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The WellConnectedHome highlights an average family's journey into building a home with today's technology within a budget an average family can afford.

TheWellConnectedHome was created by homeowners for homeowners. Homeowners are encouraged to write articles to share their experiences with home tech as well.

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DIY Home Automation at the Consumer Electronics Show 2014

 

CES 2014  (2)

 

It’s hard to believe another year of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has finished.  As always, I spend quite a bit of time walking around the Home Automation booths during the show.  Last year, home automation garnered a lot of attention, so it was great to see a larger number of players this year with product innovations.

 

 

I wanted to give you the highlights of the DIY Home Automation booths I visited to better acquaint you with what is being offered.

Z-Wave

Z-Wave

Z-Wave is always one of my favorite booths to visit at CES every year.  My house is full of Z-wave technology and I always like to see the increasing number of vendors highlighted in their booth.  Every year I see more and more innovative solutions and new companies joining the fray.  I also see long trusted brands like MiCasa Vera, Kwikset, Yale, and GE Jasco, every year in the booth.

MiCasaVerde Vera

Vera

I use the Vera 3 as the controller in my house and it has done a great job of managing the load.  This year I noticed Vera has gotten a new logo and look.  They are also offering packages containing not only a Vera, but a number of partner products that help people get started with DIY home automation.  They are taking a more consumer friendly approach now and one that will make adaption easier.

SmartThings

SmartThings

SmartThings was new to the Z-Wave booth this year.  They have created a controller that uses Z-Wave, ZigBee, and WiFi protocol’s.  SmartThings utilizes a user friendly app to help you manage multiple items throughout the house.  They sell starter kits to help you get started or you can buy their SmartThings Hub to start off at your own pace.  Although they sell a number of products on their site, their Hub will work with any Z-Wave products…that’s the beauty of Z-Wave.

 

CES 2014  (13)

NEXIA Home Intelligence

NEXIA had a big booth this year.  They were showing off different Z-Wave devices and even some WiFi devices that work with their NEXIA bridge.  I am especially excited about their garage door sensitivity monitor than can help start of a series of automation events throughout your home, once you’ve arrived home.  They also have a Z-Wave Water valve product they showcased where when the Water & Temperature sensor senses a leak, it can automatically shut off your water, thus minimizing water damage (which of course, only happens when you are away from home.)  NEXIA utilizes a simple user interface which makes it easier to setup and manage DIY home automation and scenes throughout your home.

 ZigBee Alliance

ZigBee

The ZigBee booth didn’t seem very consumer friendly, though one of their members told me they thought only ZigBee, Bluetooth, and WiFi would be the only main players in the house automation scene, failing to mention Z-Wave at all, of course, their biggest competitor.  The manufacturers in the booth seem to focus on business-to-business rather than the consumer, which was the only focus of the Z-Wave booth.  To me, they seemed conceited and out-of-touch with what is really going on in the DIY Home Automation scene.

 

Revolv

Revolv

Revolv is a newcomer to the DIY home automation market. Like SmartThings, they cover both Z-Wave and ZigBee (coming soon) protocols, however, they go one …or really 4 steps further and also include WiFi and Insteon, with  2 other proprietary protocols being added in the near future.  Revolv helps to future proof your home automation efforts, ensuring that future products that may only rely on one protocol, will still work with your DIY home automation system.

ADT Pulse

ADT Pulse

ADT also uses Z-Wave with their ADT Pulse system which combines the convenience of monitored home security with home automation in one nice interface.  Forget to set your alarm when you left the house?  No problem, just press a button on your ADT Pulse app and your alarm will be set.  ADT had a nice booth at CES, showing how home automation through lights can deter burglars as well as using Z-Wave to help solve forgetful issues such as, “did Gramma remember to take her medicine today.”

 

I love that there is more competition out there to choose from, all at different price points.  Some of these companies make it very easy to have it installed in your house but charge a monthly fee, while others charge no fee at all but you, as the DIY’er take on more of the troubleshooting responsibility.

 

 

Interview with Kwikset – The Future of Electronic Locks

 by Lori Cunningham

 Home Automation - Control 4 (15)

 

Last month I had the opportunity to interview Keith Brandon, Director of Residential Access Solutions at Kwikset.  At theWellConnectedHome.com, it’s no secret that we are fans of electronic locks.  I have several myself and do not miss fumbling for the right key to open the door.  My kids love being able to open the door with a code also, no longer do they need to wait for me to get to the door to unlock it (as they always seem to be running ahead of me!)   Electronic “smart” locks continue to progress, getting smarter, more stylish, and more affordable.

Though the electronic market is growing, marketshare is relatively low with less than 10% of the total lock market.  This is mostly due to their price point.  Electronic locks tend to turn $200-$275 for an electronic lock or connected lock.  Most normal door locks run around $70.  Convenience and functionality comes at a cost.

One important thing to distinguish in electronic locks is whether the lock is connected or not.  Kwikset has two types of electronic locks:

1.  SmartCode

2.  SmartCode with Home Connect Technology

 

We have tested the Kwikset SmartCode with Home Connect Technology in the past, and in fact, these are the ones I installed in my home.  Kwikset locks with Home Connect Technology cost more than

the SmartCode because they work with home automation systems.  They can be purchased with either the Z-Wave or Zigbee protocols.  Dependent upon your home automation system, most work with either one or the other.  Control 4, for example, uses Zigbee.  Although I have KwikSet Z-Wave Home Connect locks and I use a software bridge to connect my Z-Wave locks to my Zigbee focused Control 4 system.  Kwikset launched their connected electronic locks with Control 4  3 1/2 years ago with their Zigbee lock.

Brandon feels that the “lock becomes the trigger and welcome to the home.”  As more and more home automation companies integrate electronic locks into their suites, a whole series of events can happen from just opening up the door into your home.

