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Is Insteon Better than X10 for Home Automation? 284

Posted by Cliff
from the next-generation-of-home-automation dept.
Paul Carver writes "Smarthome has been advertising Insteon for a while now, but I haven't bought any of it, yet. I've accumulated a fair amount of X10 products over the years, including Smarthome branded signal boosters, signal couplers, noise blockers, and troubleshooting tools. Even so, I'm pretty much fed up with X10. Nothing I've bought has succeeded in making my X10 system more than 'just barely acceptable' and 'better than nothing but not by much'. A Google search for Insteon doesn't turn up much other than their own advertisements and a couple of vaguely positive but not detailed reviews. Is this new technology going to take off? What's the community's consensus on home automation?"
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Is Insteon Better than X10 for Home Automation?

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  • Did you bother to (Score:5, Informative)

    by geekoid (135745) <(dadinportland) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Thursday April 13, 2006 @06:49PM (#15125817) Homepage Journal
    go to google groups?

    Looks like a lot of info there.
  • Advertising... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jetson (176002) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @06:53PM (#15125851) Homepage
    The question *I* would ask is "will Insteon advertise using pop-up or pop-under ads the way X-10 did?"

    I was actually thinking of going with X-10 once, but the advertising became so annoying that when I finally saw the stuff for sale in a local store I changed my mind and decided to boycott the product instead.

    • Not only that, the X10 spycam really sucks....
    • Re:Advertising... (Score:5, Informative)

      by MustardMan (52102) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:02PM (#15125902)
      X-10 is a protocol. X10.com is one company which sells products using that protocol (as well as various other products, such as cheap wireless webcams). Companies such as smarthome are not associated with the pop-up/unders you despise so much. AFAIK X-10 is the only easily retrofitted home automation solution. I've never heard of this Insteon before, but I'll have to check it out - I have a fair bit of X-10 hardware already so I'd hate to start again from scratch.
      • Re:Advertising... (Score:2, Informative)

        by Formica (775485)
        INSTEON is backwards compatible with X10, so you don't need to throw away your X10 hardware: http://www.insteon.net/aboutinsteon.html [insteon.net]
      • Re:Advertising... (Score:3, Informative)

        by walt-sjc (145127)
        I've never had good luck with X10 devices. First, the products were crappy. The light swiches would eventually wear out after a year of normal use - the little springs inside break. Second, the protocol is flakey as hell. It's very simplistic, and also very suceptable to noise. Nothing worse that your bedroom light going on and off by itself in the middle of the night - no, whole house filtering didn't even work. I got tired of all the issues and removed it all despite the rather sizable investment.

        I was re
        • Nothing worse that your bedroom light going on and off by itself in the middle of the night - no, whole house filtering didn't even work.

          By any chance did you have their motion detectors elsewhere in the house, and your bedroom was on housecode A? I had this problem, and finally tracked it down to a weak battery in a motion detector. I now change the batteries fatithfully once a year, and haven't had the problem again in 6 years. (Reason- still a crappy product of a sort- the unit and house code are st
          • Re:Advertising... (Score:4, Interesting)

            by walt-sjc (145127) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @08:34PM (#15126437)
            Nope. No motion detectors at all. The probelm is that the protocol has no error checking. There are no CRC's, ACK's, or retransmits or anything. It's just a very very simplistic crappy 30 year old protocol that does not handle real world conditions well. It needs to die.
    • WHen X10 was brand new, I bought a couple of units. SHortly after that pop-up ads where...well.. popping up all over the place. So I never expanded, and eventually removed them.
  • If Insteon is better, I hope they are able to market themselves well. If only Insteon had an ad campaign like the one X-10 had going for a long while. I can remember when every single pop-up window was an X-10 ad (before Firefox :). I guess it worked since it appears the author of this post can't find any competitors.... ahh memory lane...
    • Not really proof so much that it worked, but it kept Yahoo! alive for a while. The reason that pop-ups became "mainstream" and a "crossover" way to advertise is because X10.com paid so much to flood the market. At the same time the online ad market was falling apart; Yahoo! and others were looking at ways to start charging for their non-basic features. X10.com really did save the day by doing something that other companies just wouldn't - they paid tons of cash to be known by every American with a computer,
  • by cr0sh (43134) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @06:57PM (#15125871) Homepage
    However, in the book FAB by Neil Gershefeld [amazon.com], there is described an interesting "Hello World" circuit, which is supposedly open-sourced in some manner by (MIT Media Lab?) - that uses a 2 or 3 wire physical layer protocol, coupled with a low-speed packet protocol, based on TCP, but in a much simpler format (similar to morse code) - it was supposedly dubbed "Internet0" or some weirdness. HERE IT IS [mit.edu] - anyhow, I am pretty sure that is it - if not, it is probably located somewhere else in the FABLAB wiki. Also, look at this too [google.com]...
    • Here is some more info [mit.edu] - BTW, it is Neil Gershenfeld - small typo, sorry...
    • by cr0sh (43134) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:12PM (#15125961) Homepage
      Basically, the idea behind Internet0 is the development of a small, easily implemented protocol to allow for "everyday objects" to communicate to one another. For the purposes of home/office automation (especially in the case where it may be a "noisy" environment, like a large office building - or one where installing a lot of communication or control systems is difficult), where you want to control lights and other electrical systems, such a protocol and the simple physical interface (the original implementation relies on an ATMEL uController, but you could easily get away with any such device) - which could be anything from a couple of wires, RF communications, or an LED/phototransistor pair (short range, of course) make it ideal for such needs. Of course, I don't think there are any commercial offerings of Internet0, yet (though I could be wrong). Also, because it is based off of TCP, building a gateway or other hardware to interface it to the rest of the internet is certainly doable...
    • by walt-sjc (145127) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @08:25PM (#15126393)
      And for something actually commercial that is wide open, there is the CAN protocol: http://www.can-cia.org/can/ [can-cia.org]
      • Let's resubmit this one like,
        "Hi I'm automating my house using a CAN based network and I'm wondering what kind of devices people are using in their systems."

