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SUBJECT: X10 Home Automation HOWTO

FORUM: Theater Construction

DATE: 1999

STATUS: Originally posted on old UBBS system.


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INEXPENSIVE AUTOMATION HOW-TO

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You've got a nice home theater you're building. You've been wanting some way to automate your lights in your custom built home theater. You've looked far and wide for a very nice scene controller. All the prices of superior systems you've been quoted might have been too high for your budget.


You've been reading posts from forum members who are happy with their automation systems of the likes of Creston, etc - but whine at the high prices. You wonder if there's a cheaper way, even building your own circuits....


You now cringe at the thought of cheap X10 systems that you've been hearing about. You may not even like X10.com's sometimes-tacky looking website. You hear both good and bad things about X10 such as modules that go 'click'. You want to have IR control instead of RF control, but keep hearing that X10 can only be controlled by RF.


Did you know, that David Bott's 'The Nate' home theater, pictured at www.avsforum.com has lighting automated by an X10 ActiveHome automation system - the $49.95 kits you might have heard about?


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X10 MYTHS

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Let me dispel a few X10 myths. Here are some interesting truths you should know:
  • You CAN control multiple X10 modules simultaneously - within certain limits.
  • You CAN control real lighting scenes for cheap - with kits starting at only $49.95.
  • You CAN instantly go to a preset dim or dim upwards from 0%, with your lamps.
  • You CAN have a silently-operating X10 system, without modules that goes 'click'.
  • You CAN use a cheap system now and add expensive X10 compatible scene controllers later on, if you wanted.
  • You CAN improve the reliability of an X10 system, in the small chance that you have irregular operation.
  • You CAN control 256 independent lamps or other devices, not just 16!
  • It CAN be easy to install your own X10 system!


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GETTING STARTED FOR CHEAP

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To get started for cheap, my number one recommendation is to buy an X10 ActiveHome kit. You can find these for $49.95, $99.95 and $149.95 depending on how many components you want.


An ActiveHome kit can do all the following:
  • Can control several lamps and appliances.
  • Can do fancy scenes (macros).
  • Can make multiple lamps turn on/off or gradually dim to a preset level simultaneously.
  • Scenes are configured by included computer software (included).
  • Computer can be turned off after you finish setting up scene macros.
  • Very modular and very upgradeable.
  • Compatible with popular add-ons.
  • Forms an inexpensive basis of your X10 automation system.
  • Controls multiple house codes.
  • Control up to 256 devices on one button press: Shatter the 16-unit-code X10 barrier!
  • Computer does not even need to be in the same house! (once the scenes are uploaded to the ActiveHome module, the module can be moved to its final destination to control an entire X10 system. Though it's easier to test scenes, if the computer is in the same house!)

http://www.x10.com/images/ah_kit2l.gif


$49.95 ActiveHome kit, with six pieces:
http://www.x10.com/products/x10_ck11a.htm


$99.95 and $149.95 ActiveHome kits with 12 or more pieces:
http://www.x10.com/products/offer_vn.htm


If you just need to control many lamps and do not want too much X10 "junk" - items that you will never use. I recommend buying one of the cheaper ActiveHome kit and then buying the dimmer modules separately. The cheap ActiveHome kits do not have many lamp modules, but additional wireless remote controllable lamp dimmer modules are as low as $5.49 each separately!

IMPORTANT: Avoid the FireCracker kits - it requires the computer to be left turned on. You want ActiveHome, which does not depend on the computer. And even so, ActiveHome only requires the computer to setup the scene macros. They are not as flexible nor reliable as ActiveHome is.


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ADDING IR CAPABILITY TO YOUR X10 SYSTEM

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You probably know by now, most X10 stuff are controlled by RF. This is a source of frustration for some X10 users - the ability to use the same Pronto or Marantz RC2000 to also control the X10 system as well. Many of us want to be able to press one macro to turn off all lights, while turning on the projector or display as well (as well as automatically setting up the rest of the system, including the sound system).


