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Hi everyone,


For those who are interested in curtain controllers, I thought I'd share my experiences with the BTX MotorDrape.

Background Information

I have been wanting to automate curtains on my screen for years now and finally decided to just do it. My goal was to have a way to sequence the curtains with my Pronto remote when beginning a movie. For me, this means I wanted an IR controlled motor with a curtain run that is 10 feet wide.


My initial focus was on the cheaper solutions like the Add-a-Motor that goes for under $100. I also looked at the Somfy solution. Both of these are well suited for addition to existing curtains (which I had), but they seem to be geared toward X-10 control, which I use for my fish tank, not my Theater. There are ways to rig X-10 for IR control, but I just wasn't interested in adding another layer of complexity to the solution. Also, I was reading that a lot of the Add-a-Motor users were having problems with gears slipping and tension adjustments over time. The Somfy seemed to be the way to go for reliable X-10 control with existing curtains, and it's offered at a relatively attractive price in the middle of the spectrum.


So where did that leave me? Basically, with the Makita curtain controllers, which everyone seems to highly recommend but they're really darn expensive. The best price I found was in the upper $500 range plus shipping. (Note -- I've recently realized that Dennis ( http://www.designcinema.com ) has them for a super price although products through his site appear to only be available to existing clients?).


Anyway, then I stumbled across someone mentioning the BTX units, which appear to be almost identical in form and function to the Makita. I was able to find a source for them at http://www.homeautomationnet.com. They have the 9 foot single motor unit for $429 and shipping was under $6. So it was $435 vs. around $600 and I was already scared to ask permission from my wife.




I called and spoke with Bill, who was very helpful and answered all my questions. (I also had a couple of post-sale questions and Bill was very responsive and returned calls and email quickly). Since my run was 10' instead of 9', he even offered to throw in the additional length at no charge. They also throw in an IR extender cable, which allows you to peek around the curtain with your IR eye. (It's nice to have a little nudge when you're trying to jump). After obtaining permission (stay tuned for my true cost once I find out what home decorating purchase we'll be making sometime soon :rolleyes: ) I placed the order and it shipped out the next day, confirmed by a confirmation email with tracking info. Cool!

Three Days Later

The BTX unit arrived! It came in a long heavy-duty cardboard box and was well packaged. What comes with the box? The drape rods, mounting hardware such as wall/ceiling brackets but without drywall anchors, the motor, transformer, IR eye cable, all the internal track hardware, a remote control (batteries included, thank you), and instruction manual. First impression: very nice.

Installation

How hard was it to put the unit in? Not too bad. I did it in an afternoon and it took 3-4 hours. If you've installed manual pull-curtains, it's basically the same procedure. I do have a few bones to pick with the instructions, however. This is one of those times that I actually decided to try read the instructions, and in some cases might have been better off without them. Granted, they are nice. The booklet isn't a sheet of paper that's been translated from English to Chinese and back a few times over and then crammed in the bottom of a box. However, there are parts of the guide I would completely rewrite. I hate spending 30 minutes worrying about some minor detail only to have an intelligent revelation like "Oh...that's what they're talking about! Duh!" Anyway, there are a few things they leave out entirely but you can figure out with common sense (like cutting off the excess cable after tensioning). Also, there are pictures that are not appropriate to the stage you're at in the instructions. (Don't show me a picture from Step 10 to illustrate a part involved in Step 3). I kept going back and re-reading the instructions wondering "Did I miss something?" Bottom line, this whole instruction thing is new to me. I'm not absolutely sold on it after this guide, even though it was fairly decent.


On a high level, you basically cut the track to length, assemble the internal track hardware (not hard but the instructions make it a little confusing), mount your brackets to the wall, pop the track in the brackets, pop the motor in (simple and well designed) and connect power and IR receiver. Like I said before, if you're capable of installing the non-motorized curtains, you should be fine with this.

Firing it up


So everything is put together and a panel of drapes hung for test. I point the remote at the controller, press the close button, and .... nothing. OK, my fault for not reading the instructions which were actually helpful this time. Attempt 2: Armed with newly gained insight I press button "1" on the remote this time(a one-time deal to indicate Zone 1 since you can control up to 8 zones with 1 remote), then press the close button and, ... the curtains closed!!! OK, it sounds less dramatic than it was. There should have been music playing to underscore the coolness of the moment.


