily endorse (just a customer) Radio Ra2. Incredibly reliable, attractive, DIY and professional installation options, and integrates with virtually any solution you are likely to choose?
This is good advice. Let the need drive the solution, when I make design recommendations at work, I am often the one saying this.

And if I am being honest, no I don't really have any really specific need or desire for specific things I want to automate from a HA standpoint other than the lighting I started the thread with. I really do enjoy using the apps for my Ecobee, Rachio, Tesla, Solar, and a few others including now on my aquarium. So I think it would be interesting to start playing with things that could tie them all together.

I think my main frustration is that I really don't have any automation at all, and I have only limited insight into what might be a good one out there, I feel a little left out. I have seen some pretty bad one's, especially at the residences of very wealthy but techno-phobic people. Sometimes people are surprised when someone like me who is technical doesn't know about these things, and they don't really understand that that is why I am not into it, or not yet. You can only be expert in so many things, time is important. It might also be just that I want to know enough about it so that I could speak intelligently with anyone I might hire to do it for me.

Some of my other motivations are:
- I am getting more and more into IT security, and want to look at the relative (in)security of IoT devices (I hate that name) and how one might secure them. So it would be nice to have one to play with.

- I am getting my aquarium setup, almost done with the cabinetry (I have been doing aquariums even longer than computers), and this time I am going whole-hog into automation. One thing I have noticed is that the people who typically setup aquariums know very little about automation, even the one's selling products like lighting. So there are some frustrating incompatibilities that I think could be resolved if I knew more about automation systems and controls in general.

- Eventually I will retire from my current job, and will probably look into doing something else. On my list of things I could possibly do is design custom home theaters, and home automation I think would be a necessary skill to have, or might be the job itself. This is partially why I was exploring things like HomeWorks QS, if I decide I want to start learning about the programming behind these types of things (or not).

- I actually don't currently have a theater setup since I moved to my new house, and it is starting to bother me. I have been focusing on kids, job, some rental property I own and manage, and finishing my aquarium. So when I start (re)building the theater, I think this time I will incorporate some automation.


It does sound like I could start building out a Lutron RadioRA 2 based system to solve my immediate needs while I read up on which automation system I might want to start with, so that is good to know.

-JCL
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post #9 of 24 Old 08-08-2019, 01:03 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChopOMatic View Post
Yeah, I'm very technical and have far more PCs than Macs. I looked, quite a bit, for something in the Windows world to rival Indigo and finally decided it wouldn't be a big deal to keep a Mini as a dedicated HA centerpoint.
Yeah, those aren't bad little machines, I think you might even be able to do it with something like Apple TV.
I think it does say something that you were willing to get one just to buy into that system. Although Apple's claim to fame really is their great interface design.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChopOMatic View Post
I started off with SmartThings and figured out quickly that all of my HA being dependent on Internet connectivity and external systems wasn't for me. I'm all for enhancing with Internet-based features like Alexa and Home but want my backbone to be locally controlled.
Funny you should mention SmartThings. I was just reading over their website, and I was thinking, no no, this is not what I am looking for. I am not sure how to describe it, if you are familiar with the term "walled garden" that is what it felt like.

-JCL
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post #10 of 24 Old 08-08-2019, 01:07 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rtarver View Post
If you’re into doing a little bit of your own interface design, check out Charmedquark.com.

It sounds like you’d have the requisite skills to take advantage of this system.


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OK, thanks. I will add it to the list and check it out.

-JCL

Do unto others, before they do you! - Benny Hill
Earth + plastic - George Carlin
People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do - Isaac Asimov
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post #11 of 24 Old 08-08-2019, 11:53 AM - Thread Starter
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RadioRA 2

Wow, even the RadioRA 2 is still on the pricey side.

Looks like the dimmers run about $100-$150 each, and I need to figure out what the basic things I will need are. I think I will hit the Lutron forums to narrow that down.

-JCL

Do unto others, before they do you! - Benny Hill
Earth + plastic - George Carlin
People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do - Isaac Asimov
You have two ears and one mouth, and that is about the right ratio - Epictetus
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post #12 of 24 Old 08-09-2019, 09:56 AM
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I agree that you don't want Smarthings. I had a Vera for years, and it was similar to Smarthings in the walled garden feel.

I'm not a IT guy, but I did spend the last 3 nights in a Hoiday Inn. But I abandoned Vera and went to Homeseer. I was already set on the Z-wave protocol, so I ruled out some of the other ones.

It's a little more expensive than the ST, Vera types, but still can use the cheaper z-wave hardware. Homeseer has tons of add-ins for your other ecosystems: ecobee, irrigation; Harmony, etc. They do come at an extra cost, which does get old after a while.
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post #13 of 24 Old 08-09-2019, 01:59 PM
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Have a look at Hubitat https://hubitat.com/pages/home-automation-features

It offers a local based hub with built in support for most major platforms and number of major brands like Lutron and Phillips as well as a community developing new drivers and compatibility. I am not quite technical enough to go completely open source like Home Assistant but plan on going with Hubitat shortly to finally unite my few different HA devices (Amazon Alexa, Logitech Harmony and Hue lights).


