Which Smart Home systems should I use?

When we discuss Smart Home systems we the term “Systems” or more precisely “Sub-Systems” which may sound technical but all we are referring to are functions commonly found in homes. Functions such as Lighting, Heating, Security, Audio/Visual, etc., functions we all have in our homes.

Where a Smart Home differs is that the sub-systems can “talk” to each other as if they are one system through the process of integration. So, for example, when you set the alarm (security system) it turns off all the lights (“talks” to the lighting system) and lowers the heating (“talks” to the heating system). There are many many other examples of functional benefits gained through integration, far more than can be easily explained here.

In order for the sub-systems to “talk” to each other, the components of each sub-system need to be smarter than traditional components but which smart home system should you use? This is where specialist advice from a Home Technology Professional or Home Automation Specialist advice is needed because it is very unlikely one manufacture will provide all the functionality required, also smart components from different manufacturers will not always have the ability to “talk” to each other or where they can “talk” the extent to which they can “talk” varies considerably. Knowing which components reliably “talk” to each other is very important!

When we mention components, it is also important to understand that everything in the “chain” needs to be specified by the Home Technology Professional. This may even include products such as the televisions. This is not a means to generate more revenue, honest! If you think about it, the number of televisions in smart homes compared to the total number of televisions sold is still relatively small, for now. So most television manufacturers still produce televisions and just bundle the, often confusingly labelled, cheap infra-red (IR) remote control with the television. But in a Smart Home, it’s actually the system controlling the television not you, so the television needs to “talk” to the system, reliably. This is achieved by ensuring the television has the necessary physical communication interfaces, like serial or Internet Protocol (IP) and that the system talks same the language of the television and can hold a conversation using its programming capabilities. Think of it like two people talking different languages. In the IR example, it’s a bit like one person practising speaking a language to a foreign speaker but not really knowing if the person understood them. Whereas two people having a two-way conversation would be similar to communicating using serial or IP protocols as the listener is giving feed back and acknowledging they have understood. Even when speaking the same language, the level of conversation differs between say an infant and an adult and this is the difference between a component’s programming capabilities or and the extent of its control protocols.

It also worth highlighting at this point products such as Phillips Hue lighting, Nest and Hive thermostats, etc. Although they are all very good products, heavy consumer marketing, does not necessarily ensure each are suited for a fully integrated Smart Home natively. That is not to say that such products wouldn’t be used in the overall solution but that you shouldn’t be led into thinking through good marketing, that they technically have same capabilities.

The speciality of a Home Technology Professional is knowing, through experience, the integration capabilities of each component and knowing what solutions are available to “bridge the gap” where one component can not talk with another to the desired level. One solution would be to use a Control System. Using a dedicated Control System acts a translator in our above language example but it also provides one user interface to the whole system regardless of which sub-systems i.e. lights, heating, etc. you wanted to control.

So in summary, selecting which Smart Home system you should use, is a minefield. Our approach is to identify your actual lifestyle requirements through non technical discussions and only then select components we know will “talk” reliably and which interfaces you feel comfortable using.