Look no further... The inexpensive $29.95 IR receiver for X10 systems!
http://www.smarthome.com/4040.html


All you need is the X10 remote control that's included with ActiveHome - just teach the X10 IR codes to your Pronto or Marantz remote (or any other universal for that matter!)


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X10 LAMP DIMMERS

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The most common type of X10 lamp dimmer modules are cheap. They are cheap, and the size of AC adaptors. You simply plug them in, and plug the lamp into the bottom of the X10 lamp dimmer module. You're done - no rewiring needed!

http://www.x10.com/images/x10_lm465s.jpg

Basic X10 lamp modules, starting at $5.49 apiece!


Sixpack of lamp modules available for only $30 at:
http://www.smarthome.com/2000.html


They're surprisingly inexpensive! You can turn on/off lamps remotely, as well as adjust the dim level upwards and downwards with these. Be noted, The cheap X10 lamp controller modules (including the sixpack for $30) are one-way modules and they also cannot dim upwards from "off". They cannot dim instantaneously to a preset dim level. You can turn on/off and dim them, but you have to turn them on before you're able to dim them up or down.


However, if you want full control including instant "preset dim", and dim upwards from off, and such features, you will need to go for more expensive $30 individual 2-way lamp modules. These 2-way lamp modules are able to be told to go instantly to a preset dim, from an ActiveHome kit. You can for example, tell lamp 'L1' to go to 50% dim immediately without dimming upwards from off, or dimming downwards from fully on. You can buy these $30 modules at:
http://www.smarthome.com/2000tw.html


Another way to have 'dim up from darkness' for the cheap X10 modules, is to use an ActiveHome macro. The 'OFF' button would simply dim the light down to almost 0% (but not turned OFF - just dimmed down to almost 0%). The 'ON' button would simply dim the light back up to 100%. This is a clever way to use the cheap $5.49 modules so that you can use them without the sudden 'turn on to 100%' before you're able to dim the light. Example:
  • Code 'D1' - Cheap $5.49 lamp module connected to a lamp.
  • Code 'A1 on' - Linked to an ActiveHome macro that 'dims' D1 upwards to 100%
  • Code 'A1 off' - Linked to an ActiveHome macro that 'dims' D1 downwards to near 0% but not quite turning off the lamp.

That way, you have a pleasing gradual 'dim on' and 'dim off' everytime you turn on/off a lamp, if you cannot afford to pay for the more expensive $30.00 two way lamp modules.


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MULTIPLE LIGHTS SIMULTANEOUSLY

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You can control multiple X10 lights cheaply at the same time! There are two ways to do this:

Lamp modules configured to the same unit code

This causes all modules to respond to one X10 signal at the same time, whether sent by a handheld remote or from the ActiveHome controller. This is great if you need to control 10 lamps simultaneously, dimming 10 lamps simultaneously down to 20% - it is a very nice effect that can be done for cheap at only $6 per wireless remote controllable lamp dimmer module (in a $30 sixpack of lamp modules). This allows you to break the 300 watt barrier with 10 lamps, by allowing you to control 3000 watts of lamps by using a separate inexpensive module for each lamp!

ActiveHome macro configured to address multiple unit codes simultaneously

You can do this with both the one-way and two-way lamp modules/switches. There are additional delays involved (about a half second penalty for every additional module). However, this allows you to turn on/off/dim multiple lamps simultaneously WHILE still retaining full individual control of each individual lamp at other times.


Caveats: This won't work with preset-dim signals (dim instantly to a specific level) for most two-way lamp modules (including the $30 two-way lamp modules). There are some X10 scene controllers that get around this, if you really need to instantly set multiple lights instantly to a preset dim instead of a continuous dimming action. Some of these controllers are relatively cheap,


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SILENT OPERATION

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The noisy X10 units you hear about, are the 'appliance' switches. An 'appliance' switch is also built into the transciever (the plug-in radio receiver module). These are operated via relays. You can simply avoid using them in your X10 setup.


