Control Systems for Every Budget
Are you tired of all those remotes congregating on your coffee table? Looking for a more comprehensive home-automation control system that can handle your home theater, plus lights and climate? If you are on either end of the spectrum or anywhere in between, there are many wonderful options available. While shopping for a control system can be overwhelming, if you are armed with basic knowledge, you can find a control interface that suits your lifestyle and budget.
The Simple Universal Remote
A universal remote ($10-$350+) eliminates all the various remotes from your TV, DVD player, cable box, etc., consolidating functionality into one unit. URC, Logitech, RCA and RTI are a few key manufacturers, though there are plenty of others available to choose from. Another benefit of a simple, pushbutton universal remote is that you can learn buttons by touch and execute functions like volume control easily and in the dark, rather than navigating a touchscreen for these commonly accessed features.
iOS and Android Apps
These days, you can transform your smartphone or tablet into a remote control via an app, available from virtually every control manufacturer. Using these ubiquitous devices for control is certainly convenient. "'Did I turn off the lights? Arm the alarm? Turn up the thermostat?' Your home is now no further away than the palm of your hand," says Paul Williams, Control4's VP of Security and Communications Products.
Like other control manufacturers, Control4 offers an app that gives you a secure 3G/4G connection to your home's lighting, security, energy, climate and entertainment systems via your mobile device when on the go.
A smartphone or tablet may not always be the best solution, however. "iPads in a flush-mounted wall enclosure make an affordable alternative to touchscreens, though iPads lack dedicated shortcut buttons that can be used to quickly bring up pages such as your security, climate and lighting screens," says Josh Christian, VP of Marketing for DSI Entertainment Systems. "Also, keep in mind that your iPad can wander around the house if not wall-mounted because it has so many other uses. You might find yourself looking for it."
AMX, Crestron, Control4, Savant and others specialize in more sophisticated home-automation systems that include dedicated touchscreen controllers as part of their product lineups. These allow you to operate your entire home at the touch of a screen. "The smart home that was once aspirational has become incredibly real. Best of all, the same controller that simplifies your home theater also serves as the foundation of an expandable, affordable automation system for the rest of your home," says Williams. "There are home security cameras you can monitor from anywhere, motion sensors that trigger lights or send you a text message. You can control blinds, check air quality, see if windows are open, unlock your house from halfway around the world for a visitor, and more."
One obvious advantage of this type of interface is that touchscreens usually stay in the room they are meant to be used in (even more so if they are mounted in the wall). Better yet, they are extremely flexible, allowing you to get creative with control options. For example, an AV pro can customize your touchscreen with graphic user interfaces tailored to your taste and needs, like a family photo or Hollywood theme. It’s hard to price these comprehensive control systems because it depends on the scope of your project, but they start around $1,500 and can go well beyond $10,000.
What is right for you depends on the level of functionality, customization and interface(s) you desire. Many electronic systems contractors, DSI included, use a combination of all of the above, depending on the location of the control and what you need to do there.