A run down of the best Home Automation Systems on the market today.
If you are in the market for a home automation / smart home system you have probably come across the three big players in the industry – Crestron, Lutron and Control4. Which is best and why should you choose one over another?
Lutron are by far the best known lighting control system manufacturer in the world. They make lighting control systems that allow precise control of the lights in your home. Rather than adjusting dimmers or switching on lamps as you enter a room a single button press on a lighting keypad switches lamps on to a level set by you – making sure your home always looks its best.
Lighting in a typical room can be split in to individual circuits (or channels) and dimmed independently – allowing you to set moods for different activities. A typical living room may have a chandelier, 2 x table lamps and a wall light. Individually wiring these lamps to a digital dimmer allows you to set scenes, for example:
Scene 1 “TV”: Chandalier – 2%; Table lamp 1 – 60%; Table lamp 2 – 60%; Wall Light – 35%
Lighting keypads support multiple scenes so scene 2 may be “Reading” with Table lamp 2 at 90% and scene 3 may be “Entertaining” with all lights on 10% brighter than scene 1. The choices are endless and user configurable so the perfect lighting can be set and recalled for each particular room. With a whole home lighting system a lighting keypad by the front door can switch all the lights off in the home or illuminate multiple rooms when you walk through the door. External lights can be controlled by keypads in the home or set to automatically come on at sunset or to a time schedule. Control of the home via an iPad allows lighting control whether home or away.
Summary – Lutron make extremely flexible, reliable and efficient lighting control systems. Lutron does not do audio video control. Lutron lighting control is broadly similar to both Control4 and Crestron from a cost perspective.
Control4 are relatively new to the home automation market (both Lutron and Crestron are both over 50 year old companies) and have carved a niche by providing easy to use systems for audio video distribution and lighting control. The range of components is more limited than the Crestron offering so more third party components have to be used (for video distribution for example). Installation and programming of compatible equipment is relatively straightforward by a competent programmer although the end result is less flexible – touch panels and interfaces are template driven so bespoke or special requests can be difficult or impossible to satisfy. Third party equipment requires drivers to be written which means it is much easier to work with specific pre-approved brands which already have drivers written. This may be too restrictive for more complex systems or larger installations.
Summary: Control4 make good quality home automation systems which are suited for smaller installations without the need for advanced customisation. Projects tend to have a lower price tag than a Crestron system with a compromise in flexibility.
Crestron are a long established manufacturer of home automation and entertainment equipment – they have a large product range which encompasses everything from lighting control through to audio and video distribution. Systems are scalable from very small single rooms solutions through to very large multiple building campuses making them perfect for Smart Homes. Third party devices are integrated by custom built modules written by the system programmer making it possible to integrate most electrical devices in the home.
Crestron lighting control is on a par with Lutron for functionality and flexibility with the added advantage of tighter integration with the rest of the home automation and entertainment system – for instance a switch by the front door can enable home owners to switch off lights but can also switch off audio video zones and lower the heating. Crestron can even talk to the security system so setting the alarm automatically closes the home down and unsetting performs certain events dependent on the time of day. Different areas of control can have separate processors which ensures reliability and scalability.
A huge range of interfaces allows the home owner complete control – from touch screen wall panels through to remote controls and iPads – all of which are custom created to ensure easy use. User profiles can restrict access to certain devices, if required, or different user interfaces can be displayed for different users. Different users can even have controls in different languages.
The flexible and potentially complex nature of a Crestron system requires skill to set up so it is important for a prospective purchaser to research the installation company thoroughly – they should be able to show comparable case studies, provide examples of user interfaces and have an in house programmer.
A whole home Crestron system can save huge amounts of energy – lighting control systems reduce energy usage whilst making your home look good whilst temperature controls can work in conjunction with blinds and motorised windows to help regulate temperature around the home. Integrated heat recovery systems can distribute heat from rooms warmed by the sun to cooler areas of the home.
Summary – Crestron is the most flexible home automation and entertainment system available. Projects tend to be more costly than a Control4 system but have much more flexibility and scalability.