        For those who don't know, CAN is what most modern automobiles use as a network. The advantage over something like TCP/IP is that it allows you to resolve conflicts between devices at the network level. To use the car analogy, it would help to prevent a prolem with the stereo from screwing up the ignition timing despite having both of them tied t
  • Yes. (Score:5, Informative)

    by CompressedAir (682597) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @06:58PM (#15125877)
    Insteon is awesome. It takes away all the headaches I have had with X10 devices.

    Now, if the question is really, "How does Insteon compare to other, more expensive, home automation devices?" then I don't know. My experience is only with X10 and Insteon, and compared to X10 Insteon is the bee's knee's.

    There is not a very large selection of types of Insteon devices right now, but that should change in 2006. For us Mac folks, the current version of Indigo has pretty good Insteon support.
  • X is better then X10 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Thursday April 13, 2006 @06:58PM (#15125879) Homepage Journal
    For all values of X. In particular, the values of X that really really look interesting are the ZWave things from smarthome.

    http://www.smarthome.com/prodindex.asp?catid=50 [smarthome.com]

    There's another one called ZigBee that looks even better.

    It's a brand new technology. They use radio communications, and a pretty neat broadcast algorithm that means your signals will get to their destination. Plus, you can get a response back.
    • from TFA (er the advert) :

      How Reliable is INSTEON?
      Nearly 100%. Over 10 million signal packets were tested in over 100 homes across America. A near-perfect success rate of over 99.97% was measured. Each INSTEON message contains error detection, so lights turning on accidentally will virtually never happen.

      hmm... so basically this is saying that virtually never is about 1 in about 3300. (or 3 in 10000, however you want to look at it) now if you turn on ten things a day (which seems reasonable if not conserva

      • when you compare this though to X10s failure rate, which seems to be about 1 in 10, these would rock. They are MUCH more expensive though.

        As for the AC, the idea is to use a sensor to measure temp vs. turn on AC from 1:00 to 3:00. See http://www.smarthome.com/3045B.html [smarthome.com]

      • How hard is it to guarantee packet delivery, and to make the hardware not do something stupid if it gets an error?

        As an EE I can say: unless you can tolerate (multiple redundant sets of) wires running to and from every device and every controller, or have an unlimited budget, then the answer is hard. Very hard, in fact.

        I guess what I'm saying is, "reliably, cheap, not ugly -- pick two."
      • 99.97% is the success rate. The error rate is not given, but it should be some theoretical value too small to actually measure. If it's not, then I wouldn't want this system.

      • I read it as saying that 1 out of every 3300 packets would get garbled, meaning the transmitter won't get an ACK and thus would retransmit up to 5 times as per the spec unless it was a broadcast message, but I don't imagine those will be very plentiful. Given that the packet has a CRC and thus receiver can tell whether it got good data or not, I'd think that the incidence of devices doing something they're not supposed to would be vanishingly low.
        • I think you're assuming a lot here. This is a sales pitch not an uncorrected BER spec. I'm willing to bet that the quoted "success" rate is the END-TO-END rate after all retransmissions and corrections.

          JSL
      • I think it depends on how you read the claim. So let's say that they have a signal sucess rate of 99.97%: this probably means that 99.97% of the packets DID NOT NEED TO BE RETRANSMITTED - not that devices started doing stupid shit. Any good protocol that runs over a crappy medium like powerlines should have retransmits, acks, checksum hashes, etc. and will end up being very reliable in real life. This is very different from X10 which has NONE of that, and therefor toally sucks.
    • by dubbreak (623656)
      ZigBee isn't new, V1 of the standard was released in 2004. I investigated using it for a project a year ago.