However, you can get silent operation, by using the common 'lamp' modules and avoid the 'appliance' modules. Use the transciever only to control other modules rather than the built-in 'appliance' module. Cheap lamp modules do not make any sound. Nor do the remote controllable wall switches.


If you want to determine which X10 units go 'click' just try to find out if it contains a built-in relay. If it has no relay, it is virtually guaranteed to work silently. If it is a module that has lamp dimming capability, then it is not relay operated (as relay cannot do dimming).


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WIFE FRIENDLY X10-CONTROLLED WALL SWITCHES

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You may have seen those cheap $10 X10 switches that are not very wife-friendly. Hate the cheap X10 wall switches? Want true rocker on/off action? Look no further - I have discovered inexpensive remote controllable wall light switch that has proper crisp feeling ON/OFF rocker action, Bill Gates style!:

http://www.smarthome.com/images/2384-4.gif
http://www.smarthome.com/2384.html

- True rocker action - only $49.95!

- Remote controllable.

- Adjustable fade on/off speed.

- LED bar graph to indicate brightness level.

- Instantly "preset dim level" operation.

- 3 way capability.

- During local control, controls lamp instantly without X10 delay.

- Enhanced noise rejection (false signal rejection).


You don't even need to buy X10 wall switches if you don't want them. You can just use wireless plug-in modules. However, they are VERY convenient and aesthetic for home theater: You can use your remote control to turn on/off these wall switches!


Be noted, several of these wall switches are lamp dimmer only. Use appliance switches (or an appropriately designed module) for flourescent lights or wall sockets. One of the great thing about these type of wall switches like these, is that they respond instantly when operated locally - because they are wired just like a regular wall switch.


If you hate wiring or rewiring, there's a solution that doesn't complicate things too much. There is a new wireless wall switch product that's ONLY 7 millimeter thick (New 1999 product - only as thick as a real wall switch bezel!). It can be stuck onto any surface, even on the side of a furniture. Because it sends X10 signals by radio waves to the receiver included with your ActiveHome, there's a tiny delay during turning on/off switches (just to keep it in mind!). It is available for $20-$25 at:
http://www.x10.com/products/offer95.htm


There's also a silently-operating flourescent wall lamp switch available too! If you need to to control kitchen flourescent lighting remotely and SILENTLY, so they don't interfere with your adjacent living room? Look no further, there's a 600 watt wall switch available that works with flourescent lights and does not have an annoying relay that goes 'clunk' (like the cheap X10 wall switches I've tried so far) when you turn on/off for $49.95:
http://www.smarthome.com/2385.html


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CONTROLLING SCENES

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Once you have your X10 ActiveHome kit, there is a module that you connect to one of your computer's serial port. The centerpiece of ActiveHome is an outboard X10 controller module that's simply programmed by computer software which is included.


The procedure goes approximately as follows:
  • Install the lamp modules
  • Test them with the included X10 remote
  • Plug in the ActiveHome computer-connected X10 module
  • Install ActiveHome computer software
  • Test ActiveHome by turning on/off lights with your mouse
  • Configure the fancy lighting scene macros
  • Upload the fancy scenes to the ActiveHome X10 module
  • Test the scenes
  • You can now turn off your computer and even disconnect ActiveHome from the computer if needed.


Here is a typical X10 system controlled by ActiveHome. This is not my house, but a theoretical house:
  • ActiveHome kit ($49.95)
  • (Configured to 'L1') Silent X10 wall switch for kitchen light upstairs ($49.95)
  • (Configured to 'L2') X10 lamp module: Connected to stairwell lights (lamp module incl. with ActiveHome)
  • (Configured to 'L3') Two X10 lamp modules connected to two separate 300watt main halogen lamps for

    a total of 600 watts. Both lamp modules configured to the same code ($5.49 x 2)
  • (Configured to 'L4') One X10 lamp module controlling four rear scones ($5.49)
  • (Configured to 'L5') One X10 lamp module controlling two middle scones ($5.49)
  • (Configured to 'L6') One X10 lamp module controlling two front scones ($5.49)

