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Control4 Home Theater and Home Automation System Part 2 Page 3

There are a couple of important issues I’ve noticed using the Apple devices versus Control4’s remotes and touchscreens. First, since Apple doesn’t let you use Flash within the iOS, Control4 had to build these GUIs from scratch. As a result, they have a similar but not quite identical look. That’s not a big deal, but it’s something to be aware of. A more frustrating issue is that the iPod touch and iPad (in my system, at least) are sometimes a little sluggish to respond. This causes me to press the volume-up button too many times until it suddenly catches up and blasts me out of the room. At other times, the Control4 app needs to be restarted, and occasionally the iPod/iPad will ask to be re-authenticated before the system will accept commands from it. Control4 says this is a known Apple issue, which essentially means it’s probably not going to be fixed soon.

Customize HE or ME?
Installers use a program called Composer Pro to set up, configure, and do just about everything else to get a Control4 system running—and keep it running if there are any problems that crop up or changes that need to be made. With a 4Sight subscription, you can give your installer remote access to your system. That might make you queasy—letting some dude across town/state/country muck around in your system as he sits in his underwear and works on his third 5-hour Energy drink of the day. But it’s really a big bonus to enable that feature. In my case, it’s a 160-mile round trip every time the SOHO Shop fires up a truck and comes a visitin’. That’s a pretty expensive service call before the guys have even opened their laptops at my house—especially if all I wanted was a small change in the GUI or to add an iPod to the system.

There are some changes that you can do yourself. Control4’s Composer Media Edition (Composer ME) is free software that adds and scans media (the system doesn’t find new files on the fly, you have to set up a scanning schedule). It also edits media information and creates playlists. It’s very basic, easy to learn, and likely to be about as much as many people will want to be involved with when it comes to programming a Control4 system.

If you’re more daring or simply can’t stand the idea of not doing some of the personalization yourself (guilty as charged), Control4 offers the Composer Home Edition (Composer HE), which you can buy from your dealer for $149. I’m a little put off by the idea that you can spend multiple thousands of dollars on a home automation system and then still have to pop the equivalent of two tanks of gas for a Suburban on a piece of software that will let you do some of the customization yourself. But this isn’t a program for the casual, “I just want the light on my front porch to go on at sunset and turn off at midnight.” (Let your installer do that remotely.) Although Composer HE is drag-and-drop, you still have to understand the basics of programming logic, variables, and agents.

On the other hand, it’s worth spending the money if you want to do some cool stuff, like have the system send you an e-mail when the batteries in your door locks are running low. You’ll also have to spend some time on the learning curve (Composer HE’s Getting Started document—you know, the sort of thing that’s normally one to four pages—is a whopping 53 pages long, and the User Guide is 117 pages). Turning lights on and off, sending e-mail notifications, locking doors automatically at bedtime, and turning music on/lowering shades/dimming lights in the bedroom with one suggestive button press are just a few of the myriad of things that you can program using Composer HE.

One thing you can’t do is add new hardware to your Control4 system. For that, you’ll need your dealer. It may or may not involve a physical service call depending on your hookup ability and the dealer’s level of comfort with the compatibility of the particular piece of gear you’re adding. Either way, there’ll be a fee, so be prepared.

Automation Nation
I can’t say the Control4 system that the SOHO Shop installed isn’t without flaws. (I’m not sure there’s a home automation system that is.) As I mentioned earlier, the iPod/iPads’ responsiveness can sometimes be sluggish. When I activate a new zone, there’s often a brief break in the music playing in an active zone. Sometimes there’s a weird change in the pitch of the audio at the beginning of songs. This is apparently due to congestion on the network, but it’s random and difficult to diagnose. A couple of times, I’ve had to wait for the HC-200B system controller or the 7-inch portable touchscreen to re-establish connection with the system before I could watch TV. It’s agonizingly slow to use the Web client to control the audio in my office from my computer, although the new MyHomePC app (which is included in the MyHome family license but wasn’t available at the time of this review) is supposed to be much faster. It may also have had something to do with the fact that I have satellite Internet, and it doesn’t play nice with lots of highly secure Websites. I have similar problems with GoToMyPC and Netflix, so I can’t really lay the blame on Control4 for that.

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