      Here's the ZigBee Aliance faq [zigbee.org].
      • And just try to buy something. I started looking at Zigbee in 2004, and waited, and waited... went X10, and waited... and now, in 2006, I think I'm going to start buying Insteon. Sounds like largely the same setup, except it's here, now, and is compatible with the X10 junk I have. Sounds like Insteon is a win-win. Zigbee, as of 3 months ago, still a no show. Kind of like Vista.....(just to drag in an unrelated troll...;)
  • by NitsujTPU (19263) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @06:59PM (#15125883)
    I need some help here. I've been interested in X10 products for a while, and wanted to get one of the kits and such.

    Is X10 a standard, or a brand name? Is this the same company that pioneered outrageously annoying popup ads?

    I'm not sure my conscience could live with that.
    • X10 is a standard. Basically, X10 is also the most widely used standard simply because Radio Shack has been selling X10 compatible stuff for years. X10.com is evil and should be shot on sight, but you don't have to deal with them.

      Unfortunately, X10 is passable but not particularly good. For example, you can setup your lights to go on or off when you come home by combining a light switch device with a clock device. But it doesn't get much smarter than that. If you turn off a light with the automation sy
      • I've used X10 successfully for the last 8 years. Some things are better, some are worse. Mr.House (Linux Open Source) or Homeseer (Windows Closed Source but with an open API that uses VBScript of all things) are basic software that is needed to do anything useful. And you've got that backwards- local sense circuitry in alomost all X10 standard device controllers allow you to turn stuff ON from the device- but not OFF (or at least, not off and have it turn on by remote the next time).
    • Re:X10 (Score:4, Informative)

      by gregmac (629064) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:27PM (#15126047) Homepage
      s X10 a standard, or a brand name? Is this the same company that pioneered outrageously annoying popup ads?

      Both. And yes, X10 the company is the one that does the annoying pop-up ads. I don't have any experience with X10's (the company) stuff but I have used X10Pro (which seems to be an offshoot of X10 (the company)). I bought what was supposed to be a something load dimmer, but it made the fans hum anyways. Most of my light switches are Smarthome's SwitchLinc [smarthome.com] X10-based switches (now replaced with this Insteon stuff). The smarthome switches are very nice and high quality .. the X10Pro switch is a cheap piece of crap. It looks like a dimmer, but actually only has one button.. You have to hold to alternately fade up/down. There are no indications of brightness on it like the SwitchLinc's have (which makes controlling a fan hard, because it takes time to react.. you can't even tell if you're fading up or down half the time). I would not recommend buying any of their products.

      X10 (the protocol) [wikipedia.org] is used by many manufacturers, including X10, X10Pro, Leviton, Smarthome, ACT,.. the list goes on. The biggest problem with X10 is it's quite slow (it can take several seconds to transmit multiple commands), and because it uses signalling on the power line as the 120/240V alternating current sine wave crosses 0, it basically looks like 'noise'.. due to the simplicity, actualy noise is often misinterpreted as X10 commands. This has become more of a problem in the past few years as modern electronics are plugged in, but there are filters to block it (at additional $$).

      I considerd Smarthome and ACT products, and ultimately chose smarthome because of the extensive amount of stuff they had. I wish Insteon had been announced slightly earlier.. I bought all my stuff just over a year before the Insteon products were released. On the plus side, they seem to at least be somewhat compatible. The products for other protocols (zigbee, some of the other wired ones that use Cat5, etc) were just more expensive or time-consuming to install.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:00PM (#15125890)
    Forget all those fancy light automation kits, all you need is the Star Trek one http://www.smarthome.com/2017.html [smarthome.com] which gives you the power of voice commands such as "Computer, off"; simultaneously turning off the lights and your female partner.

  • When I read about an Perl interface to X10 used in Make magazine to turn on the coffeepot, I knew that there were two groups interested: complete geeks, and technoweenies, technoweenies being the early adopters, the beligerent oaf at work who declaims loudly that everyone needs a P43.6HT else your computer is "obsolete", that sort of fellow.

    Can anyone provide concrete benefits to this sort of trendy geek crap? Obviously I am biased. Other than "I can leave my PC on all day, and at 5pm, it turns the heat o
    • In my experience it's great - I use it heavily in my home. There are nice little things, like the fact that my TV remote also turns off my lights. Or the x10 remote on my night stand so I can turn the lights on or off from bed. Another huge benfit is the fact that lights can be automated to make it appear as if someone is home when I'm out of town. I travel a lot and this little extra bit of security helps keep me from worrying about robberies. I also use the motion sensors to trigger key lights in the
    • You can control your lighting and heating without getting out of bed.

      You can turn the outside lights on at sunset and off at sunrise.

      You can "gang" all the lights in your room together so that the main
      switch by the door turns everything on and off.

      If you are hacking at your computer and have your head phones on so you
      can't hear the door bell, you can have your house tell your computer to
      pop up a message on your screen. If you don't want to wait for someone
      to ring the door bell (i.e., UPS) you can put in a
      • "You can control your lighting and heating without getting out of bed."

        Why? Unless you are disabled. Even then, Thermostats have timers.

        "You can turn the outside lights on at sunset and off at sunrise."

        If only there was some sort of sensor to do this automatically...

