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dabretty

mControl - Where to Buy, Discounts, Etc?

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dabretty

Hey guys -

I just installed an Insteon Powerlinc modem and a few "major" light switches (outside lights) to begin with. I have to say this is the coolest application I have seen yet on WHS, especially the ability of the mControl application to fetch sunrise/sunset times based on your lat/lon, and trigger events based on this. So frickin' cool! (The awe hasn't worn off yet!)

Anyways, at the same time I'm taken back a bit by the cost of the mControl software, at $129.99 on www.embeddedautomation.com. Of course I'm just on the trial right now. But I've heard you guys - in your podcast - refer to software discounts coming and going all the time for various products. Does this happen to be one of them? I haven't been around long enough to notice if that was the case or not.

I should have bothered to look at the mControl price before I bought anything, but I figured that was just a small trivial part. If I could figure out the serial commands sent (via the USB serial emulation) I'd write my own software to save the 130 bones!

Thanks,

Brett

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Dave

I've never seen a coupon code for mControl but that doesn't mean there isn't one. Have you gone through the checkout process to see if there is a spot for a code?

I would love to use it to control my outside lighting. That's probably where I would start with it. Do you mind listing the gear you used and costs? That could be handy to others. Usingwindowshomeserver.com has some good reviews on the add-in as well.

Dave

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pcdoc

Maybe someone from homeservershow could contact mControl and see if they would entertain a discount users of the homeservershow. They might go for it. There might be a few of us that would be interested.

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dabretty

Dave -

Absolutely. Here's the very simple breakdown of what I bought, all from the SmartHome website (www.smarthome.com):

(QTY 1) Insteon PowerLinc Modem, USB - Model #2412U - $79.99 ea
(QTY 2) Icon Relay - Insteon Remote Control On/Off Switch (Non-Dimming) - Model 2876SB - $34.99 ea

It's funny you mentioned usingwindowshomeserver.com, I actually bought the modem that I did based upon Tim Daleo's "Friday Night" series of using mControl from almost a year ago, in which he used the same modem. Their (SmartHome) website had other - possibly upgraded - versions of apparently the same modem for even a bit cheaper, but given Tim's success with it I opted to just go with it. I'll have to thank him over at that site.

Honestly, the SmartHome website (and insteon.net, and whatever other names they use) is horrible. There just is not a good introduction area, simply to figure out which way is north. I found myself searching wikipedia to figure out the differences between X10 and Insteon, and potential compatibility issues. I might have been able to save some money by buying a starter kit from there, but (again) I didn't see that exact modem (model #2412U) so ended up buying things separately.

Installation was a snap. I happened to have a single light switch (of the toggle kind which switch 2876SB looks like) that controlled all three of my front-of-house outside lights. If you've ever installed or replaced a light switch, this was no more difficult and possibly easier, considering that they come with appropriately-sized wire nuts. The modem install with WHS (EX495 in my case) was also pretty painless, although I found myself rebooting the WHS several times to get the driver installed correctly. Tim Daleo's instructions did not really apply in my case, but he does have a direct link to the driver for the modem which saves a little time searching (they give you nothing in the box with the modem). And - as Tim said in his post - you absolutely have to use RDC to set everything up. Apparently that is an issue for some, but I'm such a WHS newbie that I still don't understand why!

I'll probably pony up the cash for mControl, but I'm thinking about looking at controlling it (command wise) myself as well. They don't really tell you this in the SmartHome documentation, but that thing's connection to the WHS (or any PC) is simply a USB-to-serial converter/emulator. Meaning, while the other distant half of the modem handles all of the commands out on the house wiring, the first half must accept RS-232 commanding as emulated via a local virtual COM port. If I can figure out how to "listen in" to this commanding, I'm guessing it won't be too difficult to look for the device (switch) addressing and their command language. I mean no disrespect to the mControl guys, but $129.99 for their software is a bit steep for home users. I'm sure they don't sell a lot of it, but that price will push a lot of people away from this stuff. $129 software + $79 for the modem - just to get your foot in the door, before any switches - is a pretty steep entry cost.

As always, thanks for the awesome site, podcast, and forum!

Brett

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TheGuy

I found myself searching wikipedia to figure out the differences between X10 and Insteon, and potential compatibility issues

So what is the difference between the two? This is an area I would love to invest in...to get my lights turning on-off when away from home etc... get my itouch to control the lights, etc...

we need more info, what have you learned so far...?

Please share.

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diehard

I was chatting with a guy who was a big fan of mControl. He said that there has been changes at the company over the past year and feels that it's taken a dive. The current software is not as good as the older stuff, he's not very happy after investing all that money and see things get worse instead of better.

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cskenney

I have some old X10 hardware. It relies on radio commmunication through the wiring in the home. You can end up with some issues when you have a transmitter on one leg of your 220V service and the receiver is on the other leg. They sell bridges that will connect the signals on the 2 legs. I would see these problems come and go (turn on the 220V dryer and everything will work because the 2 power legs are connected).