So I hit open and close (a few more times than I'm willing to admit) to amuse myself and then start adjusting the speed of the curtains. Cool. The unit lets you go from a slow crawl to a brisk jog, apparently in 10 levels (not 11).


What's next? Programming the commands into the Pronto so the drapes open and close in sequence with the system and the Lutron Spacer dimming. Shouldn't be bad.

Conclusions

So what do I think? I really like it. Does it do what I want? Yes, exactly. Is it worth $425? It's really cool! Is it worth $425? The curtains open automatically while the lights dim and the movie starts! :)


Seriously, it is very nice. As for the cost: it's a professional window treatment device that does really cool things. Compared to the ridiculous money we spent on window treatments like blinds, shades, and valances from a "discount" company (ouch!), it's a bargain. From a technical standpoint, if I took all the parts and pieces and weighed what they do and how much that should cost, I would say approximately $250-$300. However, drape controllers are still a specialized niche product and this is a very nice unit. (Using my above-outlined scientific method, I would personally reduce the value of our dining room shades to under $50 and they weren't close to that). BTX has done a good job providing a nice product that costs a good deal less than similar products.


Given that I've had it for a day now, I don't have any long-term opinions. Things that impress me are smoothness of operation, ease of use, and controllable speed.


How loud is it? I don't have a basis for comparison. People say the Add-a-Motor type units are really loud. This isn't really loud, but it is noticeable. You couldn't sneak the curtains open. For what it's worth, it doesn't bother me.


What doesn't it have? The only thing I have read about features-wise that I don't believe this unit will do is preset stops (meaning set points other than full-open or full-close at which the curtains stop). People use this for aspect-ratio masking. I don't think it would be hard to program the Pronto to do this by simply timing a travel distance and using the stop command, although this wouldn't be as fool-proof as physical set points. The unit above the one I bought will do timing related events so Monday at 9:30 am, they curtains will open. Not a real concern for Home Theater-related use I would think.


If there's anything I left out in my review/dissertation, please feel free to ask.


Hope this was useful for those interested in automated curtains. For those interested, I took some pictures of the parts and pieces and a bit of the installation process. Let me know and I'll find a way to post them.


-Robert
 

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Nice review Robert. Ironically, I spent some time with the BTX factory rep last week and we discussed this very track system for home theater use. It's actually not made by BTX, but rebadged for them. He pointed out it doesn't have the same fine precision engineering and build as their regular rods, but keep in mind the regular rods would run $1500. Their regular rods are made for continuous commercial use and intended to operate with great frequency over many years. We only put a fraction of that stress on rods for home theater use, so these should be absolutely perfect.


I had not focused on this rod sooner as the published specs showed it had a travel speed of about 11" a second, same as the Makita, a speed I personally consider too fast for home theater curtains. When I learned it actually had 10 selectable speeds, my interest level for home theater skyrocketed. Shame on them.


I am totally surprised at the low selling price of these units for what you get. Until I figure out differently, this will be the standard rod I recommend for home theater curtains.


It has one minor negative and that is that there are no programmable stops. It stops when it reaches the end of the rod travel. This is not a problem unless you wanted your curtains to stop before they were completely open. The only way I know of to get programmable stops is to move to the $1500 model. If one needed a stop before it was fully open, I would guess it might be possible to fashion something for the carrier to hit.


This rod seems to me to be an incredible value. I can tell you that Bill's price is so close to dealer cost that I don't know how he does it. He's a great source.


Deane
 

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Thanks Deane. One thought I had on the stop issue was to load extra curtain hook carriers in between each of the ones used as a curtain hook. Each would give you about 1/2" so it would take a few but I'm guessing they're cheap and BTX was fairly generous with the quantity supplied. To keep the curtains spacing looking normal, you probably couldn't do anything too dramatic but it might be a decent way to move the curtain stop point a bit.


Robert
 

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I don't need to add anything to Robert's review except that I had exactly the same experience. Bill at homeautomationnet.com is extremely helpful and he also threw in the extra length for me as well.
 
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