        "You can "gang" all the lights in your room together so that the main
        switch by the door turns everything on and off."
        How many lights do you need to turn on at once? sheesh.

        "If you are hacking at your computer and have your head phones on so you
        c
        • Agreed. The only compelling features I've heard are the security ones. You'd likely find better products by looking for security systems rather than home automation systems.

        • by uradu (10768) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @11:47PM (#15127226)
          > How many lights do you need to turn on at once? sheesh.

          I don't think there's any convincing you, but here goes. One of the greatest benefits of HA switches like these are that they allow you to create virtual wiring, to retrofit connections that don't exist for various reasons. Say you bought an existing house with a garage in the back, and you would like to be able to turn the outside garage lights on and off from the front door. Those lights were only wired at the garage itself, and you'd have to run a new circuit through your backyard to the house and somehow run the wires into the wall with the switch. This can all be done by any electrician for the right amount, and by tearing out some sheetrock etc. Or, you could replace the switch in the garage and the one at the front door with HA switches and gang them together to achieve exactly the same effect, for less money and without touching any walls in the house or garage.

          Another nice benefit--particularly with the Insteon system--are status feedback switches. One of the switches has up to eight illuminated buttons on it that can control eight other switches throughout the house. Each button's light indicates whether the remote switch is on or off. This comes in very handy with lights that are not visible from the central switching location. For example, our house has four outside lighting locations around the house--at the front door, the side door, the back door, and the garage. They were not all wired to one central location, but with HA I can control them all from the switch at the front door, or any other location I desire. At night I can turn them all on without having to walk throughout the house to each light's inside switch.

          Both of these uses have nothing to do with geeky over-engineering and gratuitous automation. They are addressing real needs because of design oversights or pre-existing conditions in older homes. Of course, if you see no benefit in this sort of flexibility, then HA is certainly not for you. Move along, nothing to see.
    • It's like any other field of hackery: if you want its benefits, even those you dream up, you'll tweak it until it delivers.

      I'm somewhat hard to wake up at the best of times. Not good when there are kids to be gotten up, fed and clothed and off to catch the schoolbus on time. I use a combination of cron and X10 stuff to turn on lights before the alarm clock (so I'm almost awake), then play WAV sounds as timing chimes (even a Morse countdown to when each schoolbus is due to go by). In the evening, the same

    • Without wires, with open source that runs on Linux, I want to:

      • measure and control aquarium temperature
      • feed the fish
      • detect an animal in my trap outdoors
      • close the door to my trap
      • detect the trap door closing

      I can solder, and I could probably design a circuit that wouldn't immediately catch fire, but I'd rather not worry about such things.

    • Definitely yes. X10 may suck, but it's way better than not having it.

      A few examples:

      - My current house has a very stupid wiring setup. Three of the bedrooms have a ceiling fan and light in the center of the room, which serves as the main light for the room. These were installed when the house was built. Each of these bedrooms has a light switch by the door. Switch doesn't connect to fan at all. In fact, they're on separate circuits on opposite phases - the switch runs an outlet which usually w
  • I would like to improve the automation of my home. I have some vague images of the "Home of the Future" from early cartoons and discussions with friends. Some people worry about gender role changes and social impacts: http://askpang.typepad.com/relevant_history/2003/0 7/home_of_the_fut.html [typepad.com] http://samvak.tripod.com/home.html [tripod.com] Others just want better technology. For me it is really about common communication standards, even [gasp] network aware appliances. Leaning on communication over the power lines to
  • Some years back I replaced about half of the lighting controls in the house with X10 stuff (I would have done more but I have quite a bit of fluorescent lighting and they don't do fluorescents.)

    A year later I ripped it all out and threw it away. The crap was just too flaky -- the ones that didn't go totally Tango Uniform would change state spontaneously at totally random times. Changing addresses didn't help at all.

    So, IMHO, the "better than X10" technology has been around since the 195h century.

    • I would have done more but I have quite a bit of fluorescent lighting and they don't do fluorescents.

      Huh; that's news to me! I have several dozen fluorescents (and halogens, and incandescents) controlled by X-10 devices in my home. X-10 work OK, X-10pro work better, and the molst expensive brand at Smarthome (Leviton or similar, I think) work nearly perfectly.

  • Home Automation, Shmautomation.

    I'd be far, far more interested in a "universal remote" that really worked, that was infinitely programmable without having to learn a new language of keypresses, that didn't lose everything it had learned every time it's dropped from a height of one foot (or the batteries go dead), and actually KNEW HOW TO FRIGGIN' TURN ON ALL MY JUNK AND WORK THE VOLUME AND CHANNEL SELECTION.