 

Electronic locks make it feasible to:

  • Lock your door when away from home
  • Automatically arm or disarm your alarm simply by locking or unlocking your door (with home automation)
  • Receive text alerts when someone enters/leaves your home
  • Distribute temporary lock codes to guests, housecleaners, and anyone taking care of your house when away
  • Automatically lock your door at a certain time each night to give you extra peace of mind (with home automation)
  • Alert you via text message at what time your son or daughter opened the door…past their curfew!
  • Turn on a light when the keypad is touched for safety (with home automation)

 

 

The Changing Electronic Lock Industry

As more players are entering the market selling electronic locks in retail and through the residential custom home automation channels, more consumers are being educated on how locks work and their convenience.  Brandon said that consumers are recognizing the benefits of having the “peace of mind” in knowing your door is locked and being able to check its status when away from home.  Prices are coming down and more convenience is being featured in new lock models.

 

 

How Kwikset is Different 

Although there are more players on the market, electronic locks are still limited with regards to style/finishes and function.  Kwikset is the residential lock leader within the United States.  They offer more styles with functions than any other manufacturer and strive to create locks that are relevant, stylish, and convenient for consumers.  Kwikset’s 2nd generation of locks are coming out later this year.  They will be 35% smaller and made entirely of metal, no plastic like today’s Kwikset electronic locks.  Brandon mentioned that Kwikset “wants to elevate the style of the offering so people don’t need to sacrifice style for function.”

 

 

kevo-key

The Kevo – Bluetooth Lock

Kwikset’s latest offering is a new Bluetooth lock called the Kevo, which will be introduced in November.  Though it is not a connected lock (it won’t function within a home automation suite for now), it offers even more convenience than today’s push button electronic locks.  The Kevo lock works with the Kwikset Kevo app on your phone to unlock your door with just a touch.  After touching the lock, a Bluetooth signal searches for your phone, which authenticates you and unlocks the door.  Upon market introduction, Kevo will only be available for the iPhone 4S and later.  Kevo for Android will come out at a later time.

Sounds great, but what about kids who do not have a cellphone?  You can purchase a FOB keychain that can be secured within your child’s backpack or kept in a purse.  Kevo also works well with out of town guests or anyone to whom you’d like to give temporary or regular access to.  All they need is an iPhone with the Kevo app on it and they can be authenticated and allowed access.  The Kevo is available for pre-order now through Home Depot and a number of other retailers for $219.

 

A Homeowner’s Perspective

Electronic Locks are the way to go.  The only lock that I have that isn’t electronic is my front door simply because  we didn’t want a keypad to distract from our elegant doors.  However, with the introduction of the Kevo, that wouldn’t be a problem any longer.  They Kevo looks like an ordinary lock.  The only thing that distinguishes it is when you touch it, you’ll see LED lights show up.  And I love the convenience of just touching the door to unlock it, it’s even easier than a keypad.

One of the biggest fears people have about electronic locks is that the battery will run out and they won’t be able to get it.  Yes, it’s true, the battery does wear out.  But you get plenty of warning from red lights to sounds that your battery is dying.  In addition, all Kwikset electronic locks have a keyhole too.  I have had my locks for over two years now and have not been locked out.

Expect to see more and more offerings from Kwikset and others in regards to electronic locks.  It’s amazing to me the convenience and peace of mind electronic locks can bring.  Brandon told me that interest in electronic locks typically stems from men, seeing it as a cool gadget for convenient entry into the house.  But once their wives can see the benefits of getting in without a key, being sent a text message when kids arrive home, and giving out temporary locks, they become even stronger supporters than their husbands.

Do you have electronic locks?  How do you use them?

It’s Time for a New Wireless Router in Your Home

by Lori Cunningham

Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Router AC1750 (10)

If you haven’t replaced your wireless router in a while, or perhaps you only have the wireless router your phone company/cable company gave you, it’s time to think about getting a new one to take advantage of today’s newest features.  With the influx of connected devices in your home, like your Internet TV, Wi-Fi camera, numerous smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles (PS3, XBOX, Wii), Slingbox, etc. you are consuming much more Internet traffic than you used to.

Linksys Smart Wi-Fi wireless routers offer various routers dependent upon the size of your house and the number of connected devices.  The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1750 is Linksys’ largest capacity router, able to offer wireless further in a larger house and accommodate up to 7 connected devices and more.  I have 17 devices myself  that can connect to the Internet, though they are not usually on at once.

If setting parental controls on your childrens’ devices, allowing your guests access to the Internet when the come over, and or ensuring your Hulu Plus or Netflix streaming doesn’t get interrupted/buffered is important to you, read on.

Setting Up the Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Router AC 1750

If you’re not an IT professional, don’t worry. Anyone nowadays can set up their own wireless router; it is much easier than it used to be.  I recently installed the Linksys AC 1750 SMART Wi-Fi Router*.  I simply plugged it into the electrical outlet and used the included Ethernet cable and plugged one end into back of the Linksys AC 1750 router where it says “Internet” and the other end into one of the available ports of my phone company’s router, which in my case happens to be Verizon FIOS.

 

Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Router AC1750 (10)Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Router AC1750 (11)Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Router AC1750 (4)

 

After a few minutes, I was able to notice a new wireless network available in my house called “BronzeShark,” which is the funny name the Linksys router called it.  You are able to change the name if you want to later.

The next step was to load the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi software on my PC.  As my laptop did not have a DVD drive, I was unable to use the included CD-ROM.  However, with a quick search on Google I found the needed AC 1750 software and I was on my way.  I was able to enter my own password, which I created using a string of various numbers and letters.  This password is important to write down for you will need to use it when you connect your different devices, like your phone, tablet, PS3, DS3, laptop, etc. to the network.  I don’t use an easy password because people outside of my home may be able to see my protected network and I don’t want them to be able to hack into it.

Router is Set up!

When you’re done, you’ll get this notification.  Keep this info. handy.  I blocked out the numbers for privacy, but you will see all the info. you need to record when you go through this step.

To access your wireless router and controls, you will go to the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Login.

Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Control Panel

From this screen, you have access to see your connected devices, gauge your Internet speed, and set up your guest access, parental controls, and prioritization of which devices should have full streaming first.