Insteon includes was created by the same people who have the web site smarthome.com. It uses powerline and radio frequency to communicate between the various modules. This increases the reliability so you don't get issues like I describe above.

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dabretty

I probably spoke too soon! My first issue with all of this.

I awoke this morning, and was about to leave for work, when I saw that the outside lights were still on. I didn't have much time to troubleshoot but could see that the WHS (EX495) was having apparent communication issues with the attached USB Insteon modem.

I looked online at work around lunch time and found the following link:
http://www.embeddedautomation.com/forum/showthread.php?p=7501

Basically, for whatever reason it sounds like the HP MediaSmart servers have some issues with these modems, particularly the version that I bought. And I was following Tim Daleo's lead because he had so much success!

As per the mControl guys' website, I'm going to try putting a powered USB hub in line with the modem, and see if this clears up the problem. Considering the first failure of this thing occurred apparently less than 10 hours after it was first installed, I should know pretty quickly if it's going to work or not.

TheGuy - to answer your questions with regards to differences between X10 and Insteon, cskenney pretty much summed it up. The X10 stuff - completely reliant on house wiring to communicate - had issues communicating between phases of your house wiring. In the U.S. all homes have two phases coming into them, and the phases are split up inside your breaker box to all of the home circuits. If you put the X10 modems at the time on one phase, probably half of your house wiring can't see the control signals ... so you'd either be limiting yourself to half-implementation, or seek out another solution as he suggested. They sell (for $30 mind you) phase couplers that you can plug into your dryer (220V) hook up since that sees both phases ... after which you can plug in your dryer and essentially hide the thing, problem (supposedly) solved. (Or you can just leave your dryer on all of the time, which should cause some communication between phases through the motor windings ... but you'll have one heck of an electricity bill!)

The Insteon, as he mentioned, combines RF signals with the whole thing so hopefully will talk to devices on the other phase as well. But the big key difference is that all of the Insteon devices (switches themselves) act as effectively repeaters, broadcasting the commands that they saw - both via powerline and RF - and that were not intended for them. They re-broadcast these commands out on the house wiring. So the whole idea behind Insteon is that by adding more devices ($$ka-ching$$ for SmartHome!) the signals will effectively get stronger as they get repeated all over the place. And - hopefully - you've got a device on the non-serviced-by-modem-wiring phase within earshot of the RF range, and it will basically shoot those control signals down that phase of the house wiring. So you should have full coverage at that point.

While I'm a little bummed about this modem issue, hopefully I'll have luck with a powered USB hub running the thing.

My overall verdict just 24 hours after installing this thing. It's very cool, if you can get it to work. The reviews online seem to be polar opposites of each other with regards to this. Some people just can't get it to work, period (noisy circuits?) and other people find it as simple as plug it in and it just works. As an electrical engineer I can certainly attest to wiring issues (with regards to noise) being a very, very hard issue to troubleshoot that often ends in "let's see how things look when we turn off this device." Of course you also need an oscilloscope to actually see/measure the effect, otherwise you're stuck in the dark (as I am here at home) with just seeing if your problems disappear. Which - with a "~1 day" uptime before failure, as said by the mControl guys - makes for a very, very difficult troubleshooting process.

I'll post more later as I think I've got some news. I'll start a new thread.

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wodysweb

I didn't read through all of the insteon vs x10 in this thread, but on the topic of mControl...I'd be vary cautious spending any $$ on that product...it's been lacking any updates in quite some time, little to no forum support from the company, etc. I've been watching it for a while because of the MCE integration, but the product has stagnated it seems. Check into some other solutions like Homeseer, CQC, Homelogic, etc. If you're really interested, you can get some good home automation info on sites like cocoontech, remotecentral, avsforums.

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dabretty

wodysweb -

Thanks for the heads up on mControl. I researched a few of those others before I went down this path (Insteon and mControl), but the MCE integration just isn't important for me, nor is actively controlling stuff in the house from a remote control, an iPhone, etc. Basically, I am really only interested in scheduled, "set-it-and-forget-it" activities ... which mControl seems to do quite well, despite a somewhat clunky interface in my opinion. But other than setup/editing an "activity," I really don't have to look at the thing. So if it works without needing my interaction I'm happy, and I am so far.

FYI to anyone thinking of buying the particular set of hardware that I am using. As per mControl's recommendation, on Friday evening I put a cheap powered USB hub in between my EX495 and the Insteon 2412U modem. Since then, I have had no problems whatsoever (although it's only been a little shy of 48 hours). So it would certainly appear that the HP MediaSmart servers have some USB power issues ... maybe it's fine for most devices, but the Insteon 2412U apparently will go numb at the slightest of interruptions. Has anyone seen any other USB devices have issues with the MediaSmart ports? I'm guessing it won't be a problem with most USB applications, and it seems like the number one USB device people use with WHS are external (and externally powered) hard drives.

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