    Here it is 2006, and I STILL have to turn my TV and home theatre receiver on manually, so the remote

    • Sounds like a couch to remote error to me...
    • Go pickup a logitech harmony remote. They are a little pricey, but it solved all my remote woes. It turns on all devices for a specified activity (watch a dvd, and it turns on the tuner, sets it to DVD, turns on the TV, sets it to input 1, turns on the DVD player). Likewise there is a "OFF" button that just turns off everything. VERY nice remote.
    • I think your looking for Woz's Cloud 9, created back in the 80s...
      • I doubt it, since it would suck with most modern devices even more than it did when it was new. Maybe you should look for a way to get his member out of your orifice. It seems to have been there since the 80's...
      1. Determine maximum distance you want your remote to work over.
      2. Buy a piece of dowel that long.
      3. Cut a cross into one end. This end operates toggle switches, bush buttons, slide switches, etc.
      4. Stick a suction cup on the other. This end operates volume/balance/tone knobs, rotary switches, etc.
      5. Profit!

  • Look at ZWave (Score:4, Insightful)

    by msoftsucks (604691) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:19PM (#15125997)
    Forget about X10. It's always been a mess. Take a good look at ZWave Technologies [zen-sys.com]. I've had very good success with it. It has alot of potential, so much so, that it seems that Cisco is buying the company in order to roll it out in its Linksys prodcuts.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I had a long discussion with Smarthome about the license you MUST agree to in order to purchase their Insteon SDK, which includes nondisclosure terms as well as requiring you to get their permission before distributing anything. And other hostile legal stuff. The person I was discussing this started off trying to be helpful and then did a 180 and gave me a bunch of corporate doublespeak BS that clearly indicated that they weren't going to change anything.

    Smarthome has in the past been friendly to free softw
    • Everything that has been posted to the developer forum about open source software. Has been agreed to be posted as far I a know.

      Example:
      http://www.linuxha.com/athome/common/iplcd/index.h tml [linuxha.com]

      And I know for a fact that Neil Cherry (the developer of the above software) got permission from Smarthome to release the software.
      • Damn, the people you run into on /. How ya doin', Steve? (It's Nathan)

        It is possible to get X-10 to work reliably, it just takes some work, a little tinkering, and quality components. My house is now almost exclusively based on X-10, largely on Smarthome Keypadlincs. Whoever wired this place initially was a moron, and pulling new romex was way more trouble than it was worth. Light switches that don't control the lights, places where you have to wander into dark rooms to find the lightswitches, etc.
  • by cshotton (46965) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:30PM (#15126072) Homepage
    I have the Insteon "starter kit" installed. It consists of the computer interface, wireless/wired signal bridge units, several lamp modules, 2 wall switches and a table-top controller. It has the ability to be backward compatible with X-10 addressing and the new Insteon protocol is actually a 2-way protocol that uses each node in the net as a repeater to ensure commands are delivered and acknowledged.

    Bottom line is that it works. It works in places where old X-10 modules didn't. And it is MUCH faster than X-10 when respondng to Insteon commands from the controllers.

    My biggest problem is that the current switch units REQUIRE a neutral wire in the switch box to work. Without it, the units cannot communicate between themselves. As my house is over 100 years old, the presence of neutral wires is problematic. Sometimes an outlet is close enough to a switch that I can snake a neutral wire through the wall, but generally my switches are wired as old-style switch legs with the switch in-line on the hot wire.

    Other than that, the system works great and I'd happily change all of my wall switches over to Insteon in a heartbeat if not for the neutral wire problem. Rumor has it that they are coming out with units that install at the fixture, rather than the switch, making the neutral wire problem moot.

    Upgrade if you can afford it. It is better technology than X-10 by far.
    • by mfarver (43681) * on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:50PM (#15126190) Journal
      I'll disagree, for me it sucks about as much as X10 did.

      Insteon sells itself as a hybrid protocol, both RF and powerline but the switches are powerline only.. the only RF in the system is in the signal bridges AFAIK.

      1. Whenever Insteon signals are traversing the power line the backlight on the KeypadLinc blinks. The labels on the keypad link look like backlite paper becuase of the white LED illumination. Uniform plastic labels, or different color backlight would help improve the look a lot. Construction and feel of the device is excellent.

      2. Insteon programming seems simple, but you have to do weird things. Like when you program a button on the Keypadlinc if you want the light behind the button to track the state the fixture when the fixture is controlled from something other than the keypad lic you have to reverse program it.. and the system tends to get confused as to which unit will be the controller and which is the controlee. Once again, if you have noise in your environment.. forget it.

      3. Acknowledged transmission.... Insteon devices will repeat transmissions until they get an ACK from the controlled device... but only for about 1 sec. Not enough time to bypass a noisy environment. Also the ACK does not appear to contain the device ID, so when two commands go out in rapid series the transmmitters both assume the first ACK is meant for them.

      4. The getting started docs are too simple.. the full use docs are way too complicated.

      5. Insteon has an X10 compatibility mode that works ok, but interoperation with X10 automation controllers is still a little dicey.