One Possible Scene Macro for this X10 setup: Now, here's an ActiveHome scene macro controlling the entire system. You configure button 'A5 off' on your X10 remote to trigger a cascade of the following events in sequence:
  • DIM 'L3' to near 0%: Two 300watt main halogen lamps gradually dim to blackness (3 seconds)
  • TURN OFF 'L1': Kitchen lamp turns off (0.5 second latency)
  • DIM 'L6' to near 0%: Front scones gradually dim to blackness (3 seconds)
  • DIM 'L5' to 10%: Middle scones gradually dim to 10% brightness (3 seconds)
  • DIM 'L4' to 20%: Rear scones gradually dim to 20% brightness (2 seconds)
  • DIM 'L2' to 40%: Stair lights dim to to 40% brightness (2 seconds)


Now, here's an ActiveHome scene macro controlling the entire system. Likewise, you configure button 'A5 on' on your X10 remote to trigger a cascade of the following events in sequence:
  • DIM 'L4,L5,L6' to 100%: All scones brightens gradually to full intensity (4 seconds)
  • DIM 'L2,L3' to 100%: Stair lights and main halogen lamps brightens gradually to full intensity (4 seconds)
  • TURN ON 'L1': Upstairs kitchen fluorescent light turns on. (0.5 second latency)


Of course, if the latency is killer, you can configure all scone lamps to the same unit code, so that you can control all scones more quickly with less latency. The DIM down and up works best, if you never completely turn off the lights - if using the cheap $5.49 lamp modules. If you are willing to pay $30 for each lamp module, then you won't run into this problem - you can turn them off without fear of the lights suddenly turning themselves on before dimming to 20%/40%/50% (as they do with the cheap $5.49 lamp modules - that's why I recommending dimming them to near 0% rather than completely turning them off.)


To more quickly turn on/off the whole system at once, you can add additional scene macros, to 'A6 off' and 'A6 on' - so that you can use buttons A5 for the slow scene and button A6 for the fast scene. Here's an example of how 'A6 off' could be configured:
  • TURN OFF 'L4,L5,L6': All scones turns off simultaneously (1.5 scond latency due to 3-unit addressing)
  • TURN OFF 'L3': Main halogen lamps turn off (0.5 second)
  • DIM 'L2' to 40%: Stair lights dim to 40% brightness so you don't bump into things (2 seconds)


As you can see, you've done all of this using only $127.35 worth of modules! If you don't care about the flourescent kitchen wall switch ('L1'), you only spent $77.40 worth of modules (plus shipping and taxes, of course!). This doesn't include the wiring or whatever you may need to do to install the modules (if the scones, for example, use inside-the-wall wiring).


If you want faster scenes, you can add more expensive components instead (I would recommend it!), including two way lamp modules with instantaneous dim presets, or modules with variable speed dimming. Or X10 scene controllers. You can buy a kit for cheap, and then upgrade later, too!


Myself, I've got my system setup to turn off office room flourescent light and kitchen stove light, followed by dimming 3 lamps simultaneously to about 30%, as my place is small and I am just using my existing living room. I've got scenes to turn off all lights and turn on lights.


You can combine scenes in a single X10 code, with your macro-capable learning infrared remote with other infrared signals - so that you can turn on your projector and invoke the ActiveHome-created X10 scene at once, using one button press.


