It’s not my fault that I’m very, very particular about how my music sounds. My dad was an audiophile who originally owned a record store and moved on to own radio stations. He’d build speakers for our home from scratch, going to Acoustic Research in Cambridge, MA for the very best parts. And then fishing through walls and floors to wire for whole home audio. These were large, stage/concert quality speakers and wow, it was magnificent even though I wasn’t allowed to play rock and roll or folk music. When I started equipping my own home for music, many, many years later, I started with some Bose bookshelf speakers in one room and then a 5.1 system of speakers from Cambridge Soundworks through a home receiver/home theater setup. But still only in one room/one floor And then, along came Sonos with whole home audio. I listened to Sonos Play 5’s in a showroom and was hooked. And of course everything was going digital and online streaming services were just starting up and I signed up for Pandora. I ripped my existing CD collection to digital and starting working on doing the same with my dad’s vast collection of vinyl. With Sonos Play 5’s paired up on 2 floors, I had whole home audio (the master bedroom shares air space with my loft home office and a cathedral ceiling covers both).
I’d been thinking about getting a pair of Play 1’s for the bedroom for a while and didn’t pull the trigger as I started hearing the rumors of an Alexa powered Sonos speaker. I’d been using an Echo Dot in the master bedroom, sometimes connect to a Bose Soundlink Mini II (which I mostly use outside on my deck in the summer). So, I when launch day arrived, I grabbed two white Sonos Ones.
I’d already enabled the Sonos skill in the Alexa app and linked my Sonos account, so setting up the new speakers was pretty fast and easy. Got them tuned with True Play. And they sound amazing. Alexa somehow sounded happier on Sonos One than on the Echo Dot
And then the first test, “Alexa, play Adele in the Bedroom”. Oh yeah, shuffling Alexa from Prime Music (where I have some playlists) and oh yeah, what great sound. A stereo pair really fills the room and while some complain about not having thumping base, for me, the balance is perfect. My music taste is pretty eclectic and ranges from Opera to Rock, to Blues, to Folk, to Jazz and to Classical.
There is one negative about Sonos that I feel important to call out. Since Sonos still (obstructively) relies on the dangerous SMB1 protocol for streaming from local Windows computers to Sonos speakers, I’ve moved to a DLNA based Twonky Server on NAS for streaming my huge collection of ripped music. Sonos really should be ashamed of themselves for not addressing this.
Alexa, What Can You do on Sonos One?
There are only a few Alexa skills that I’ve found that don’t work on Sonos One. You can’t make and receive calls (but for my usage, being able to make and receive calls on Sonos is not something I need, and I do have an Echo Show in the kitchen). On the other hand, I do like to call up my Flash Briefing when I get up and currently when I ask Alexa for my flash briefing on Sonos One, there is silence. I’ve been told this is a known limitation and being looked into. An Internet search turned up this Sonos thread on non working skills where after reading through all the posts, it seems that only Sleep Sounds is called out by name as not working along with the Flash Briefing. I’m not concerned about the sleep sounds skill since as an Amazon Prime subscriber there are plenty of Sleep Sound playlists that work just fine if I ask Alexa to “play a sleep sounds playlist in the bedroom”. Edit: Working as of November 30! But all the other Alexa skills that I currently use are working and I’m a very happy camper. Compared to using an Echo Dot and a connected speaker, well, for me there is no comparison. Sonos One rocks.
If you’re a hard core Windows Insider, you’ll want to be one of the first to know when new Insider Builds are available for download and corresponding blog posts go up. You can always watch @donasarkars Twitter stream (and check the hints that builds are coming in images she posts), but if you have Hue or LIFX connected bulbs, you can use IFTTT to set up an Applet (used to be called a recipe) to get a visual alert.
Dona has graciously agreed to include a new hashtag #flight when she tweets notifications about builds.
It is really easy to set up the IFTTT piece, and you will need to enable the Hue/LIFX integration by signing into your account if you haven’t already connected it to IFTTT.