 

Features

The Linksys SMART Wi-Fi AC 1750 router is one of the most advanced wireless routers available today.  It supports simultaneous dual-band 2.4 and 5 GHZ frequencies and up to N450)AC1300 Mbps speed. This basically means it is fast and can accommodate older technologies (like your old connected Blue-Ray player, Apple TV, etc.) based on the 2.4  GHz frequency as well as more advanced devices based on the 5 GHz frequency.

Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Controls

 

Today, setting up a router is relatively easy and they allow you tools to better manage your wireless device traffic, childrens’ use of devices, as well as offer guest access.  We will cover Parental Control, Guest Access, See & Add Devices, and Media Prioritization with further explanation in this article.

But let me briefly add that the Speed Test is helpful to finally learn how fast your Internet speed coming into the home is.  You pay for a certain speed from your Internet Carrier, now you can see if you’re getting what you paid for. And the USB Storage feature of the AC 1750 is very handy too.  If you have some pictures, video, or music you’d like to share with the networked devices in the home, you simply plug your USB thumb drive in the back of the router and you can instantly make the data available.  You don’t need to download the content to a PC first to share.  You can also plug in a USB printer for access throughout your network for connected laptops as well.  Nice.

 

 

 

 

 

Parental Controls

Setting parental controls is very easy with the AC 1750.  Just click on the Parental Controls button in the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Control Panel.

Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Parental Controls - blocking websites        Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Block Internet Access

What I like about the Linksys’ parental controls is that you can set control for each device, rather than a blanket control.  So you can limit time spent on your child’s iPod Touch,your teen’s cellphone, or your son’s PS3 Internet access.  There are two main controls you can set:

1.) Block Internet Access - choose which device you want to block times on and block Internet access by day and hour.  For my daughter’s netbook, she has free access to the Internet from 7am to 9pm Sunday through Thursday, but get’s an extra hour on Friday and Saturday nights.  Since she is only 10, she is never online this much, but it gives her the flexibility.  The other night I was checking on her at 9pm, and she had to stop her paper research because I set her time limit for that device to 9pm.  It was time for her to go to bed.

Keep in mind, your teen’s cellphone will still have access to the Internet and the ability to make calls through your phone carrier’s plan.  However, if s/he is using your WiFi to save minutes to surf the Internet, this is where you can shut down access at certain times and days.  Your best bet is to disallow cellphones in the bedrooms after a certain time, deterring late night talks, texting, and surfing.

2.) Block Specific Internet Sites - you can manually add specific sites you want to ensure certain devices in your home cannot get to.  If you have a pre-teen daughter, sites like Facebook, Gurl.com, Seventeen.com, Formspring.com, Missbimbo.com, and others are good to restrict.  You can easily add more as you think of them.

 

Guest Access

I love this feature.  Have you ever had adults, even kids ask you, “what’s the password so I can use your wireless access?”  How I used to hate that question.  There’s no way I’m going to give friends, let alone kids the sacred password to my wireless network security.  You want your wireless network private so no one else can access your private documents residing on your home computers.  I wanted to give them access but not at the cost of our security.

Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Guest Access

 

With Guest Access, you can allow anywhere from 5 guests to 50 guests to access your Internet network WITHOUT access to your private files.  You simply set up a guess password, in this case our password is minnow.  So when a friend/child now asks me to use our network, all they have to do is look for the BronzeShark Guest network and connect to it.  Then open an Internet browser and they will be asked for the password.  After they type in minnow, they will be able to tap into our WiFi to connect to the Internet, but not be able to access any content on any of our other connected devices.

Note that devices are setup to automatically connect with a network once it comes in contact with it.  So the next time your guest comes to your home, s/he will automatically be connected again…unless you change your password.  With better  friends, this shouldn’t be a problem but if you have a party with people you don’t know too well, I’d probably change the password again.

 

 

See and Add Devices

This is a nice graphical way to see which devices are currently or have in the past connected to your Linksys AC 1750 WiFi router.  You won’t use this screen much, but it is interesting to see if someone in the house is using a device for Internet access…say your son who promised not to play his XBOX game online with others???

Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Device List

 

 

Media Prioritization

I have not seen this feature before on a wireless router before.  With the growing number of devices in a household and their connection to the Internet, your wireless router can only allow so much Internet content come in at one time.  If you happen to have 2-4 or more devices streaming content from the Internet, you’re going to have a bottleneck and experience lag or buffering.  This can happen easily if two people are streaming Netflix or Hulu from the TV and or a tablet, one person is playing XBOX online, and perhaps another is playing an online app on their phone.  Granted, this amount of traffic doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s feasible on a weekend when everyone is home.

Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Media Prioritization

Using the Media Prioritization feature, you can click and drag your top devices from “normal priority” to “high priority.”  This ensures the device with the highest priority will be given the top throughput available for your streaming and access to the Internet, followed by your second device, and so on.  I do not have my Internet TV’s hooked up yet to this router, but if I did, I would make them the top priority.  And if they weren’t being used, the devices that are on and streaming would take over as top priority, as designated on this screen.

 

The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi AC 1750 wireless router sells for $194.80 plus free shipping through Amazon.

 

There’s an App for That

Actually, quite a few.  Apps are the way to go these days and perhaps you’d prefer an option to check in with your wireless network without going to your computer or even while being away from home.

Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Apps

 

Linksys has a free app called Linksys SMART Wi-Fi that is free from both Apple AppStore and Android Play Store.  It has limited capabilities for access than what you can do on your browser, but allows you to still block access for certain devices when away.  Let’s say your son is grounded and is not supposed to play any gaming console with Internet access and you forgot to turn off the access while at home.  No problem, you can block Internet access using “Always.”  This means he cannot use Internet access from his gaming console until you adjust the timing from your PC or switch it back to “Never” on your phone app.

If you want more specific control, you can buy the Device Monitir app for $.99 to give you hourly control, though keep in mind it’s free to do this from your browser.