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post #14 of 24 Old 08-09-2019, 05:36 PM
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post #15 of 24 Old 08-15-2019, 04:40 PM
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This is when I wish Crestron offered DiY classes with limited/paid support. There are so many qualified programmers that are out there which could really benefit from being able to download software and do a fair bit of things themselves. I control my lights, shades, locks, fireplace, and all my A/V gear through Crestron. It is NOT Internet dependent and while it can operate on my network, a great deal of my equipment requires relays, or infrared for control, as well as RS232 control and it does it all very well.

It supports 4K switching as well as HD audio and the rest if you go with a video switching solution, but can just let you use your own A/V gear and it can take control of whatever that gear allows for. Typically all you really need is on/off, volume control, and source selection in a receiver. Full cable box control (infrared), TV on/off control (it's already on the right input). Shades control (relays or maybe a remote).

It just sucks that the software is hard to come by for some, because the capability, stability, and reliability is through the roof.

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post #16 of 24 Old 08-20-2019, 01:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Haddad View Post
For lighting, Lutron is really THE product if you want "pro" capabilities" but would like to be able to do it yourself.
Is Lutron a DIY solution?

I am looking for something like the Hybrid Keypads you suggested. Is Lutron the only company doing that? I would prefer that kind of functionality but using open standards.
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post #17 of 24 Old 08-23-2019, 07:09 AM
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You might want to take a look at HOME ASSISTANT which is an open source solution to home automation. I started to look at lower cost packaged solutions and found that with a little raspberry pi, I could program what I wanted. If nothing else, it provides a great way to get your hands dirty with Home Automation.....a few plugs, a few switches and a raspberry pi and you are on your way....later you can move the platform to more powerful processors, if you need to.
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post #18 of 24 Old 08-28-2019, 01:17 PM
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I will second the Home Assistant solution. I was using Wink for a number of years but finally got frustrated with not being able to make things do what I wanted. Home Assistant has let me tie everything I own into a single interface, with more options for automation than I could ever imagine. And it runs locally so no worries about the internet services stopping, etc.
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post #19 of 24 Old 09-03-2019, 07:45 AM
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Man.. you guys are just asking for high maintenance, and constant tweaking to make some of these single ended solutions talk to each other.

Op, personally I’d do radio raw 2. You can control lighting and Sonos audio with that. A few key locations you can use a hybrid keypad that can control scenes and a high volt load. Personally I’d embrace Control 4, Elan, Crestron or any of the real automation systems. Open architecture is great... if you really want to make your home just like work. Although Crestron is open architecture, it ain’t open unless you know what you’re doing. The other gizmo’s gadgets & IoT may have open architecture, and being IT you “might” think that’s good. I’ts not. You’ll constantly be working on keeping it working with third party devices. Firmware updates, and no longer supported devices. Lots of people had nest as part of their makeshift DIY home integration solutions... guess how many have to remove and now re-write code to get their systems back up and running. More and more of these cheap IoT gadget are going to close their code in hopes you buy all their brand. They are going to turn into the Crestron’s on the world and they will do it very poorly. Lots of latency and hiccups.

Another Idea is just do 3-4 “brilliant” hybrid keypad and buy from their supported device listings. Hue lights work with brilliant, several security and door locks.

Sub-systems to consider are: Network, Lighting, Security, Surveillance, Climate, Whole House Audio, Window treatments, Pool, Irrigation. Of course Video Distribution. If money is tight the first one to drop is video distribution. Use local systems, stream. There are some inexpensive IP controlled Video Distribution Solutions Out there... but they get real clunky real fast trying to tie them to Home automation.

I would concentrate on tieing Lighting, Window Treatments, Whole House Audio, Security and Door locks on one system for scenes.

Climate once it’s programmed as a stand alone can pretty much operate on its own.
Video on its own
Surveillance on its own

Last, being IT. I’d look for something that either runs on encrypted Zigbee, Zwave or its own network.
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post #20 of 24 Old 09-12-2019, 05:55 PM
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Radio Ra2, Lutron Thermostats, Lutron blinds, Sonos preamp.

I have Crestron controlling my multi zone speakers but haven’t yet had it tied to my security system yet.

The Lutron App is pretty solid. And compared to zwave, zigbee the Lutron lighting is far, far more reliable, faster and gives better feedback. Not even close.

I had zwave in my previous house. Lutron is the way to go for lighting!

Goodbye to a great audio and video genius and writer... JOHN GANNON. I enjoyed your friendship, wit and a nice long run we took around Indianapolis at CEDIA years back... and for buying my Runco 980 Ultra years back... you saved my ass! Rest in peace.
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post #21 of 24 Old 09-15-2019, 06:14 PM
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One thing that always has to be said in these conversations is that Radio RA2, Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc... aren't automation systems. They are more 'communications backbones'. In the past they'd be called lighting systems, and often still are in some cases because that's still the core function. But they obviously do a lot more these days. Still, they aren't automation systems, they are the body without a brain, or at least a pretty small brain.

