I’ve been using X10 products to remotely and automatically control some of the lights and appliances in my house for years. Insteon is the next generation of X10-compatible devices sold by SmartHome. I’ve been considering updating the devices in my house to take advantage of the new technology, so I thought I’d start with something simple like a network controllable light bulb. Should be easy — right? We’ll see.
The bulb can be used standalone, but that doesn’t make use of the features:
- World’s first networked dimmable light bulb
- Energy-saving, 8W LED bulb shines as brightly as a 60W incandescent bulb
- Software configurable: link to additional controllers, add to scenes and customize ramp rates and brightness levels
- Up to 52,000 hour life
- Featuring dual-band INSTEON technology for the fastest and most reliable performance
Along with the bulb, I received a Smartlinc Hub. It’s a controller that you plug into any AC outlet in your home and then attach an Ethernet cable to your modem or router. The AC outlet on the device is a pass thru.
I plugged the bulb into a table lamp and turned it on. This could have been the end of this review, because the light turned on and seemed to illuminate as much as a 60 watt incandescent bulb. However, it would be much more fun to be able to turn the lamp on and off remotely, whether at home or on the road!
This first step to automation is to plug-in the Smartlinc box into an AC outlet. Then I plugged an Ethernet cable between the box and my router. From this point on, you fire up the app (either iOS or Andriod) on your WiFi device and follow the instructions to add the bulb to your list of controlled devices. Although my configuration only contained an LED bulb, there are other INSTEON devices that can control appliances, regular lamps and most anything electrical. Check their website for products.
Once you’ve added the device, in this case the LED bulb, you can add functions to turn the device on/off and set timers. The above screen shot is from my iPod. There is also an app for Android devices.
My hope when getting the INSTEON controller was that it would overcome the problem I was having with my X10 devices. X10 and unfortunately INSTEON communicate via the power lines, superimposing a signal on the AC. A problem arises when you have a controller on one line of the two coming in from the street and a device on the other side of the transformer. The signals to do not couple between the two. I’ve tackled this issue by only connecting controlled devices to one side of the circuit breaker panel, which means I can use X10 or INSTEON only in certain rooms.
INSTEON is billed as a dual -band device, meaning that it transmits its signal via the power line and RF. This is true only for dual-band devices, and the Smartlinc is not one of them. So, to make the LED bulb remotely controllable in my den, I had to run an extension cord from an outlet in a spare bedroom to my home office, which was on the same leg of the incoming line as the bulb. I plugged the Smartlinc in and all was well. This shortcoming can be fixed by purchasing a phase coupler and having an electrician install it in the breaker panel. I’m just too cheap to pay the $100+ this would cost.
From reading the INSTEON web site, I understand that the INSTEON network becomes more robust and reliable as you add devices, because it uses a mesh network and all control signals are repeated by every device on the net, insuring the commands get sent and acknowledged.
Now that I had the bulb talking to the Smartlinc, I can turn the light on/off and dim it from my iPod and Android Smart phone. This can be done from in the house or on the road, because during setup, the app opened a port on my router using UPnP. I can turn on the lamp in the den before I get home, so I can see when I step into the house, and I have the light on a timer to turn on and off at certain times.
I also received a mini remote with the evaluation package. This device sends an RF signal and was easily linked to the LED bulb, which is a dual-band device. However, the mini remote is useless. It has a range of no more than 2 feet from the bulb. I’m sure it would perform much better if there were other dual band INSTEON devices in my network, because any one of them receiving the mini remote signal would re-transmit it via power line to the bulb.
I have a confession to make. I like playing with these home automation devices, but a reality check is in order. The cost of controlling one LED bulb in my house comes to almost $130. That’s $29.99 for the bulb and $99 for the Smartlinc controller; and if you consider the mini-remote, that’s another $44.99. I’ve read stories wondering why home automation hasn’t caught on. Maybe it’s because the prices are too high.