Netproofer  gives you the capability to block certain websites from your chosen devices.  They have made it easier for you by already suggesting less kid-friendly sites and you can just click on them to add them to the block list.  This app costs $1 and is more user-friendly than accessing your browser perhaps, but again, it’s free to add your own websites to block from the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi secure Internet site.

The Block the Bad Stuff app available only on Apple devices and from what I can see, looks like a valuable addition to your Linksys Smart Wi-Fi router, as it adds extra features that the router does not.  You can adjust the level of security you’d like on all your connected devices to protect you against online security threats, websites with adult material, and any other sites you find to be unfriendly for your family.

Gemini IP Camera Viewer available only on Apple devices and sells for $4.99 and allows you to see the footage from any IP cameras you might have in your house.

HipPlay - gives you access to your files at home like your videos, pictures, and files to share with people straight from your smartphone or app.  HipPlay is only available on Apple devices and is free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Homeowner’s Perspective

Is media prioritization your top concern?  Now you can prioritize your Internet consumption so your son’s online game on Duke Nukem game doesn’t slow down your Hulu Plus watching of Modern Family.  With the number of devices entering the home and the popularity of streaming video from Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and more, prioritizing your devices will become more and more important.  With the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi wireless router, you get to choose which devices should have the most streaming throughput over the others.

What about parental controls?  In today’s world with the advancement of connected devices in the home and kids who know how to use them, one of your best defenses against your children stumbling upon adult content or finding them constantly using the Internet is to ensure you have an updated wireless router with parental controls.  It has never been easier to limit Internet hours and block websites by each device than it is today.

How about guest access?  If you haven’t had people asked you for Internet access for their devices yet when guests come, they will.  Especially your kids’ friends who come over with their cellphones and iPod Touches.  Here’s the kicker.  You can give them the access, but still control the content they view…even on your kids’ friends’ device.  Just login to the Linksys website and put parental controls on their device.  It’s a great way to allow your children and their friends freedom while you still hold control.  Love it.

With the Linksys SMART Wi-Fi AC 1750 wireless router, you have more control over the devices in your home and can have more peace knowing you are making your home a safer place from cyber threats.  The beauty here is you don’t need to adjust the settings on every new connected gadget that comes into the house, you can simply control them all from your home’s router.

 

When was the last time you put a wireless router in your home?

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I was given a Linksys SMART Wi-Fi Router AC 1750 in return for my honest opinion.  All opinions are my own.

Throw Away the Key to Your Front Door!

Home Automation - Control 4 (16)

 

In the past, we’ve reviewed the Kwikset Smart Connect Locks, which I have in my house.  But when I decided to try out the Control 4 system, the test came with a Yale real Living Keyless Entry lock…using ZigBee, not the Z-Wave protocol that most of my house uses.  Now before I go into details about the Yale lock, let me clarify something.  Typically, you can buy keyless locks in three “flavors”:

  1. As is with no remote access (meaning you can’t automate the lock)
  2. Z-Wave – you can remotely open and close the door on your phone/tablet/PC
  3. ZigBee- you can remotely open and close the door on your phone/tablet/PC/or even TV using Control 4

Both ZigBee and  Z-Wave use a mesh network type method in which a signal is carried from each  Z-Wave/ZigBee device to the next one nearest it.  So in order to carry the signal through to the far end of the house, you need to have ZigBee/ Z-Wave devices along the way.  Devices can include light switches, door locks, motion sensors, thermostats, and a whole slew of other items.

I have quite a network of  Z-Wave devices through the house, but to use the ZigBee keyless lock, I needed to install it close to the Control 4 HC-250 controller, which is hidden in my TV components under my TV in the family room.  Control 4 uses a ZigBee protocol.  So I had to have the Yale Keyless Entry locked installed nearby on the door to the outside in my bathroom downstairs, which is about 15 feet away from my family room…through walls.

Yale real Living Keyless Entry Lock

Because the Yale Keyless Entry lock uses ZigBee, I am able to control it from my Control4 controller, which is hooked up to my TV, tablets, and smartphone (with the 4Sight subscription).  There are some fun things I can do with it through Control 4.

Using Control4 and the Yale real Living app, available from the Control 4 app store on my TV, I can:

  • Turn off access to the lock altogether using the Privacy mode
  • Remotely lock and unlock doors from any web-enabled device
  • Receive text or email messages to my smartphone when a door is unlocked (with alerts that I pre-program)
  • Program who can enter the door by date and time (each person can have a different password to get in)
  • Check the status of the battery on the door lock
  • View who has used the door lock (again, using assigned passwords) and what time they gained access
  • Put the lock on auto-lock so it automatically locks itself shortly after someone has opened the door
  • Automatically lock the door at a set time – say 8pm each night

Our Control4 installer, Innovative, programmed our Control4 TV menu so that I can lock and unlock the Yale Keyless lock from the comfort of my couch in the family room.  I have used this feature a couple of times and it’s handy.  Now, my kids have their own codes so this feature isn’t as needed anymore.  Had I installed the lock on my front door, I would be using this feature quite frequently.

Yale real Living Keyless Entry Lock (9)                Yale real Living Keyless Entry Lock (12)

This the the Control4 screen on my TV, you can see that I have the ability to lock or lock the Front Bath door.   This is the Yale real Living app I downloaded  from Control 4.  It shows the battery status and from here I can add users and give each one their own password.  I can then look at a history to see who has been opening the door and at what time.

 

Features of the Yale real Living Keyless Entry include:

  • Ability to add up to 250 individual users!
  • One year battery life
  • Deadbolt motor -the deadbolt is motorized to move in and out
  • Low battery warning
  • Available in several different finishes - polished brass, oil rubbed bronze permanent, and satin nickel, as well as in two styles: acrylic touchscreen or push button keypad
  • Can use on all standard doors
  • An e-mail gets sent to a parent, should your child unlock the door while you’re at work
  • Available in ZigBee or Z-Wave protocols

 

Together with your Control4 system (or Vera system or others if using a Z-Wave lock), you can set all sorts of scenarios like when the Yale door lock unlocks…

  • the lights turn on
  • the lights turn on, the TV turns on, and the thermostat turns on the heat
  • the security alarm disables
  • music turns on
  • your favorite channel on the TV turns on
  • or a customized scenario to make your arrival home more inviting

 

The Yale real Living Keyless Entry lock sells for as low as $159.99 in oil rubbed bronze for the non Z-Wave/ZigBee version up to $300 at Amazon, though most models/colors/styles are less than $200.