Heaven forbid that I should have to lift a handheld remote in my very Smart Home. I got to thinking that with everything I’ve voice enabled here, I had not done anything with my home theater equipment. I’ve got a bunch of stuff downstairs in the Living Room and a bunch of stuff in the Master Bedroom. I’ve already got a Harmony Ultimate Hub/Remote in the Bedroom and an old and dying Harmony 1100 in the Living Room that I’m replacing with AnyMote Home.
I decided it was time to experiment with Alexa voice control. The TLDR; version of this post is that AnyMote, which takes concentration and time to set up (and is pretty geeky when it comes to advanced functions), coupled with the Alexa AnyMote skill is awesome.
Here’s a quick list of what my two Home Theater’s include for major components:
Samsung LN52B750 TV
Sony STR-DA4ES Receiver
Samsung BD-F5900 BD Player
Comcast DCX 3400 DVR
Amazon Fire TV
WD Live Hub
Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter
5.1 Surround Speakers
Old Yamaha Receiver
Old LT-P326W Samsung TV
Comcast DCX 3400 DVR
Samsung BD-5900 BD Player
5.1 Surround Speakers
The Living Room (My Main Home Theater)
In my Living Room, my goal was to replace the dying Harmony 1100. I thought about getting another Harmony Hub for the Living Room to use with my iPad Air, but was concerned that when I got to voice enabling it that there would be conflicts with the Bedroom Harmony Hub (see below on the Master Bedroom) AND I’m not very fond of the individual device control interface for Harmony on the iPad. And Amazon had the AnyMote Home on sale for $89.00. Plus, AnyMote allows Alexa voice control of individual “buttons” (which is not the case with using the Harmony routines) as well as macros (activities).
AnyMote is an amazing tool. It’s a geek treasure hunt (like peeling back layers of an onion) that leads to discovery of the many things this little gadget can do when coupled with a supported device and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I used my iPad Air to set things up (and will also be using my iPhone) as I wanted the larger screen for first time set up. I pretty much found built in codes for most of my (aging) home theater components; I had to use the record a button feature to get a few things to work properly, but I got the basic functions working and tested fairly quickly.
After insuring the remotes were configured correctly and buttons were working properly, I jumped in and created macros that turned on three devices and set the proper inputs, etc. I started with 4 so that I could control my set top box and my BD ROM player; one each to turn everything on and one each to turn everything off. I used longish delays between powering on and off components so that I could properly test (see image below) and have been adjusting the delays as I go. Below is one of the macro in progress where I can stack commands and delays.
I created a blank Smart Home Remote and named it Home Theater and imported the 4 macros. I was itching to try the Alexa AnyMote Skill, so I stopped there and got that up and running. Pairing with Alexa is built in to the AnyMote App; a phrase is displayed that you speak, and Alexa complies and acknowledges.
After pairing is complete, the AnyMote App displays an abbreviated tutorial (which didn’t cover everything I needed, but there is more information on the AnyMote Knowledge Base which answered most of my questions. Basically, you tell Alexa the name of the button to action and the device remote to use, e.g., “Alexa, tell AnyMote to MUTE my Sony Receiver”. For macros, the syntax is “Alexa, ask AnyMote to execute [macro_name]”.
Watch Alexa and AnyMote in action in my Living Room. Alexa runs my macro to turn on three components to watch Cable TV. Next, Alexa opens MyDVR via AnyMote:
I created some macros for my favorite TV channels as well. When I tested them, I found that Alexa didn’t like some of the names I’d selected – neither MAX HD or MAX was recognized by Alexa, but CINEMAX worked fine. Go figure. Below is a screen shot that pretty much shows where I am at this point (with lots more to figure out and implement)
One of the gotchas’s is that every time you create new macros, apparently you need to disable the AnyMote Alexa Skill in the Echo App, repair your AnyMote with Alexa (which resynchronizes everything). It isn’t a big deal, but it is annoying.
