Announce: CQC Version 1.3.5 Released

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
Charmed Quark Systems is proud to announce the 1.3.5 release of CQC (the Charmed Quark Controller), its software based control and automation system. CQC is the brains that supplement the brawn of your PC network, to create a powerful, secure, network distributed, highly visual, and highly robust system for management of hardware devices and software applications. With the addition of the needed ports (IR, serial, contact, etc...) to a general purpose PC, CQC can provide you with control and automation services on par with far more expensive traditional automation systems. Combined with its strong home theater front end services, which make excellent use of the strengths of PC graphics, CQC is a one stop shopping system that often requires the manual integration of three or more packages in competing products. CQC supports the Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows Server family of operating systems, with others coming.

Version 1.3.5 is a very substantial upgrade of 1.3.4, despite being a 'dot dot' release, because many of the improvements are under the hood and in visual aspects of the system, not in fundamental changes to the way the system operates. So though much work was done, and the tools are better looking, slicker, and far more powerful than before, there won't be any major suprises in this release.

The primary visible improvements are in the user interface system, and its ability to manage images and to make the development of user interfaces simpler and easier.

In the remainder of this document some screen shots will be provided. These are of the interfaces created for current CQC demo systems. Please note that there is nothing, visually or functionality, about these images that is intrinsic to CQC. They were created using the CQC interface designer, using arbitrary images chosen for their asethetics and the functionality provided is purely a matter of design, so they are not 'skins' providing alternate looks for a fixed set of functionality, nor are you in any way limited to a particular visual style.

Also note that they are pretty significantly reduced in size and quality in order to avoid download overhead

What's New Overview

This section will briefly introduce the major new features in this version, some of which will be discussed in more detail later in this document.
  • Interface System. Huge improvements have been made in the user interface system. The interface designer has many more conveniences to help you create and edit user interfaces, such as multiple selection actions, selective attribute pasting, snap to grid, auto-alignment tools, and theme support.
  • Image Repository. The CQC image repository was massively reworked. The biggest change is that PNG files are now supported and that is the new repository format. This allows you to bring very slick alpha transparency based images into your user interfaces. And a nice new set of images are in this release, which you can use in your interfaces.
  • Network Addressing Scheme. CQC's underlying network model was changed so that it's Object Request Broker now publishes node names instead of addresses, which makes CQC much more flexible and simplified it considerably internally in many places.
  • Web Site/Documenation. The entire Charmed Quark web site was redesigned from the ground up, to make it easier to understand and navigate. The technical documentation was largely moved into separate downloadable documents.
  • Installer. The CQC installer was completely reworked to make it more attractive and a lot smarter. Some of this was preperatory to even bigger changes in the next release but you'll definitely notice now much nicer it is.
  • Device Drivers. New drivers are available for myHTPC, TheaterTek 2.0, Meridian 861, and SageTV. And updates were made to the Lexicon MC-12 and DirecTV set top box.

Click here for a full sized version

User Interface Improvements

Significant work was done on the user interface system in this release. This section will discuss some of these changes, and provide some more example interfaces, to help graphically demonstrate the new features.

Note that the example interfaces displayed here use a scheme commonly employed in CQC, which is to have a single main interface, and to have a set of buttons that load up various smaller interfaces into a central area. All the buttons in the Options section to the right load up 'overlays', which are just smaller interfaces, into the central area of the main image. This both saves time by allowing you to provide common functionality once, and allows for more flexibility in reuse of sets of overlays that provide access to common types of functionality


Click here for a full sized version

Image Management
Previously, CQC could only import bitmaps, and that was also it's repository format. In this version, it also supports PNG images and that is now the repository format. PNG is far more flexible and powerful than raw bitmaps, and importantly they support 'alpha transparency' which means that each individual pixel can blend into the background differently. You can use this to create very slick looking interfaces. A nice new set of alpha based images is included in this release as well, to help you get started. Another benefit is that they are compressed but lossless. So they reduce load times but can be re-edited without compounding compression artifacts as would happen with JPEGs.