 

A Homeowner’s Perspective

As mentioned earlier, I have a number of keyless entry locks in my house.  I absolutely love them!  I no longer fumble for a key to open the door and what’s even better, my kids LOVE unlocking the door, so by the time I get to the door from the car, it’s already opened.  It is such a convenience not to worry about having a key on me.  In the early morning when I take my walk, I no longer have to worry about taking my keys, I just press a button and the door is locked.  When the kids are in the backyard, they can easily get into the house even if it’s locked.  At night, we can press a button and the keypad lights up, so we can easily enter our codes.

For under $200, you can get a nice Yale real Living keyless lock for the door you use more often.  If you decide to buy the ZigBee/Z-Wave version, it will cost a little more, but if the idea of self automating some parts of your home interests you, I would definitely choose a lock with one of these protocols.  If you see Control4 in your future, which by the way, you can get up in running with some simple automation for under $1k, you should choose the ZigBee version.  If you want to go it alone, choose Z-Wave.  Just one caution.  Don’t buy the basic lock if you think you could have a smallest inkling of doing some home automation.  Should you decide to automate down the road, you’ll have to buy a new lock with the ZigBee or Z-Wave protocols.  The cost is not much more for the ZigBee/Z-Wave type, so I would opt for one of these versions.

So tell me, have you thought about DIY home automation?  What would you like to automate?  What is stopping you from trying it out?

 

Watch Your TV and Recorded Content From Anywhere

Slingbox Live TV & Verizon Remote Superbowl

Have you heard about Slingbox yet?  Slingbox got started in 2004 as a device that enable people to watch locally televised baseball games from another part of the country.  Soon it evolved into being able to watch any live TV shows or DVR recorded content from anywhere in the world.

The Slingbox connects to your DVR and can share live TV and recorded content via your broadband Internet Connection to any PC/Mac or mobile device (Android, iOS, Windows) enabled with the SlingPlayer app.  With only a 10-15 second delay, watching your local channel live TV has never been so easy or so good (see it in full 1080 HD).

Find out more about the Slingbox 500 in our review, “What is a Slingbox and Do I Need One” at WellConnectedMom.com.

Getting Better Sound from Your TV

by Lori Cunningham

 

 Editor’s Note:  For more reviews on personal, portable sound, see the articles on the AR Wireless Portable Speaker and the Phlips SoundShooter from our sister site, the WellConnectedMom.com.

 

I attended a very nice event at the Consumer Electronics Show, hosted by Techlicious.  One of the products showcased in their suite was a small soundbar with a great sound.  It was called the Boston Acoustics TVee 10.  What surprised me about the home theater soundbar was it’s size.  It has a much smaller profile than most soundbars I’ve seen.

It filled the room with nice music, which had its part in making the event a success.  A month later I was sent a Boston Acoustics TVee 10 Home Theater soundbar to review.  Much to my surprise, my husband was more excited about it than anyone.  He unwrapped it right away and took it up to our bedroom and plugged it in.  Now, my husband appreciates technology, but he is not one to take the initiative to set it up.

The speaker comes with several different cables to connect to your TV.  The TVee 10 comes with the traditional composite audio cables and an optical cable.  The composite audio cables are rather short, so the TVee 10 soundbar is meant to be close to the TV.  Our TV hangs on the wall but we had to place the TVee 10 soundbar on the table underneath it, so the composite cables wouldn’t work for us.

I have not worked with an optical cable before.  The cable is very thin but the heads of the cable are larger.  Fortunately, we have a newer smart TV, so I was able to find the optical cable port and hook up the soundbar.

We had immediate success and our bedroom was filled with sound.  My husband was thrilled, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted the TV in our bedroom to have such big sound, after all, that’s what the Family Room is for.  As I scratched my head, my husband gingerly took the instructions from my hands and proceeded into the bathroom for a bath.   Wow, he was really getting into this soundbar.

A few days later he told me that he learned you can pair your TV remote control with the TVee 10 remote control so that your TV remote learns the TVee 10′s commands like Volume up or down, Mute, Input Music/Movie, and Power.  Within 5 minutes we had it up and running and he put the TVee 10 soundbar remote control in the drawer.  Wow, what a great feature.  At first we thought we were going to have to use both remotes each time to control its sound.20130218_115706

 

Pros:

  •    Easy to set up
  •    Your remote can learn the power, volume, mute, and input controls so you don’t need two remotes
  •    It is not nearly as costly as many other soundbars on the market
  •    Its small, thin size makes it easier to place near/under the TV

Cons:

  •    The sound isn’t as strong as my husband would have liked, needs more bass, but for its price range, it sound pretty good

 

The Boston Acoustics TVee 10 Home Theater sells for $199 at Amazon.

 

 

A Homeowner’s Perspective20130218_115440_1_bestshot

I’m still not sure I’m a fan of having theater quality sound in our bedroom, I can definitely see the benefit of the Boston Acoustic TVee 10 soundbar in your family room or game room.  It has great sound and even includes a separate subwoofer and BassTrack circuitry which minimizes distortion.

I also like the fact that I can attach my smartphone or my daughter’s MP3 player to it to play tunes as well.  It’s a great way to relax and listen to music without needing to turn the TV on.  And yes, the TVee 10 remote control still works so you can play, pause, mute, or fast forward to another song.

One day we’ll hang the TVee 10 soundbar right under the TV and because it’s not bulky, it should fit in pretty well.

Do you have a home theater soundbar?  Where did you put it?

 

 

 

 

*  I was given a Boston Acoustics TVee 10 Home Theater soundbar in exchange for my honest opinions.

