Test Report: Control4 HC-250 Controller Page 3

Performance

There are a variety of ways to interact with a Control4 system, but for most people the simplest will be the SR-250 wand remote ($199). In fact, once any tech-phobic family members or guests are instructed to “just press the big red 4 button,” they are likely to figure out system operation by themselves.

Pressing that button turns the TV on, selects the correct input, and produces an onscreen display with options like Watch and Listen. (As you add more features to your system, additional items like Comfort, Security, and Lighting become available.) Up/down/left/right select keys are used to navigate the GUI and select the desired activity. For instance, selecting Watch in my bedroom displayed options for Satellite and Kaleidescape Movie Player. Pressing the red 4 button brings you back to the home screen at any point should users get lost or confused. Alternatively, “power users” can bypass the onscreen GUI by pressing the Watch or Listen buttons on the remote and jumping directly to an activity — a trick my wife picked up after 2 minutes of use.

Because the controllers communicate with the HC-250 via either radio frequency (ZigBee) or IP, they don’t have to be “pointed” like traditional infrared remotes. This is especially handy if the HC-250 is tucked out of sight, say, behind a wall-mounted TV or closed cabinet doors.

For day-in-and-out control in my bedroom, I definitely preferred using the SR-250 wand. I liked its tactile buttons, and it had all of the commands I needed, including those to control Kaleidescape and Dish Network features. In my more complicated theater system, however, there were several “custom” buttons I found myself wanting. This is where Control4’s touchscreen remotes and iPad interface came in. On both of these, I created custom “buttons” for direct access to surround modes, projector aspect ratio settings, and control of the projector’s anamorphic lens/screen masking system.

I really like that any Control4 controller can quickly and easily switch over to operate any room. With a couple of button presses (or screen taps), I could transform the wand (or touchscreen) into the controller for my bedroom, living room plasma TV, or living room projector system. The HC-250 and HC-800’s increased processing power made this switchover noticeably zippier than in the past.

As I mentioned above, I connected a hard drive to the HC-800 in the living room, and after scanning its contents, I had access to my music library, including full cover art. Because the HC-800 digitizes this content, it was also available in my bedroom via the HC-250 (although listening to music through LCD TV speakers is admittedly pretty lame). You can browse music fi les by artist, album, and genre, and can jump directly to a specific letter in your library text-message style (i.e., 6 = M-N-O). The system supports MP3, AAC (nonprotected), and FLAC (but not high-rez FLAC). The HC-250 can also stream Internet radio stations in MP3 format.

Given the choice of using Control4’s 7-inch portable touchscreen and its iPad control app, I generally preferred the iPad. It had a much larger screen, it worked in portrait or landscape mode, it never dropped off the network, and its battery lasts longer. It’s also a lot less expensive. (One reason that you would buy a touchscreen instead of an iPad is its video intercom feature.)

While Control4 makes lighting and HVAC controllers, my home was already outfitted with automated lighting, shading, and HVAC controls from Lutron’s RadioRA2 line. Fortunately, the Lutron components seamlessly integrated with the Control4 system, allowing full control of — and status feedback from — those systems. For instance, creating a scene titled “Watch Movie” allowed me to dim all the lights, drop the shading, and lower the temp on the thermostat with a single button press.

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