      Mark
    • well you shoulod pound some copper into the ground and put neutral wire in all your outlets anyways.
    • As my house is over 100 years old, the presence of neutral wires is problematic

      you want to keep that house, bring the wiring up to code

  • by DarkHelmet433 (467596) * on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:31PM (#15126076)
    Yes, it does actually work. It works because:
    * every single device is a repeater!
    * they repeat by simulcasting. if 10 of your 50 devices hear the signal, all 10 will retransmit together in unison, generating one seriously strong signal.
    * Unlike X10, they are very very fast. X10 has 1/3 to 1/2 second latency. Insteon is practically instant. Certainly fast enough to be percieved as "instant", anyway.
    * Unlike X10 which degrades as you add devices, Insteon improves as you add devices.
    * You have RF bridges that you can add to bring the signal via RF to weak spots, if you somehow have any. Usually you need an RF bridge to cross phases in the house, but once you get enough devices even that is unnecessary.

    I have 50-something of these installed. They are more reliable than UPB here. X10 was an utter disaster in this house... we have UPS's everewhere, loads and loads of noisy fluroescent lights, noisy fish aquarium electronics, etc. Insteon handles it without missing a beat.

    HOWEVER.. All is not perfect. It is a young technology. Smarthome have made mistakes and to their credit are fixing them.

    My current problem is that their Appliance modules seem to be troubled by electrical noise, eg: EMF spikes from turning fluroescent lights on/off. It seems to crash the microcontroller on them. Older models used to burn out their load sense circuit with those electrical spikes. They're fixing them, but just not fast enough for my liking.

    Computer interface software has been very slow, but being fixed on a daily basis. 3rd parties are adding Insteon support to their home automation software on a near weekly basis these days.

    Smarthome are providing a cost-cut version under the 'ICON' brand and are in the process of getting them into Home Depot stores. $20 for a decent remote controllable dimmer compares pretty nicely to the dumb electronic dimmers they have.

    Yes, you can get developer docs via a SDK (comes with hardware to test with). Yes, it is easy to write unix software for it - I've done it myself. They do have a certification requirement if you're going to use the Insteon brand on your "product" though. But you can give it away as open source if you don't pretend it is certified.

    I think Insteon will ultimately win the defacto standard stakes. ie: it will be as ubiquitous as X10 at its height.
    • The dimmer modules are nice. But the appliance/switch models suck. They're still using relays! Use a triac. I know triacs switch at exactly the wrong time and may put noise into X-10 and Insteon communucations, but regardless, other devices use triacs, so they're just going to have to work around it. And then use triacs themselves.

      Other problems:
      The modules are all switches. If you buy just two dimmer switches for a 3-way system in your hallway, one of them is never used as a switch, yet it has all that swi
  • X10 is obsolete (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MobyDisk (75490) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:32PM (#15126081) Homepage
    X10 is mostly useless today.

    1) X10 doesn't work with modern wiring.
    It started degrading 10+ years ago, when building wiring improved and circuits and outlets started becoming more isolated. I've seen homes built as much as 20 years ago where the X10 signal only propogates from the upper outlet to the lower one, not to any other outlet. Plus, it never worked on surge protectors.

    2) The workarounds are worse
    Current X10 solutions get around this by having a wired-to-wireless bridge. This complication adds to the expense and defeats the entire purpose of having the electrical wiring propogate the signal. We need an all wireless solution.

    3) X10 is too limited
    X10 is limited to on/off/up/down. For example, you can't fade-up the lights on a home theater room if they were turned off. They first must "pop" to full brightness then fade down. There are complicated ways around this, but they really isn't worth it.

    Now, with all that said, I've not seen the alternatives. But I imagine anythnig would be better.
    • X10 is limited to on/off/up/down. For example, you can't fade-up the lights on a home theater room if they were turned off. They first must "pop" to full brightness then fade down. There are complicated ways around this, but they really isn't worth it.

      Untrue. There are now 2-way X10 devices. I use the lamp modules in my living room to do exactly what you complain doesn't work - going from 0% on to 15% on, primarally brought about by the birth of my daughters, who didn't take well the having bright light

  • by stienman (51024) <adavis@@@ubasics...com> on Thursday April 13, 2006 @07:41PM (#15126135) Homepage Journal

    Is this new technology going to take off?

    Not any more than X10. See below for reasons why home automation in general, and these two specific products, has not yet taken off.

    What's the community's consensus on home automation?

    It would be great if it was:
    * Cheap (less than 2 * the cost of existing switches and plugs)
    * Easy to install and configure for both new homes and retrofits
    * Super-reliable - not controllable from other sources, no chance of interference, no chance of failure after power outages, brownouts, etc, can survive multiple lightning strikes and other destructive conditions, falls back to a simple, obvious control state when there's a problem
    * Secure
    * Works like current technology - guests or prospective home buyers won't be left wondering what the extra buttons do, nor will they wonder how the light is supposed to go on.
    * Handles all common types of electrical lighting and appliances correctly automatically - you won't have to worry about plugging a flourescent lamp or fan in where a dimmer module is - it detects it and controls it appropiately

    The primary keys being that they be intuitive (ie, simulate normal dumb technology), cheap, and easy to install.