No Internet Access? How to Connect Your XBOX/PS3/Wii

by Lori Cunningham

 

 

Nascar Unleashed - Wii (5)-400

 

Do you have an XBOX 360, PS3, or Wii in your bonus room or child’s bedroom but no Internet access?  When your children are young, they won’t have a need for online access for their gaming console.  However, once they get older, they will be desiring to go online to play with other online players, download game trials, watch movies, etc.

Even today, you have probably noticed that after receiving the latest Dance Central 3 game, you popped it into your XBOX 360 or PS3, only to find your console wants to go online to receive an update.  Today’s consoles need to be connected to the Internet to get the most out of your gaming experience.

But what if the room where you have your game console doesn’t have Internet access?  WiFi can work, if your WiFi signal is strong enough.  However, for streaming movies from Netflix or even high-intensity online games, WiFi can be spotty and cause delays.

I recently discovered a solution that provides full HD quality video throughout the house WITHOUT the need for new wiring.  It’s a standard called MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) which utilizes existing coax cable in the house.  More than 90% of all US homes have coaxial cable installed throughout the house, so just about any home can use this built-in network as an Ethernet network to stream video and carry Internet signals.

The possibilities of this existing network in your home are endless but for purposes of this article, we’ll stick to the task of bringing Internet connectivity to your XBOX 360, PS3, or Wii to a room which has no Ethernet port.

 

What You’ll Need

To  bring Ethernet connection to a non-Ethernet room, you will need to purchase an Ethernet to Coax MoCA Network Adapter.  There are numerous well-known brands out there that make them like Netgear, Actiontec, etc.

The one I am testing is the Actiontec ECB2200 Network Adapter*:

Actiontec MoCA Network Adapters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Set Up Your New Network

I will briefly discus the steps to install the adapter to show you how easy it is.  Each adapter kit comes with more thorough instructions if needed.

 

1st MoCA Network Adapter:

Step 1:  Plug one MoCA Network Adapter into your Broadband Modem/Router using the supplied Ethernet cable.

Step 2:  Locate the coaxial cable connected to the wall outlet in the room where your Broadband Modem/Router is.  For me, I found this coaxial cable going into our Verizon FIOS DVR.  MoCA sent me a Network Adapter that works specifically for Verizon FIOS, so you’ll want to ensure you purchase an adapter that works best with your cable company.

Step 3:  connect the adapter to a power source.

 

2nd MoCA Network Adapter:

Step 4:  Use the supplied Ethernet cable to plug your XBOX 360, PS3, or Wii into your 2nd MoCA Adapter.

Step 5:  Plug the coaxial cable in the room with your gaming consoles (most likely, it’s plugged into the TV) into your 2nd MoCA Adapter.  Then plug a coaxial cable going from the MoCA Network Adapter to your TV.  You may need to buy an extra coaxial cable for this, available at any hardware store or Best Buy, Radio Shack, etc.

Step 6:  Plug the power source connecting the MoCA Adapter to your wall outlet.

To ensure your Ethernet connection is ready, verify that both the Coax and Ethernet lights turn solid green on both adapters.  You should be good to go.

The details listed above are meant to show you that it’s relatively easy to set up your own Internet connectivity and that you don’t need a professional installer to do it for you.  In fact, you can even have your teenage son or daughter do it  for you if you’d like, it’s easy enough.

 

Acttiontec ECB2200 MoCA Network Adapter

The MoCA Network Adapter for Verizon FIOS can be purchased at Amazon for $79.24 plus free shipping.  MoCA network adapters range in price dependent upon the brand or cable company you use.

Other MoCA products can be viewed and sourced on the MoCAisinyourhouse.com website.

 

 

 

A Homeowner’s Perspective

Re-wiring a house that is already built is expensive and walls will need to be cut into to do it.  Perhaps you have a house that has Ethernet in most rooms, but not in your child’s bedroom, the garage…which is your new teen/bonus room…or even a casita that is on your property and has cable, but not connected to the Internet.  I love the fact that you do not need to run any new wiring to get these rooms up and running with Ethernet/Internet capability.

In our last house, which is only 10 years old and centrally wired with coax and Ethernet in every bedroom, we had no Ethernet/Internet access in the family room.  I was astounded when I learned that.  We paid for the connected wiring throughout the house, but there was nothing behind the family room TV except coax.  I tried a similar type of concept called PoE – Power over Electricity to access the Internet, but it didn’t work because of the length of run of the electrical wire and the number of outside walls which ran interference.  Had I known about MoCA then, I could have easily obtained Internet access to our gaming console.

TheWellConnectedHome.com was created to educate homeowners and DIYers on products such as MoCA, to make technology simple and explain how certain headaches in our lives (like no Internet access) can easily be resolved.  Knowing what technology is out there and how it’s relevant to you is our passion; we’re homeowners just like you and we face the same trials.

Tell us about some of your non-Internet connected rooms and your challenges.

 

 

 

 

*  We were given a MoCA Network Adapter in exchange for our evaluation.  All opinions are our own.

Win a Western Digital Home Networking Media Bundle, valued at $400!

 

Along with our sister site, the WellConnectedMom.com, we are excited to give away a Western Digital Home Networking Media Bundle to help secure your home with high bandwidth wireless access, add to disk space or back up your favorite media files and documents, and stream online movie options like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more.

Western Digital is generously offering to one of our readers a home networking bundle, valued at $400. The bundle includes:

  1. My Net N900 Router  Model: WDBWVK0000NSL-HESN   $159.99
  2. My Book Live 1tb Model: WDBACG0010HCH-NESN $139.99
  3. WDTV Live   Model: WDBHG70000NBK-HESN   $99.99

1. My Net N900 Router wdfMyNetN900_250               2.  My Book Live 1TBMB_Live_1_250     3.  WDTV Live          WD TV Live

We’ve tested these products and they work great.  See our review, WD My Net N900.  A Router for a New Generation, published in December and recently published, How To Stream Online Movies and Internet Content on Your non-Smart TV for a review of WDTV Live.