Control 4, CQC, Crestron, etc... are automation systems and provide the high level functionality that most folks would think of when they think of home automation, or these days they probably think in terms of 'smart homes'. These products bring disparate sub-systems together into a single system that works as a whole. Except for fairly limited solutions, it would be rare that you will have a 'single vendor' solution, so having a vendor agnostic brain that can link these bits together is a big part of it.

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post #22 of 24 Old 09-16-2019, 12:50 PM
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True, though personally I find the cost (not just $, but complexity) of the automation hub to be at a very low marginal value. I think the underlying "bodies" add the overwhelming amount of the value, and the linkages between those bodies to be of minimal value, and often of the 'gee whiz' kind (admittedly most of this is 'gee whiz' to varying degrees).
Let's look at thermostats. 85% of the automation value can come from a $20 programmable thermostat. Maybe another 10% comes from increased control and ease of use through pretty apps and/or voice controls. Having it integrated with a security system, a lighting system (as I do), an A/V system, etc? Sure, you can do some neat tricks, but it's mostly of the saving you a button press or two on rare occasions.
Same with lighting - good programming and well placed touchpads are 90% of the value (higher if you can integrate shade control with it). Integration with my A/V system - sure, it's nice that lights adjust automatically when I press 'Watch a movie', but assuming my touchpads are well located, it just saves me a button press (or just shouting out to Alexa, etc.). Ditto for integration w/security - is it nice put in my keycode on the doorlock and have the lights turn on as I enter the door - yes, but it just saves me the 'Home' button press on the keypad inside my door, or if hands full, shouting out to google.
Obviously this is just my experience of where the automation value comes from, but it leads me to recommended that people focus on getting the best 'body - as you describe it', for their needs, and worry about the 'brain' later on, if at all.
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post #23 of 24 Old 09-16-2019, 05:04 PM
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Originally Posted by freeoscar View Post
True, though personally I find the cost (not just $, but complexity) of the automation hub to be at a very low marginal value. I think the underlying "bodies" add the overwhelming amount of the value, and the linkages between those bodies to be of minimal value, and often of the 'gee whiz' kind (admittedly most of this is 'gee whiz' to varying degrees).
Let's look at thermostats. 85% of the automation value can come from a $20 programmable thermostat. Maybe another 10% comes from increased control and ease of use through pretty apps and/or voice controls. Having it integrated with a security system, a lighting system (as I do), an A/V system, etc? Sure, you can do some neat tricks, but it's mostly of the saving you a button press or two on rare occasions.
Same with lighting - good programming and well placed touchpads are 90% of the value (higher if you can integrate shade control with it). Integration with my A/V system - sure, it's nice that lights adjust automatically when I press 'Watch a movie', but assuming my touchpads are well located, it just saves me a button press (or just shouting out to Alexa, etc.). Ditto for integration w/security - is it nice put in my keycode on the doorlock and have the lights turn on as I enter the door - yes, but it just saves me the 'Home' button press on the keypad inside my door, or if hands full, shouting out to google.
Obviously this is just my experience of where the automation value comes from, but it leads me to recommended that people focus on getting the best 'body - as you describe it', for their needs, and worry about the 'brain' later on, if at all.
I think this is really on point, but it kind of ignores the original question.

Lighting isn't a automation system. You can't turn on the TV from a lighting system, you need a control system for that.

If someone wants to really get into automation of a lot of different things then control systems require good systems to pair them with. This means the TV has to be controllable with an published API, then lighting and shades, and anything else that needs to be controlled needs this as well. Lighting systems, far too often, just suck. They have some dedicated app for phones which is, at best, nifty, but isn't open, so it's useless. Pretty much as you said, Lutron tends to kick butt in this arena. I have Insteon, and it just blows. Their lack of support makes their systems useless.

I still stand by saying that something like Crestron is amazing because once you get the software (easy if you ask the right person) it has a ton of tutorials online and really does offer a high level of integration capability. There is a Lutron module in the wild as well which bypasses Crestron's so-called requirement to buy into 3rd party lighting control. It's all out there for those who look and ask politely.

AV Integrated - Theater, whole house audio, and technology installation in the Washington DC metro area.
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post #24 of 24 Old 09-17-2019, 02:54 PM
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I think that even for the big automation systems like Control4 and Crestron, for both the customers and the professionals, the overwhelming attraction is to have professionally installed and set up high end equipment and systems. After that, having a unified, easy to use interface for control of those systems. Inter-system 'automation', which I'll define as "An action in System A is predicated or influenced by an action or condition of System B" is a distant 3rd.
Those customers want an awesome HT system that just works. They want a lighting system that provides easy control and shows off their house well. They want an HVAC system that consistently leaves the home comfortable so they don't have to think about. They want a network/wifi that is strong throughout the house and streams videos smoothly. And they want it all controllable with an intuitive, attractive interface. Having the door lock talk to the TV? Sure it's nice but not nearly as important as the rest (and that's reflected in how the $ are spent).
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