    So far every system has failed in nearly every respect. I've been considering the problem for many years, hoping to design my own home automation system, but even if I ignore the installation and cheap aspects (since I'll be doing both with no intent to commercialize) it's difficult to make it so simple that anyone can use it, nevermind meeting the other goals.

    So-
    Home automation is something that is still very niche. It's expensive, non-trivial to setup, and therefore will not make a huge penetration in the market for some time.

    Eventually it'll happen, but certainly not with these systems. The biggest advantage they have is no need for seperate or additional wiring. Insteon has a huge advantage over X-10 due to the wireless capability. Change that to Zigbee, manufacture plug units that are installed in the wall instead of plugged into it, build out the system options to include HVAC, garage door, sprinkler, whole house power consumption monitoring, very secure internet/cell phone access and monitoring, and drop the price to $3-$10 per module in small quantities ($2-$5 in hundred lots) and it'll be killer.

    As the "internet generation" gets older we'll see more and more interest in this and the non-trivial setup will become less of an issue. The other issues still need to be addressed.

    -Adam
  • Power line carrier data communication has always had problems. National Semiconductor
    used to sell a device that functioned as a data trasceiver that used signals in the
    50khz to 300khz range over the AC lines. The marketing idea was that communcation could be made between electronic devices without the expense of retrofitting buildings with additional wiring. There was even a prototype system set up in a grocery store that was fitted with HVAC equipment controlled via a central computer over the AC lines.
  • I have had nothing but bad experiences with X-10. I was about to jump on the UPB (Universal Powerline Bus) bandwagon when I got my recent smart home catalog promoting Insteon. So I'm curious how Insteon compares to UPB.
    • by Black Perl (12686) on Friday April 14, 2006 @10:28AM (#15129077)
      UPB has a more mature product line than Insteon. For this reason it is more common among professional installers, whereas Insteon appeals to do-it-yourselfers.

      For example,
      • There are multiple manufacturers of UPB products, including:
             
      • UPB is an open protocol with information freely available (Smarthome won't even talk to people who don't buy their SDK--I've tried)
      • The product line is much more complete. For example, there are:
        • Controllable outlets.
        • Fixture modules, which can be hidden in appliances or behind walls and hardwired to devices.
        • I/O modules that convert contact closures to UPB signals and vice-versa so you can integrate UPB with just about anything (garage doors, fireplaces, motion sensors, alarm panels, doorbells, custom pushbuttons, etc...



      The powerline technology they use works very well (like Insteon, it is MUCH better than X-10). The downside is that they are a bit more expensive than Insteon.

      Smarthome has a history of good ideas but manufacturing/firmware glitches. There are already reports of early adopters having problems [cocoontech.com] with their Insteon switches. Of course, any technology like this is going to have downsides. I just wish there were alternate manufacturers for Insteon devices.

  • My home is automated.... I call it having a wife. Everyday when I come home from work, my home
    automation system has already cleaned the house and cooked me dinner. Granted, the upkeep on such a
    system is quite expensive sometimes, but it's worth it for the most part.

    I'm already planning on the Mark 2 home automation system referred to as 'children' in a couple of
    years. This system takes a bit longer to train, but runs on peanuts.. or well.. maybe jelly beans.
  • by RichardtheSmith (157470) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @08:13PM (#15126336)
    Reasons Insteon is better:

    - Does not rely on sending signals thru the electrical system and all
    the problems that go along with that.

    - Each unit has a hard-coded address so you don't have to mess with
    house and unit codes.

    Reasons X10 is better:

    - Mature technology, all that gotchas and quirks are well-known.

    - Once you understand how house and unit codes work it's very easy to
    set up room control just by ganging multiple devices onto the same
    code. Using different house codes to "zone off" your house is
    convenient and slick.

    - The Insteon Powerlinc USB contoller sends signals thru the power
    lines to the nearest repeater, so your wiring is still a potential
    point of failure.

    - Insteon software support still sucks. For the Insteon Powerlinc
    serial controller there is no software support at all.

    - The internal IDE and API for the Insteon controller is hideously
    complex and poorly documented since it's a moving target. You have to
    master this thing called a "Salad IDE" and it just seems like massive
    overkill if all you want to do is simple home hobbyist stuff,
    especially if you want to do it from Linux.

    - More hardware available for X10. Try finding hardware for Insteon other
    than lighting control (you want to control your thermostat or your garage
    door or add a motion sensor to your lighting system). So what you end
    up with is a hybrid Insteon and X10 environment no matter what you do.
    So then you have to wrestle with Insteon, X10 and the Insteon-X10
    integration issues. So now you have 3 problems where with X10 you
    only had one.

