First Look: Insteon's Easier Home Automation


Staff member
Alan Stafford, PC World
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Home automation has always seemed like a hobbyist's pastime, probably because in the past only someone who liked to fiddle with things would be willing to put up with the poor reliability of available products. But SmartHome's new Insteon products may one day help home automation shed its hobbyist reputation.

Like earlier products from X-10, Insteon's products let you use your home's electrical wiring to turn lights, appliances, and other electrical devices on and off according to a predefined schedule.

Plugged In, Lit Up

I tested Insteon's $99 Starter Kit, which includes a tabletop control panel, modules for controlling two lamps, and two signal enhancers for picking up commands sent from wireless, radio-frequency remote controls (not yet available). After connecting the Insteon modules, you can dim the lights or turn them on or off via a control panel plugged into another socket, or via remote control. The Insteon tabletop controller worked flawlessly with the Insteon modules: Lights turned on and off without fail.

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If you are interested in Insteon. You should buy the $99 starter kit. A real bargain!!

We got ours and I am impressed with what you get in the kit.
I've had the Insteon starter kit for 2 months now and the protocol is very fast. Things works as advertised. However, there is only one company supporting it via software control (Mcontrol). It seems that all the major HA software vendors have not yet offered support. So, because it is X10 compatible, there is no benifit to the insteon product line until the major software packages support it.
Squintz said:
Why would they take so long to support it if it is so cheap to buy the kit?
Because the protocol has been very problematic as well as the hardware. Michael McSharry started a plugin twice and finally stopped because they kept recalling their computer interface. In his words the SDK was a mess and wasn't going to look again until they corrected some hardware problems. He sent his last kit back. This was about 3 weeks ago so I wonder if he's giving up? I'm sure some one is working on a plugin if not several. ;)
The SDK is still in development on some fronts and has not been without issues. Insteon seems very willing to help though. Cinemar will be supporting Insteon and is continuing development despit these issues.
That little bit of information is good to know because it tells us that if we are only buying because its a good deal then we should wait until the kit is actually ready. So it sounds like they are going through something similar to what z-wave went through and probably all the other technologies also. There is simply a learning curver the new developers have to follow and eventually one of the developers will make a decent product.
I believe there are two different "starter" kits being discussed here.

One, the one in the referenced article, is a "human controlled" interface. It's the standard controller (with buttons) and some modules. There is no computer control involved.

The other, with computer control, is the developer kit. This is the same kit that people have complained about because of license agreements. As far as I know, this is the only way to get a PC interface for Insteon devices. It has not been offered to the general public yet. It is only out there for developers who are trying to build interfaces. In this case, it's not that unusual for there to be bugs in the interface that need to be worked out. I would expect them to be (or hope that they are) gone by the time the interface is released to the general public.
Thanks for clearing that up smee. I think we are talking about two differnt things here.
No, the PC interfaces are available now both in USB and Serial. That reminds me, I guess I need to get them up on the site....
From what I've heard, there are draconian restrictions in the Insteon licenses that have scared off more than a few potential developers. That may be why its going slowly.
AutomatedOutlet said:
No, the PC interfaces are available now both in USB and Serial. That reminds me, I guess I need to get them up on the site....
You're right. I missed them somehow when I searched earlier.

I still think the discussion was about two different starter kits, though.
I don't think the Insteon SDK requirements are as bad as some first feared.
Will I be able to sell the product(s) I develop with the developer's kit?
Yes, you will be able to sell your software product(s) developed from the INSTEON developers kit. Prior to offering for sale, you must submit the product to Smarthome for INSTEON compatibility testing and INSTEON certification. This is a free service that Smarthome provides to insure the software complies with proper INSTEON protocols. Once you are at a stage where the product can be tested contact Bob.