mControl 2.1, so close, yet so far away

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?

8 Responses to “mControl 2.1, so close, yet so far away”

  1. Dennis says:

    I use OnQ/HAI for lighting control. Each light switch works just like a normal switch but can be programed through the controler board or as I do it by RS-232 through my Crestron controler. The switches were very pricey when I got them, but they are $75 now. You have to run a control wire to each switch though. Thats not an issue for me since I always perfer to hard wire any control systems to inusre reliability.

  2. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    That link says it’s powerline.

    As much as I’d love to have hard wired, I don’t think it’s worth it to run that many wires.

  3. Utah says:

    As far as I know, HAI switches are UPB (which is a powerline technology) so they would require a nuetral wire, but not a “control” wire.

  4. Blake says:

    Hi Ben,

    I am not sure what your situation is at your home so these suggestions may not be relevant. First, I see that you are averser to wires. That being said, I would recommend using Z-Wave compatible devices instead of Insteon. mControl has a longer track record with Z-wave than with Insteon. (I also personally feel that Insteon is currently a functionally inferior technology.)
    In order to make this happen you will need a z-wave controller. The USB controller from Intermatic works great. If you have a ton of electrical equipment around the USB dongle, you will want to use a USB extension cable to move the dongle away from the interference.
    Some of the really sweet things about 2.1 are the sideshow integration (which will be *really* sweet when the VAVE100 comes out…if ever) and, while not “officially” part of the release, the work done by other users to show multiple machine control of a single environment is really strong. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have questions. The forum at Embedded Automation is also a good resource.

  5. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Blake, I love wires, it just isn’t within reason to run 43 wires to all my switches.

    As for USB, no one makes a Z-Way RS-232 interface? I find it much more flexible.

    But the real problem is the cost. I have over $1000 invested in Insteon and the Vizia-RF for example costs twice as much.

    Yeah, the VAVE100 looks really sweet, I hope it hits the market soon.

  6. […] and I even tried Smart Home’s software HouseLinc. Upon evaluating mControl and discovering it couldn’t master Insteon either, I was telling my new friend Ted Singh from Embedded Automation that I was thinking about ditching […]

  7. […] Drawbaugh has had a few recent posts on lighting control and his INSTEON setup.  DW writes about his X10 setup and not […]

  8. Noel says:

    Have you tried PowerHome? It handles everything you mentioned plus syncs the KPL button lights. You create groups and have PH execute the groups when a button is pressed. There is a learning curve but for $69.95 it’s well worth it. You can try it for 30 days before you buy.