One of the main reasons I started to get into home automation was so I could create lighting scenes. For example, when my garage door opens and it’s dark outside, I have 4 lights turn on for 5 minutes. My garage is detached and the light switch to light the way into the house is in the house. This was not a good design on my builders part, but I’ve overcome it and it’s so handy when it doesn’t work, I hear about it from my wife. Another example is when I’m ready to watch my favorite movie at night. My sconces turn on to 50%, my dinning room light goes to 45%, and my hallway and kitchen lights are turned off. This scene controls about seven devices and would take me a couple of minutes to set without a home automation system.
The problem is when I try to get complicated. You see the garage lights are activated by the controller that is also talking to the alarm and knows if it’s dark outside. The movie scene must know a movie is starting and that it’s late enough my wife won’t be annoyed by the lights turning off in the kitchen. As you can see, a good reliable controller is very important.
I’ve had two controllers so far and haven’t been thrilled with either of them so I’ve tried mControl from time to time. The latest 2.1 is really awesome, it has a very powerful generic device driver that can easily be configured to control any IR, RS-232 or TCP enabled device — in fact I wrote two basic drivers in about an hour once I understood the format of the xml file. The macro builder is powerful and a joy to use — as apposed to Mainlobby which is a total bear. The price is very reasonable at $75. The UI is simple and easy to access from VMC or any web browser enabled device. At this point you have to be wondering, but what Ben, but what? The problem is that mControl can’t activate Insteon lighting scenes and what’s worse if it turns on lights using a semi-workable workaround, my KeypadLincs will be out of sync which means the switch and the light won’t be in the same state — imagine the light is on, but the switch says it’s off. I’m really bummed at this and while Embedded Automation ensures me this will be addressed in Q3 2008, I’m disappointed.
To be fair, I’ve had problems with the my Insteon groups since day one. And since mControl is the third controller I’ve used, and all seem to have some sort of problem with groups, I’m starting to think it may be time to move on. The problem is that I have about $1000 invested in Insteon devices and moving on is not an inexpensive proposition. I don’t suppose any of you are using a better lighting solution?