Editing the visuals of a remote is also available. Inside the remote editor, I can change themes, button colors and text and use built in icons. I couldn’t get the channel icons for the United States to appear/work, so I settled for color coding the channels that I created macros for. I’m probably missing something obvious, but for now I can tell Alexa “Ask AnyMote to execute HBO” and the channel changes. Or I can push the buttons on the iPad.
I saw some negative comments about AnyMote, but I highly recommend this device and app if you’re comfortable with doing tweaking and fine tuning to get things “just right”.
The Master Bedroom
I have a SmartThings Hub that I was not using (I’d bought it in my quest to voice enable my Sonos speakers, but it didn’t meet my expectations so I went elsewhere to fill that need). I remembered that SmartThings was supposed to work with Logitech Harmony Wi-Fi based remotes, so with nothing to lose, my first task was to see what I could accomplish with my bedroom home theater gear.
SmartThings requires a whole series of steps, done in a particular order, to add “things” and authorize for use with Alexa (I’d previously disabled SmartThings in the Alexa App after the Sonos experiment.) Harmony remotes use “Activity” based commands (macros) and it looked like that these activities could be voice enabled (but not individual control of devices, like Play, Pause, Stop, Eject, etc. for an individual component). The process for me was a little rocky. SmartThings discovered my activities after I linked with my Harmony account and imported them as “Watch TV [Harmony Control]”, “Watch a DVD [Harmony Control]”, etc., so I had to rename them (deleted the [Harmony Control] part) and then relink SmartThings with Alexa.
Fortunately, the Alexa App is very smart and lets you pick which SmartThings devices to control.
I ran Discovery in the Alexa App and the two “activities” were discovered and added. However, Alexa just didn’t seem to understand the “Watch a DVD” or “Watch TV” syntax. I tried speaking slowly, quickly, but Alexa kept offering to play songs from my Music Library or other responses. After a while I decided that maybe renaming the activities was the solution. So I renamed to “My Movie Theater” and “Xfinity”.
I then disabled SmartThings in the Alexa App and unlinked SmartThings and relinked, etc. but couldn’t get Discovery to find the new named activities. I had to unlink/remove AND remove the Harmony Remote from SmartThings and re-run discovery for Things, rename to My Movie Theater and Xfinity, relink to Alexa and THEN run discovery to get the selected activity/Things to appear. Eureka. This works.
When I tell Alexa (via my upstairs Dot) to “Turn on My Movie Theater”, all the right things happen. The components are properly powered on and the handheld Harmony remote actually changes to reflect the running Activity so that I can use the buttons to Play, Pause, FFW, etc. I wish I could tell Alexa to “Play”, “Pause”, etc. and maybe someday I WILL be able to do this. I wasn’t too enthralled by the SmartThings setup process. I know Yonomi also can link to Harmony, but I wanted to first try my neglected SmartThings Hub. I’m sure Yonomi will be smoother, but again, only the Activities (macros) will be supported.
For me, AnyMote is the clear winner in Home Theater control. I’m using maybe 25% of its capabilities and as time goes on, I’ll be experimenting with other functionality.
Just yesterday I was away from home and thinking I needed to add a few things to my Alexa powered shopping list and wishing there was an easy way to do this without typing into the Alexa App on my iPhone or using a web browser on my tablet. And I’ve often cursed out Siri for not turning on lights when I’ve summoned her to action this from a distance using HomeKit via my Apple TV.
Today I discovered Lexi –a $5 iOS app that changed everything. Press and hold the button, watch the animation, add items to my shopping list, turn lights on or off. This is Alexa “on the road”, giving me control of my Connected Home when I’m miles away from home.
If you are on the fence about buying an Amazon Echo, you can use this App to try out many of the features of Alexa, as this app will handle shopping lists, queries and many of the Alexa Skills. (But not Amazon Music). And I truly think every home should be Alexa powered.
