Smart Home Integration: Enterprise Class or DIY?

We’ve come a long way from “smart” remotes controlling a few devices. Today’s smart home controllers let us use phones, remotes, touchscreens, and even our laptops to control every device in our homes.

“Smart home” is a big buzzword these days, and there are many cost-effective DIY options, while others involve significantly more up-front design, planning, and cost.

Many lower-cost smart home networks allow devices to talk to some, but not all other devices in the home.  While these do-it-yourself solutions offer their own benefits, they can fall short of the functionality and complete integration offered by centralized enterprise-class smart home control systems.

The Amazon Echo and its competitors do not match the capabilities of higher-grade smart home control solutions.

The Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit, and the Google Home can all be considered economical, DIY smart home systems. However, these devices each support their own limited set of apps and functions, and usually are not  compatible with all widely used smart device communications protocols. For instance, none of the systems listed above support Z-Wave devices without the use of a compatible controller. HomeKit is further limited by a lack of ZigBee support.

Alexa’s skills enable the Amazon Echo to work around these limitations to a degree, but the general solution for device incompatibility is to buy compatible smart devices, use specialized adapters, or add additional controllers. As such, these alternatives to more specialized professional-grade smart home controllers lack the same level of convenience and compatibility that dedicated solutions offer.

For homeowners considering automating multiple systems in more than one room, a central controller is the best approach.

While many DIY systems are considered entry-level for smart home automation, incompatibility issues can make them less user friendly. In many ways, having to deal with adapters and third-party controllers can make these systems more difficult to set up, use, and troubleshoot if something goes wrong. This is why a central controller remains the most effective way to connect every smart device and every piece of automation in a home.

Today’s enterprise-grade smart home control platforms can allow family members to access virtually any system in the home (audio, video, lighting, security and many other systems) in multiple rooms at any scale with sophisticated zoning, and allow personalized access controls and permissions to meet just about every use case imaginable.

Today’s smart home controllers were developed in response to the wide variety of popular devices and communication protocols.

Cable boxes, DVRs, TVs, receivers, amps, security cameras, door locks, lighting systems and motorized shades all have different interfaces and functionalities that can be controlled through those interfaces.  The control functions for these systems are proprietary, so for anything beyond an on/off switch, centralized control systems need specific drivers that are capable of controlling the core functions of each device, and they need to keep those drivers updated.

To achieve the Holy Grail of interconnectivity, companies like Control4 have developed smart home controllers. These controllers are devices that can help connect end-point systems regardless of their functionality or the language they speak.

Centralized smart home controllers offer ease of use as their key benefit, giving homeowners greater control of their devices.

A key advantage of a dedicated enterprise-class smart home controller is that it is designed to use most or all of the most common communications protocols. Not only does this allow devices from many manufacturers to be accessed and work together seamlessly, it also opens the door to a wider range of control input devices. Traditional remote controllers, touchscreens, tablets, phone apps: all can be used as interfaces for your home controller.

The ability to interface with so many devices means that a controller eliminates the need for specialized adapters. If your lights communicate through ZigBee and your TV uses IR, while your receiver, amps and DVR are hidden in a rack in your closet, a dedicated best of breed controller can control all of them.

When every device in your home is connected to a central controller, you can quickly determine which device is the problem in the network. If the controller itself somehow fails, replacing it will get your smart home back up and running. Alternatively, trying to identify the problem component in a jerry-rigged, daisy-chained automation system can be like trying to find that one burned out light bulb in your Christmas decorations.

Valley Home Theater has installed large-scale smart home automation systems in existing homes. We’ve also worked on homes in the early stages of construction, performing  comprehensive pre-wiring in which we install all of the necessary cables and equipment throughout a home to ensure that the network can reach every room, wired or wirelessly. Our installations typically use Control4 central controllers. But if you are willing to accept more limited functionality now and want to install your fully integrated smart home later, there are more economically priced solutions.

Control4 Controllers

Control4 offers three distinct controllers, each designed for different needs and levels of smart home automation. For a homeowner only interested in their home theater, the EA-1 is designed specifically for 1-room applications. Alternatively, the EA-3 and EA-5 are designed for systems that extend through the entire home, depending upon the size of the project, allowing you to manage your home theater, audio, environmental controls, and home security fluidly.

These are professional-grade systems, and proper setup is best left to experienced installers. Once a system is in place, it is quite simple to use. Each controller can be accessed through a universal iOS or Android app, or through specialized tablet controls or remotes. This flexibility allows the homeowner to schedule specific tasks for the system to perform under certain conditions, at specific times of the day, or manage things personally as needs arise.

At the end of the day, the best solution is the one that best matches your needs. For those who are just entering the world of home automation, and looking to reduce costs, a Sonos system, a couple of Alexa devices or a Google Home speaker and some smart plugs might be a good start.

But for those who want to automate multiple areas in their home, or are building a new home and want future upgradeability, a professionally installed system is the best option. With more complex home automation systems, a smart home controller acts as a brain for the house. Having a system integrator install all the equipment necessary for such a system ensures that all the required infrastructure is in place. More importantly, this minimizes the potential for frustrating hardware and software incompatibilities.

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