    Overall I think Insteon has a lot of promise, but I'd wait another
    year or two for it to be more stable and for the variety of switches
    and the software support to improve. If you think Insteon will "just
    work" and you won't have to mess with it like you do with X10 you may
    be disappointed.
  • Having never heard of it, I checked the website. The first thing I noticed is that the software development kit (which includes the protocols) costs a hundred bucks. The X10 protocols are widely known and lots of software (both free and otherwise) has already been developed. If these guys expect to make a dent in that market, they'll need to re-think their pricing structure.
  • I used x10 to run a traffic light I bought off ebay. Sucked. Used it for about 120 seconds before I decided it wasnt going to seem cool to visitors. There were 2 options. The "lamp" modules have a 1/2 second or so latency before the command gets to them and they activate. The appliance one, on the other hand, is very "instant", but it makes a loud pop when it activates. So I could either have the world's most retarded looking traffic light, or POP POP POP every 20 seconds. Stupid.

    • The pop would be kinda nostalgic... Drive around in downtown philly at night, and if you're ballsy enough to have your window down, you can hear the relays click as the lights change!
  • Brand X has been advertising Brand X product for a while now, but I haven't bought any of it, yet. I've accumulated a fair amount of Brand Y products over the years, including Brand X branded signal boosters, signal couplers, noise blockers, and troubleshooting tools. Even so, I'm pretty much fed up with Brand Y. Nothing I've bought has succeeded in making my Brand Y system more than 'just barely acceptable' and 'better than nothing but not by much'. A Google search for Brand X product doesn't turn up much
  • After beating my head against a wall trying to convince people x10 was the right thing from a cost/value standpoint, I've finally seen a better solution by far than what is currently available. At a recent visit to Sprint/Nextel's office in Northern VA, I got to see a presentation of Motorola's wireless Home Automation solution that has similar benefits as Z-Wave as a pure wireless system while adding what I've seen as solving the biggest stumbling block in the business - the contoller.

    Motorola allows it
  • by crackers (27177) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @09:28PM (#15126653)
    I started using X10 almost as soon as it was commercially available (I still have one of my original Rat-Shack appliance modules that kinda sorta works if the load on it isn't more than a 60-watt lamp). I started writing my own software for it when the original X10 "computer interface" was available (CP-10?) because I didn't like the boxed software (which, of course, was Windows-only). I "graduated" to the ActiveHome setup several years ago - once again writing my own software because the AH stuff sucked - and the on-board memory of the CM11A was junk. Which meant I had to do "work-arounds" to enable even basic "scene" controls.

    I got "into" Insteon in November and my wife (non-geek) has been so impressed with it's capabilities, we're junking all of the remaining X10 stuff and going full-blown Insteon. In fact, **SHE** is so hooked, she won't even consider the Icon brands.

    Writing the software (because I wanted to and, once again, it's all Windows - except for one rather expensive Mac package) is quite a bit different because of the enhanced communications capabilities, as well as the VERY rich command-set. However, you don't even need to get any software if you want to just stick with the hardware: you can set up some very elaborate scenes in the devices, fresh from the factory.

    The caveat is that it is a very new system and protocol, so you don't have all of the various devices available (e.g. wireless) that you do with X10. Yet. With the number of partners SmartHome has in their program, plus the SmartLabs themselves, I have no doubt that there will be quite a few new hardware choice coming in the next few months.
  • X10... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ratajik (57826) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @09:35PM (#15126678) Homepage Journal
    I've been using X10 for years. I've really liked it in some houses, have hated it in others (like my current house - doesn't work worth jack, and I haven't spent the time and money to get it working as of yet).

    It looks like this new tech (Insteon) also mostly broadcasts over the power lines.

    I have a question about this... in today's (often) wireless homes, WHY aren't there power control devices that work like X10, that just use a straight 802.11 wireless network? I have complete, strong, coverage in every part of my house. A wireless router is pretty cheap, and I would imagine that most people that use this type of tech will likely have one. It sure seems like this would work... could do bi-directional comm. Create a common standard (web services on the device maybe??). Is this just a cost and space issue? Shoving a wirelss device with a light computer built in? I'd personally be willing to pay a fair amount for something like this, if it worked 100%.

    Anyway. I'll be very interested in seeing what other tech others point out - I'd love to get back to a house that was doing some like X10 for all lights/switches/etc., that was reliable (and just WORKED, on my wiring!)
  • I'm doing my whole house with insteon, and so far so good. Support for Homeseer (a popular home automation and remote control software for windows) is real sketchy right now, but it will improve over time. With Insteton, it's easier to make 'scenes' or ganged light operations without needing a computer controller. So if my homeseer server goes down, my lights don't suddenly stop working. My rule when installing it is that the main switches on the wall just needed to work if the computer dies.

    I had a
  • *Jeeves? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday April 13, 2006 @10:29PM (#15126901) Homepage Journal
    Has anyone integrated any good home automation SW with the Asterisk PBX?
  • by binarybum (468664) on Friday April 14, 2006 @01:02AM (#15127496) Homepage
    Well I'm not going to take Insteon seriously unless they start throwing a lot more popups my way. Maybe you're having trouble because you're not using your X10 gear the right way - I never really read into it, but from the popups I ascertained that X10 cameras were for spying on scantily clad models - is that what you mean by "home automation"?

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