The new image import dialog allows you to do high quality scaling of images you are importing, as well as flip them horizontally and vertically and adjust the image's gamma level. And, you can now go back and edit your images in the repository, not just import a new version of the image over the old one.


Interface Editor
The user interface editor is far more powerful in this version. It worked quite well before, but lacked a lot of 'conveniences' that make the difference between getting the job done and getting it done with some style and in a fraction of the time. You can now select multiple widgets (via shift-click or lasso style) and drag them, size them up or down, move them, delete them, apply attributes to them, align them horziontally or vertically (and optionally space them out in the process), and so forth. This feature alone can reduce the work required to create a slick looking interface by orders of magnitude.


You can also now cut and paste widget attributes, and selectively paste only those you want. This allows you to create or modify one widget, and then selectively apply some of it's look to other widgets (and you can select them all at once and apply them.)

There is also now 'theme' support so that you can select a theme and it will automatically supply initial settings for the widgets you add to your interface, so that you end up with a nice, consistent look without having to make all those decisions yourself.


The CQC installer was completely reworked and now is very professional looking and slick, and considerably smarter under the hood. This in and of itself is nice, but these changes are also preliminary to some very exciting new features that will arrive in the installer in the next release.


Under the Hood
Many improvements were made under the hood in this release. You won't see them directly, but they are there and they make CQC more robust, faster, and more flexible. There is always a great pressure on companies to put out visible features to the detriment of the fundamental architecture, but we believe that automation systems must be stable and robust first and foremost, because no number of flakey features are acceptable in this type of product. So we put in a lot of time reworking important architectural features to create a better product. It won't jump out at you, but you will benefit from them as a user of CQC.

Some other under the hood work is in preperation for upcoming features in the next release. There will be some very exciting new features in our next release, which will bring CQC's powerful automation architecture into the media management world, and into the world of smaller hand held devices.

What's Available

CQC consists of a 'base package' and a number of optional packages. The base package provides all that most folks will need, though in some cases they might want to pick up one or two optional packages. If you need them all, there is a discount for buying a full system with all options.

The base package provides the following broad features:
  • Network distributed front and back end control architecture
  • User drawn interface development and deployment tools
  • IR control
  • X-10 control
  • Serial and socket device control
  • Macro development and deployment tools
  • Device driver development and deployment tools (what might be called 'plug ins' in some systems)
  • Security and user management
The optional packages available as of version 1.3.5 are:
  • Scheduled Events Server. Allows you to schedule events to occur at regular intervals, particular times of the day, particular days of the week, etc...
  • Application Control. If you want to control other applications as though they were devices, then you need to get the application control system. It allows applications to be managed via standard CQC device drivers, so that they integrate cleanly into the CQC system (within the natural limits imposed by the fact that applications are often not designed to be controlled.)
  • XLM Gateway Server. Provides a simple XML over Sockets interface into the CQC system, to support third party clients.
Other optional packages will be made available over time. The purpose of structuring the system in this way is to allow the core functionality cost to be kept reasonable, and to only ask you to pay for those less common features that you really need, and to keep system requirements down where that is an issue.


Click here for a full sized version

Give it a Try

CQC is available for use in trial mode for 30 days, without any encumberances. So you can fully evaluate it for a month without commitment. If you decide to buy at any time within the trial period, you can convert your existing trial system into a fully licensed system without any interruptions.

CQC is also safe to try. It does not install any system files, or modify your configuration in any way except to create some start menu items and to create a small registry entry. It also creates a service, but all of the files that service uses are within the CQC directory. So if you decide not to commit, just use the uninstaller and it can be completely removed without any danger of destabilization of your system.

So feel free to give it a try and see if suits your needs. CQC provides a lot of functionality, all under one roof, where it can be managed and configured as a whole, and where the pieces are designed from day one to work together seamlessly and will continue to do so into the future. You don't have to master multiple systems and tie them together yourself, and hope that they do not diverge at some point, leaving you in the lurch, nor do you have to worry about the security of multiple systems not designed to provide comprehensive built in, user based security.