The open Alexa ecosystem (and it really is an ecosystem) makes the Amazon Echo a really compelling Smart Home controller and virtual assistant. I’m continually amazed and pleased by how developers, like the Lexi team, are extending the Alexa experience and making my life so easy (and fun).
I recently discovered the Yonomi App which was the result of a narrow quest to enable voice control for my Sonos stations using Alexa. The Connected Home landscape is still filled with detours and roadblocks, but Amazon’s Alexa (Echo) is what Siri should have been and there is support for far more devices and vendors on the Alexa platform. With the Alexa Skills for developers, the platform is open and growing.
The best of the bunch of existing Alexa Skills is Yonomi. That was my opinion even before the nice folks at Yonomi sent me a LifX 1000 color bulb and a Vita Copenhagen EOS mini feather lamp to add to my connected home. I’ve got some Hue bulbs, lightstrips and Hue Blooms, and I was already enamored of what color does in my home. To me, it is “internal landscaping with light”, but also very functional. Unlike Hue, which needs a hub, LifX is Wi-Fi (and cloud) based. LifX app setup is a little quirky as you need to go and reset your password as no password is configured at all when you set up your light(s), which I see as a huge flaw. Most consumers won’t figure this out as resetting a non-existent password isn’t exactly logicial. But, all in all, my LifX color bulb nestled in my new feather lamp in the guest bedroom is a nice addition to my connected home.
LifX has a nice iOS app, an Android app (that I have no experience with) and wonder of wonders, a Windows App. LifX is possibly alone in official support of the Windows Platform. Insteon made an initial attempt to support the platform, but has seemingly abandoned it, as their Windows App broke around October 2015 and has not been fixed, nor has it been updated with the new functionality available to iOS and Android. Hue has done nothing for Windows users and their iOS app is not very robust. Lutron has done nothing for Windows users. So a shoutout to LifX for being an equal opportunity developer.
I’ve recently added an Echo Dot to my connected home and it resides on my nightstand connected to my first generation Bose Wave/PC radio. Alexa can hear me in the Master Bedroom, the Guestroom. and my Home Office in the Loft above the bedroom. Perfect. Running Smarthome discovery again in the Echo app got my new Feather Lamp discovered immediately. Alexa controls this beautifully including dimming and color changes. The official commands are listed at http://www.lifx.com/pages/alexa – and I customized what I need for my new Feather lamp.
I love my new LifX bulb. Wish I could afford a few more…
Loving the Yonomi App
The Connected Home isn’t about single devices. It’s about getting disparate devices from a variety of vendors to play nice together and create scenes that include mutliple vendors. Alexa has groups, but they don’t handle everything, especially fine control of my Sonos speakers. And here is where Yonomi shines. Yonomi has a long (and growing) list of supported devices. (I’d love to see Yonomi add Insteon and Lutron Caseta hubs to the mix – this would cover everything I currently have in my connected home.)
Yonomi allows you to create both time and geofencing based “routines” (many vendors call these scenes). You can create these and use them from the Yonomi App AND run device discovery in the Amazon Echo app to allow voice control via Alexa for these same routines. At the simplest level, you can create a routine without a time or location dependency by configuring (or leaving on the default setting) Date & Time without any parameters. Then add your action items for your device(s). I created two routines. Feather on and Feather off (shown below). I’ll be adding my Hue gear to the Yonomi authorized list soon and create some more complex “routines” involving turning on lights and Sonos music. Once I complete this, I’ll ask Alexa to run the routine. More information is available from Yonomi on this type of usage.
My personal style is to set up what I need in the Yonomi App and use Alexa voice control for on demand connected home actions/routines. The location based (geofencing) routines just work automatically, as do the time based routines. So once configured, while I could run routines from the Yonomi app, I prefer voice control. I suspect that when my list of routines gets big, I’ll need to depend more on the app to remind me what I’ve configured, but over time, I intend to use voice control whenever possible.