Getting Started with Lighting Control

X10

X10 is the oldest home automation technology out there, but
it still works depending on your setup. 
X10 is a power line carrier (PLC) technology, and thus sends commands
over your existing power lines.  The
advantages are simple, lots of modules that cost next to nothing.  Downsides exist with that however, mainly in
reliability because of noise in the power lines and older crappy modules.  At this point it most likely isn’t a good
idea to build your whole install around X10, but it still can be useful for inexpensive
RF-based control options.  X10 modules go
for $5 and up on eBay (which is actually one of the best places to buy).  The amount of different modules also exceeds
most other technologies, which RF remotes and motion sensors being the key.

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Z-Wave

Z-Wave relies on RF-based communication without using power
lines.  Every Z-Wave modules acts as an
RF Repeater, so the more modules the stronger the communication within your
home will be.  Z-Wave modules can respond
faster than X10 modules because of the use of RF-based communication.  Z-Wave modules start at around $40 and go up
from there.  Z-Wave has gained the
backing of several larger tech companies including Intel, Monster Cable, Logitech,
and more.  The number of modules is
increasing, but many of them are also costly. 
The average module cost is around $60/each.

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INSTEON

INSTEON is backwards compatible with X10, making it
attractive for those who have existing X10 installs or want to take advantage
of other X10 control solutions.  INSTEON also
power line communication, along with RF to bridge power phases.  Every device acts as a repeater making the
network stronger as you add more devices (like Z-Wave).  Until recently, INSTEON offered a lower cost
line of modules starting at about $20. 
These have been discontinued and now the base prices starts at about
$40.  Newer modules are finally starting
to arrive using INSTEON, but again they costly starting at $80 and up.  These include IR control, irrigation, and
more.

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Which should you
pick?

The age old question for lighting control and home
automation is which standard to choose? Unfortunately, there is no single
answer.  Each of the above (and others no
mentioned mainly because of cost) offer advantages and have disadvantages.  I choose INSTEON a year ago when modules
started around $20 as price was my main consideration.  I’ve had a great experience with INSTEON and
have added various other INSTEON and X10 modules to my setup.

One great advantage of mControl is that it can control all
of the above from within a single install. 
All you need to do here is have a PC-based controller connected for each
standard.  Since INSTEON and X10 are
backwards compatible, all INSTEON controllers also handle X10.  If you want all three standards to work
concurrently, just pickup an INSTEON controller and a Z-Wave controller and you
are good to go.

It’s not just about
the PC

I think one common mistake people make is thinking that
control should be limited to your PC. 
The greatest advantage of lighting control to me is the various types of
control form factors that you can have. 
For example, mControl is a great control interface in rooms that you use
Media Center/Media Center Extenders.  However,
you might not always want to turn on your display in order to turn off a light
in the room.  Depending on which standard
you choose there are various other control options including RF remotes and
tabletop controllers.  If we can ever get
some shipping Sideshow devices, mControl will have this angle covered too.  Bottom line; don’t forget to consider other
switches, tabletop controllers, and remotes as a part of your decision.

Getting the wife on
board

If the age old question is not which standard to choose, it’s
how in the world do you get the wife or girlfriend to approve such an
investment.  I’ve found that the secret
here is simple, start with X10 without the PC integrated.  For well under $50 you can do a very basic
one room (eg. bedroom) setup using X10 that will give you bedside control of
the lights via an RF remote or stick switch. 
I guarantee this will get her to appreciate the benefits of lighting
control when they don’t have to get out of bed to turn off the lights at night.  Use your imagination for other advantages.

Adding mControl

The next step in your lighting control process is adding
mControl for complete Media Center control and macro support.  I’ll have another post on things you can do
here, but the first step is always picking the right technology.

If X10/INSTEON is your technology, then one of the best
starting points is picking up an INSTEON Starter Kit.  You can either get one with plug-in lamp modules, or
in-wall switches.  If Z-Wave is your choice, then you can pick
up a Z-Wave Starter Kit too.

These don’t include your PC controller, so for X10 or INSTEON this is the one you
want
, and for Z-Wave this one.

Questions?

Got a question about lighting control or home automation
using mControl?  Post here and I’ll try
and get you going with the help of Embedded
Automation
.

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