Click here for a full sized version

CQC can adapt to scenarios from a locked down, kiosk mode system, up to a "PC based and not ashamed of it" full home network in which every machine is a CQC node, so it is applicable to many sorts of control system topology and usage patterns, and can change easily over time because of the flexible nature of software based systems.

CQC is licensed on a network basis. So the price is basically for a license to run the 'master server' on one machine. You can then run the other client and server components on other machines in your network as desired. So the price compared to some other options is more competative than it might seem once you move off a single machine configuration.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us at [email protected], or you can register on the CQC support forums and join the growing community of CQC users, many of whom can provide you with help and practical experience.

BTW, with this new release we are now our new corporate identity with new logo and slightly modified name. It actually was officially done a while back, but hasn't actually show up visually until the new web site design was deployed.


Click here for a full sized version
Looks great Dean, I like how you mentioned it won't screw with the system in case you want to try it. I would love to try it, but the only spart parts I have left are the Firecracker, CM11a and a MR26a.
If you just want to evaluate it and see what it can do and how it does it, then you can just download it and install it and go through the 'Quick Tutorial' which uses a device simulator to simulate a small set of devices. So don't have to have any devices actually connected in order to do the whole tutorial, though if you have an IRMan or USB-UIRT you can do one extra part of the tutorial about IR receiving. But with the simulator it can take you through all of the major features of the system without your having to figure out how to hoook it up to any of you devices first.

On the web site, go to the Try/Buy menu item, then the Try It section. The product download link is there, as well as the link to the Quick Tutorial document.
A couple new device drivers have been posted for the Autopatch 1YDM A/V matrix switcher, and the DVDO iScan HD video processor. These are available as driver packs in the "Downloads" section of the web site. They'll be formally included in the next release.

The iScan HD driver is a first cut at the driver, and it's not been verified by anyone but me, so treat it like a beta driver until it's had some verification. Since I actually designed the iScan HD control protocol for DVDO, I'm pretty sure I'm dealing with it correctly in terms of protocol issues. But since I don't have the box in a real system, it might act somewhat differently when it has real signals coming in.
After the 1.3.5 release was out, it was discovered that a few people's systems, for reasons not totally understood, would return incorrect host names when doing reverse name resolution (converting from a numeric address to a host name.) This would prevent all the CQC apps from finding each other, because CQC was depending on reverse name resolution in a key place.

This dependence has been removed in a new 1.3.6 release, and that problem should not show up anymore. Since we had to do a new release, we also took the opportunity to fix a few small things that had been missed in the 1.3.5 release. And the device drivers that came out after 1.3.5, and were therefore separately downloadable, were moved officially into the new release.

If you are running 1.3.5, there is no immediate pressing need to upgrade to 1.3.6. But, it would be nice if you could do so at some point when it is convenient for you, since it does have some more fixes and will insure that if you should change your network configuration that, should you change your network configuration in some way, that this name resolution problem will not pop up for you.
Well it looks like we are finally going to get to do a Z-Wave driver for CQC, via the USB controller, something that a lot of folks have been asking about. Hopefully I'll have something to show on that front in a couple weeks, depending on how fast the bits fall into place.

I've been looking around but one thing that isn't popping up as obvious or not, does Z-Wave have 220V modules for the European market, or are they all currently 110V format?
Thanks. That makes it that much more worth our time. We haven't so far supported a lower cost lighting system that could get us into the European whole house market. It looks like we will also be getting a C-Bus driver done, which will open up the Australian whole house market for us as well.
Just a little teaser of what's coming up in the next drop, which isn't very far off now...

We were going to go straight to a 1.4 for the next release, all oriented towards media management. However, the opportunity came up, finally, to get a Z-Wave driver done. So, we decided to do an interrim release that would include that driver, because it will be an important one for us. It will allow us to support a cost effective, wireless lighting control system. We already support the Lutron RadioRA, but it's considerably more expensive and high end.

Unfortunately, it's taken longer than hoped to get the required information to get the Z-Wave driver done, though it's about complete now finally. So, in the meantime, I couldn't do any fundamental surgery for this next release, so I've just done a lot of surface improvements. That might not sound too exciting, but many of those surface improvements are in the area of graphics capabilities in the user interface system, and in the creation of a LOT of really cool new images that can be shipped in the product.

