Wednesday, 31 March 2010 02:00
You don`t need tons of money to get into home automation. There are a few things that anyone can do to at least control equipment from virtually any room in the house.
Nowadays, we surround ourselves with devices that make our lives more convenient.Cellphones mean that we can get hold of people no matter where they may be, and the internet ensures that information is only ever a keyboard stroke away.
Some may argue that endeavouring to make our lives easier is only making us lazier, but we at Digital Life don`t see it that way.
Our grandparents may bemoan the fact that we now want to press one button on the TV`s remote rather than get up to turn the thing on manually, but then they didn`t have to contend with snarling traffic jams, combative taxi drivers, or erratic electricity supplies. We live stressful lives, so when we come home, we should be able to relax and be comfortable.
The problem is - and this is particularly true when it comes to automating the home - convenience comes at a cost that is prohibitive for most of us. Or is it?
While going the "whole home automation and integration" route is expensive, often requires chasing walls to run communication cables, and the installation of expensive control and distribution devices, there is quite a lot that can be done to get elements of home automation that is inexpensive and easy to implement.
What makes this remote extender different to most of its peers is that you replace one of the batteries in the remote control - AA or AAA - with a little battery/transmitter combo and this turns the remote into a Radio Frequency remote control. As long as you`re within range of the receiver, which is connected to the device/s under the remote`s control, you can use any function on the remote control from anywhere in the home.
When we tested one of these a while back, we found that we could turn the TV on or off from the garden, so the range is pretty good.
On the subject of remotes, learning and programmable ones can certainly make our lives a lot easier.
Take, for example, the Logitech Harmony 1100, part of the company`s Harmony range of remote controls, that, apart from featuring touch-screen functionality and being able to replace up to 15 other remote controls, features what the company calls One-touch activity-based control.
An activity-based control works like this: under the Watch DVD icon, for example, you could program the remote to turn on the TV, DVD player and A/V receiver, set the input on the receiver to DVD, and set the TV to receive signals on its HDMI1 input.
Fortunately, you don`t have to be too tech-savvy to configure a Harmony remote control as the online set-up process is intuitive, and there is a database of over 225 000 devices so it`s a safe bet that whatever you own will be there, and if not, you can teach the remote codes from any other remote control.
The Harmony 1100 is a really good-looking piece of equipment, one that isn`t too dissimilar from some of the fancy and expensive automation controllers. If you want even more convenience, Logitech offers an RF adaptor for use with its remote controls too.
While one-touch operation of a home theatre system will make our lives a little simpler - no more finding the right button on a bunch of different remote controls - it isn`t really what home automation is all about.
Want one-touch control over motors and lights and be able to do this without running any new power cables in the home? Impossible? We think not, thanks to wireless technology.
Companies like Rako offer a range of wireless dimmer modules that connect to the power cables going to any light, or group of lights, in the home. The range includes models for most kinds of lighting, both installed and free-standing.
Once you`ve installed the addressable dimmers, which have 65 000 possible addresses and a range of 15 metres, or up 100 metres with a booster, link them - wirelessly, of course - to a control panel. Control panels can be either in-wall and look similar to multi-switch light switches, or handheld remote controls.
With each control panel you can select up to four pre-set scenes, plus `off` and there is a `master raise and lower` too. System commissioning and programming of scenes can be performed from the control panel, handheld Rako remote or from a PC using the company`s intuitive software.
Right, so what`s a scene and why is it important?
A scene is how the lights are programmed to operate, and a `welcome home` scene could be programmed to turn all lights on to full brightness. A `watch DVD` scene could turn off the lights just in front of your TV, but keep on the side lights in the lounge at 25 percent brightness.
But wait, there`s more, as you could add modules to open or close windows and blinds or even roll a projection screen up or down. Depending on how much you want to spend, the lighting system could be integrated into a more complex automation system, or programmed to switch lights on or off when you`re away so that it looks like people are at home. There`s even an application that lets you use the iPhone to control the lighting and integration system. You do, however, need an interface for this.
As you can see, you can go a long way in automating the home without the need to chop into walls. All that`s needed is a little imagination, and the right contacts.
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