 

Hurry, the contest ends in 3 days at 12am PST on January 21st.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Getting More Control in Your Home in 2013

by Lori Cunningham

 

Home Automation - Control 4 (13)

In my last article, DIY Home Control isPossible, But is it Worth It?, I wrote about my reluctance to divert from my DIY plan for home automation and try out a professionally installed Control4 system for our family room.  We have now had the Control4 system installed for two months and I’m ready to tell you about my experience with it.

 

Control4 – Controlling the Family Room

A local professional custom home automation  installer, Innovative, arrived at my house to install the Control4 HC-250 Controller.  What I immediately liked about the HC-250 controller is that it is a starter kit to get a room up and going for automation.  You don’t need to have a whole closet  full of equipment to control your Family Room home theater.  Just the HC-250 Controller and the remote control.  That’s it.  Although I could put the HC-250 controller in a central closet, I chose to put it with all of my home theater gear.

I love the fact that you can start small and just start your automation in one room.  Then, you could expand to additional rooms at your own pace and with additional cost as you go, not all lumped up in a huge initial investment before you even know if you like it.

The HC-250 controller incorporates:

  • a powerful 1GHz processor
  • ZigBee processor for fast control of lighting, security, music and video libraries
  • a small profile, easy to tuck away behind a TV or in a cabinet
  • integrated Wireless-N connectivity
  • 2 audio outputs – 1 analog and 1 HDMI
  • 1 analog audio input
  • USB port for external storage for easy music retreival
  • built-in Power over Ethernet (PoE) capability for power and
  • Home Automation - Control 4 (18)network connectivity over a single CAT5/CAT 6 cable
  • intuitive control available from a Control 4 remote, smartphone/table, or TV
  • See more specs

 

This all sounds great, but I have a myriad of devices in my Family Room cabinet.  Could this small one room device handle all of my devices?

 

Innovative hooked up for me the following items to the HC-250 Controller:

  1. Samsung TV
  2. Denon Internet Receiver
  3. XBOX 360
  4. PlayStation 3
  5. Wii
  6. Logitech TV Cam HD
  7. Verizon Motorola DVR
  8. MHL Cable – to connect my smartphone for TV viewing of phone photos & videos
  9. Yale Real Living Deadbolt Lock (ZigBee)
  10. Vera Control for my Z-wave devices

 

 

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA  SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA     SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Innovative spent a number of hours setting up the HC-250 Controller and SR-250 Remote Control and ensuring it worked with my Z-wave system.  Plugging in the devices into the HC-250 controller took little time.  The real effort was in the details of setting up the equipment and registering all of my touch screens (smartphones and tablets) into the Control 4 software.  Innovative gave me a behind the scenes tour of the software professional installers use to ensure the homeowner’s experience is seamless.  The software was quite a bit more complex than the software I use for the Vera Z-wave controller.

 

Home Automation - Control 4 (23)                      Home Automation - Control 4 (16)
Innovative was at our house for about 4-5 hours, of course, this included installing a Yale Real Living Deadbolt Lock as well.  Oh, and in addition, Innovative was able to find a Z-wave bridge through Extra Vegetables, so that the HC-250 could control all of the Z-Wave GE lights I had installed in our home.  This blew me away.  So now, I can use the SR-250 remote to control my TV, home entertainment, Yale Real Living lock, and all the Z-Wave enabled lights in our house.  Suddenly, this Family Room HC-250 Controller was controlling way more than just our home theater.
The Control4 HC-250 has a very powerful processor, with the 50+ Z-Wave light switches I have, I can control all of them.  Now, with as much load as I have, I would probably be better suited to upgrade to the HC-800 Controller, which has a more powerful 1.8 dual-core processor and could handle the load better.  Nonetheless, I have been very impressed with how much of a load the HC-250 Controller can control.
Here’s what the screens look like:

 

Control 4 FM Install (4) Home Automation - Control 4 (13)
The blue screen shows what Control 4 looks like, with only a little programming, you can see the “Door Lock” in the upper left-hand corner that Innovative added.  This allows me to lock and unlock our outside door using the remote control.  After the programming was done (see right picture), all four corners are now filled with custom programming, “Door Lock,” “Smart Hub,” “Channels,” and Surround Modes.  SmartHub is a quick way to select various components such as our DVR, Smart Hub on our Samsung TV, and gaming devices, Surround Modes are the various fun audio choices we have available on our Denon receiver (like Theater, Sports, etc.), and Channels refers to our favorite channels.  You can see the sub-menu’s below of the custom buttons:

 

                Home Automation - Control 4 (3)                  Home Automation - Control 4 (2)               Home Automation - Control 4 (11)

 

The Real Test

As noted earlier, I’m a technology tinkerer…or DIY enthusiast as I prefer to call myself.  I’m particularly intrigued by TV control technologies, so over the years, I have fiddled in this arena…which my husband, calls his “sacred space.”  There have been a number of times where it’s taken me some time to get the TV DVR, Tivo, or whatever,  working again like it was before I messed with it.  So you can imagine, my husband reluctantly agreed to having a “better system” installed in our family room.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

 

That evening after the Control4 installation, he tepidly sat down to use the remote.  He was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to turn on the TV, get to the DVR, listen to music, and play the XBOX.  He loved the fact that there are four ways to control our home theater:
  1. TV
  2. various smartphones (we have 4 of them)
  3. tablets (we have 2 of them)
  4. SR-250 Control4 remote
The interface on the Control4 hub on your TV is very appealing and intuitive, the same is true with the Control4 app.  We can even use these remote controls to lock and unlock our door as well as turn on, off, or dim the lights.  The XBOX 360 can be turned on using the XBOX menu item on the remote and app.  Unfortunately, the Wii and PS3 consoles cannot be turned on with the remote due to their lack of an infrared port.  However, there are 3rd party adapters that can be purchased so Control4 can turn them on and off.