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QUICK LINK SUMMARY OF ALREADY MENTIONED X10 PRODUCTS

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Here are all the hyperlinks summarized for your convenience:

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OTHER USEFUL X10 GOODIES

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I've searched and cut directly through web clutter, to figure out the best bang for the buck in the middle of a big soup of old X10 products:
  • If you're the type who buys a Walmart learning remote, rather than a Philips pronto, there is a very good looking new universal learning remote control that emits both RF and IR, and is fully X10 compatible (new 1999 product) - no need to buy an expensive IR add on. This can make a very nice temporary or bedroom remote control, too - not everyone can afford three Pronto's or Marantz's! The remote is $25 at
    http://www.x10.com/products/x10_ur47a.htm
  • Need LOTS of power? 2400 watt remote controlled dimmer for less than $300? Check this out:
    http://www.smarthome.com/x10ltmod.html


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FAVOURITE LINKS

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http://www.x10.com
  • The very original inventors of X10.
  • Website is overhyped and full of advertising junk
  • Skip the website entry junk by going directly to the X10 Catalog .
  • GREAT prices for the basics
  • $5.90 promotion loss leader starter kits for new users (use this only to get additional X10 components)
  • This is where you should buy the inexpensive basics, such as an ActiveHome kit, which will form the basis of your automation system.

http://www.smarthome.com
  • A VERY high quality automation website
  • Lots of neat goodies available for purchase online
  • Lots of luxurious X10 compatible add-ons
  • Also has a sixpack of lamp dimmer modules for only $30 each
  • This is where you should buy high quality X10 add-ons and upgrades not available at X10.com


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Finally, I hope I have saved you a lot of trouble, and saved yourself from an X10 migraine and a lobotomy! I hope I did my best to ferret out "the best of the best" in inexpensive X10 products, with the best bang for the buck!
 

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Of course, if you want to automate more than lights and whatnot, i.e. your home theater devices, you need something more than X-10. Hopefully, as I add more device drivers, my CQC system will provide that something more. I'll have support for the PowerLinc X-10 controller pretty soon, so it'll handle your X-10 control needs as well.
 

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Another extremely useful idea for X-10 is to turn off devices that have software controlled power switches (like HTPC's and DishPlayers). These software controlled power switches sometime get "hung" and require you to disconnect the power cord, a real pain in most systems, especially rack mounted. Add a cheap appliance module and you can disconnect and reconnect these devices remotely. I know they click, but this is not for normal use, rather to fix a problem.


I have one on my HTPC and another on my DishPlayer and don't use them often, but when I need them, they are a real blessing.


There is another X-10 controlled device that can be used to power on/off HTPC's. Some PC's do not have the resume on power on setting in the BIOS. In that case, wire one of these http://www.smarthome.com/2010.html across the software power switch on the HTPC. You can then "press" the HTPC's power switch by activating an X-10 command. CAUTION: Only use these on software (low voltage) PC switches.


Hey, finally reached 100 posts! Do I get my hero badge in the mail? :D
 

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I've got a Parasound amplifier (205wpc) and I do't know what kind of current it draws -- a lot, though. It is an older model without any built-in remote capability or even a port for an external trigger.


Ditto on a Marantz mono-block I use for center channel.


What would I use to be able to incorporate powering them on and off in an X10 scheme ?


I'm assuming a lamp-module wouldn't carry the load, and an appliance module might have the same effect as a "surge suppressing" power strip -- ie, lowers the voltage and is bad for the amp.


Otherwise, Mark, you've got me excited about the possibility of a full lighting control at the least with X10. I hadn't realized you could create elaborate macros for X10 using scene builder software.
 

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The one thing that active home apparently can't do is fit in a normal outlet box! You have to live with outlet dongles every where. They have switch plates but no outlets?


oops, my mistake - I guess they just don't have them on the X10 site. They are shown on the smart home site.
 

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Mark,

Great summary of the X10 option. I am putting a Pronto controlled system together now. A few things I'd like to add -


1. If possible, it helps get the Lamp modules with status (LM14A) - these cost a bit more but are worth it for the added reliability.


2. Homeseer is an application that works even better than ActiveHome and handles conditional scripting and built-in Web page server - http://www.keware.com


3. Finally, there is a much cheaper source than either X10 or Smarthome - Worthington Distribution ( http://www.worthdist.com/automation.htm ) - I have bought all my equipment from them and saved a bundle.


Thanks again for the great (re)post.


- Larry
 
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