Just to tease you a bit, here is a screen snap (reduced in size and quality for here) of a set of 'reference interfaces' I'm working on now that takes full advantages of all of the new graphics features and images:


Pretty nice, huh? You can create VERY slick looking interfaces now. This particular interface is done completly with images that will be available in the next release. And, as with the examples above in this thread, it uses an 'overlay' scheme, where the buttons in the button bar on the top allow you to load one of a set of smaller interfaces in the central area of the main interface, leaving the the main controls unchanged around the edges. In this case, an overlay for weather information has been loaded.

Here is a full sized image, though still a JPEG so it's reduced in quality. Here is a full sized PNG so it's lossless and you can see the full quality. This one is about 300 and something K, so don't go for this one if you have a modem connection probably.

And to show you some of the effects that are being used in this one that won't show up in a static screen cap...


You can see various focus and pressed effects. In the original screen cap, you see focus emphasis on the Weather Info button at the top. When it's pressed, you get a different color emphasis. And the same with the two/sided volume button at the buttom. You can see the blue focus glow and the red pressed glow.

And with the buttons on the lower right, a 'halo' style focus and emphasis scheme is being used. When you move focus to it, it has a blue halo behind it, and when pressed, the halo turns red.

So, though no major new feature have been aded, a lot of smaller ones add up to the ability to create a very sexy and realistic looking interface. There will be more and more of these images coming along. I've really gotten into the whole process, which allows my inner artist to come out a bit. And a lot of the other changes were in in the area of improving the tools by providing more hot keys and graphical menus, so you can really blast out interfaces pretty quickly now, and make changes easily.

Anyway, just wanted to give you a peak at what is coming. There's been a perception that CQC, though probably having the most powerful back end, is a little lighter on the graphics side when it comes to creating really sexy looking interfaces. But hopefully this release will put the final nail in the coffin on that perception. With this new graphical abilty, plus the tightly integrated front and back end, so that you don't have to combine systems to get both the sexy front end and things like Z-Wave support, the next release is going to be very interesting.
Thanks! I'll post the other overlay caps as I get them done. I'm doing these new interfaces as a late night gig, to 'relax' from the other work. Mostly all the work is just involved in deciding on what look I want, and creating new images to create that look. Creating the actual interfaces is pretty trivial, after the images are done.

I'm including any images that I create in the product for others to use, so it's definitely killing two birds with one stone.
And a little more stuff...

One of the nice new capabilties is that you can layer images in buttons, and adjust their opacity and position within the widget. So, for instance, you can use the new 'combo' button images which are a round and square glass piece together, and layer another image over it, and adjust it over to fit in the round area.


The placement adjustment is very nice, but also the layering itself is important because it means I don't have to provide you with a particular button background with a particular symbol on it. I just provide the button blanks and you can layer any symbol image over it.

With all the button blank images, I've provided a normal and 'empahsis' version, so in the example above the emphasis version of the button is being used as the focus image, which provides a very nice way to track the focus as it moves around. And you can see that the opacity has been adjusted down, so that the underlying texture shows through, which is a nice look.

There are some new 'gel' buttons as well:


These are also very nice looking when their opacity is lowered, allowing the background to show through.

There is a nice new set of glass buttons. Here the non-emphasis blanks are shown, along with a set of the same with a symbol layered over them, just to show how they can be used.


These could be used in some very sexy looking interfaces because they have a very nice look.

And there are some new glass LEDs. This snap doesn't include all of them. I also have some 'surrounds' for them, i.e. metal or plastic looking 'sockets' you can put onto your interface and fit them into. The power LED in the new fancy interface above uses one of the metal ones. And it shows one of the other set of LEDs that you don't see here.


And there are some 'panels' that you can put into your interfaces and make use of. Here is one example of one:

In this example, I've just stuck one of the LEDs into it in a plastic surround but that isn't in the actual panel image. They are all just blanks for you to put stuff into.

Anyway, I've been a busy little beaver creating nice stuff for you guys to use in interface creation.