Pricing

You can control your entire family room and more for less than you think.  Granted, the cost is more than a Logitech Harmony remote, but you will get much more value out of the Control4 system as well as the ability to expand easily.  The retail cost of the HC-250 Controller is $599 (for $400 more you can get the more powerful HC-800 controller), $199 for the SR-250 remote, and if you want a connected lock, it is $349 for the Yale Real Living Deadbolt lock, though other lock options are also available.
So, for under $1,500, you can have a real nice set-up to control your family room and more.  Yes, there are a few more costs.  If you want to control Control4 with your phone, you will need a mobile license to use your smartphone/tablets for Control4.  A mobile license for a single device is $199 and an unlimited mobile license (which is what I have) is $499.  Oh, and should you already have Z-wave devices in your home or are thinking about implementing them the driver costs $200 (and well worth it, I might add).  The cost of installation, if it were simply the controller and the remote (not all of my Z-wave inter-dependencies) would have been only $250.

A Homeowner’s Perspective

I have tried a number of devices to control our home theater before.  Many of them apps but also Logitech Harmony remotes.  I have not yet found any remotes that have come close to the control and ease of use that Control4 provides.  And I love the fact that even though Control4 is a ZigBee based system, it can still control my numerous Z-wave devices through the use of a simple software driver.  Wow.  I have to say, Control4 has surpassed my expectations.
What I love about my Control4 experience:
  • it uses IR so I don’t even need to point my remote control anywhere to make things happen
  • I can turn on and off my XBOX console with it
  • I can turn on my XBOX console, TV, and receiver easily with the remote
  • I can turn off all connected devices with the “ALL OFF” button
  • The Control4 red button makes it easy for anyone to control the TV, lights, music, and more
  • I can easily access our favorite channels
  • Accessing our DVR is no problem, with most buttons available on the Control4 remote
  • Using our iPad or smartphone is handy and fun
  • There are less layers to go through to turn on Pandora then we had without Control4
  • We finally have one central point to access our door locks, lighting, and home theater
  • It’s very intuitive.  My husband was able to figure it out without any instruction
  • Any questions or issues I have, Innovative is a phone call a way and very responsive to my calls
  • All of our other remotes are finally tucked away into a drawer!

I have to say, I’m a believer.  With the busyness of life with work, kids, and maintaining our home, it’s nice to make a phone call if something isn’t working or if we’d like to make an adjustment to something rather than being the one to have to troubleshoot.  It’s also nice to bounce ideas of Innovative about future things we’d like to do with technology in our home.

We had three remote controls always out on our coffee table before – the TV remote, the DVR remote, and the Receiver remote.  To turn anything on or off would take at least two controllers.  To find Pandora or YouTube would take a few layers of menu’s to get to them.  Now, we have one Control4 remote to control all the devices, inputs, even the movies we play through our XBOX 360.  One button turns everything else.  One remote on our coffee table.  And best yet, as I think of cool ideas for our home automation…like when the door unlocks, three lights will light our path to the kitchen or when we have a party, a series of lights turn on, Pandora plays, and the doors unlock…and work with Innovation to customize our automation to our liking.

 

 

*  Control4 provided the SR-250 remote, HC-250 controller, Yale Deadbolt Lock, and services for purposes of this review.  All opinions…and swallowing of my own DIY independence, are my own.

 

DIY Home Control is Possible, But is it Worth it?

IMAG2674by Lori Cunningham

 

 

With the iPhone and iPad came an incredible array of home automation apps that suddenly put more power in the hands of the homeowner and opened the market for a flood of DIY products aimed for the homeowner who wanted to dabble in home control.  In the not so distant past, the price of automating your home at a minimum would be $20k with a professional installer.

 

What We Did

With our new home, we had the house wired and wired again ensuring we could have replication, should one wire go bad in some locations.  After much investigation, I selected Z-wave technology, which is a mesh network in which different nodes communicate with each other to carry the signal.  I had installed numerous GE Z-wave dimmer light switches and some Kwikset SmartCode Z-wave locks to be controlled by a micasaverde Vera controller.  Micasaverde Vera is a Z-wave router that controls all Z-wave switches in the house.

With some determination, I have been successfully controlling these Z-wave devices using my iPad, PC’s, and smartphones.  However, every once in a while, the controls stop working and I need to do some troubleshooting, something I actually dread because I never know how long it’s going to take me.  The allure of piecing together different home automation pieces together such as lights, home theater control, video surveillance was fun and exciting and I set out to do my research to see what could be done and how I could save a cool $20k.

 

Home Automation - Control 4 (15)                             Home Automation - Control 4 (21)

For the family room, so far, I have not yet found the right fit for a remote control that controls our TV, DVD player (which is one of our gaming consoles), receiver, Logitech HD Skype camera, and gaming consoles.  I downloaded a number of remote apps and none fit the bill.  Besides, I rarely have my smartphone or iPad readily available when I sit down to watch TV, so apps aren’t the right solution for me.

When I was asked to consider reviewing Control4 for family room, I was taken aback.  Control4 is not DIY and I was still trying to find the right DIY answer.  From doing my research 5 years before, I remember Control4 being very expensive and rather inclusive, meaning it did not work well with other technologies outside of their products.  Just to get started, it would set you back a great deal of money and then you’re locked into their franchise.  Honestly, I originally told my husband, Control4 was not a consideration for our home because it went against my maverick DIY home automation wanderings.

Now, five years later, I’m considering implementing Control4 in my home?  Interesting.  I told Control4 that yes, I would review their family room system, but that they could just send me the unit and I would install it myself.  Of course, I was told that their systems require a professional installer to set it up.  Reluctantly, I agreed.

I will be the first to admit that I am not a well-educated IT technician.  My degrees are in Business Administration and Communications Management.  I consider myself an advanced end-user.  I like to dabble in technology but quite frankly, I’m more apt to mess it up than solve involved technical problems.  Nonetheless, I remain inherently hopeful that I will be able to figure things out on my own.

I plan to go into more details about the Z-wave technology I’ve used in our home, but first wanted to set the stage of my DIY learnings so far before Control4 was installed in our family room to control our home theater devices.  More to come soon about Control4.