Hierarchy of components to HA & Whole Hse AV


I don't know if you "advanced cocooners" can relate to this, but I am terribly flummoxed by the deluge of reference to various hardware/software components with no overarching explanation of code names, which pieces fit with which others, and why.

For example, some of you mention using what look like multiple HA "computers" (Elk+Ocelot, Elk+HomeSeer, Charmed Quark+HomeSeer, etc.) with little to no explanation as to why, exactly, you are doing this ... or how.

I'm trying to get ideas on how to put together a modern "whole house" AV system and I am absolutely buried underneath the hardware/software options. I don't know when to use CQC alone or with "HomeLobby". Where does "Russound" or "Neuvo" (What Stargate says is going to be supported with the new release of their LCD keypad)?

What kind of wiring and speakers and peripherals are well regarded and will work with the various other components.

As I said, I don't know how many of you can relate but I am absolutely adrift at sea here. I want to proceed but don't know the lingo, don't know the components, don't know how to put them together or - even more frustrating right now - which ones might usefully go together.

I'd love to see a FAQ/recommendation list for good whole house audio systems. It would also be really nice to see what components different members have interconnected and for what purposes and in what hierarchy.

Surely in a digital home we must be getting to the point where it isn't necessary to run 16 gauge speaker wire to every room but can begin to use normal digital cabling?. I have been googling for some time on whole house AV and there are a myriad of "solutions" ... too poorly explained or contrasted to help me solve anything...or even begin to LEARN/sort through anything.

This may be hard for some of you to believe, but I've never even SEEN a "Smart Home" or a Whole House AV system. I've gone into several high end audio shops and they are all willing to sell me a whole house solution but can't show me one first. That's a tough wall to lean on for support.

If my question seems too remedial, can you refer me to a resource that will really help get me up to speed?
I don't know when to use CQC alone or with "HomeLobby".

I can answer that one. You'd never use it with HomeLobby, particularly since there's no such product :lol: Except for external apps that you want to control, like a media player or something, CQC has all the toys in one box.

You may very well use CQC plus an Elk, since that's two different beasts. The Elk is a low level, hardware controller, and CQC sits on top of it and provides the high level control and brings under control the stuff that the Elk doesn't understand. Or, if you don't necessarily need some of the stuff the Elk provides, you can just use CQC alone in many cases.

If you are doing security, then you'll want some sort of hardware box in there, since security is something that you normally want to keep at that very low level.
I think part of the confusion is there is no single "out of the box" solution that does everything that anyone could ever want. So you need to decide what functionality is important to you, and make sure your solution can solve it. If it can't, then you need to add another component to it. Picture HA similiar to building a home theater. You add components as you add functionality...

If I remember correctly, you already own a StarGate. It doesn't do security (that i'm aware of). So you need to add security system - two good ones are Caddx and Elk (If you go with Elk, it has a lot of HA capabilities as well) (and I'm sure there are others out there)

If you want a PC involved for displays or additional logic and controls, then you add CQC or HomeSeer/MainLobby. etc. etc. (I don't have either so I don't know if they are competitive or even similar).

If you want a media server - you buy a black box server or make one out of a PC using JRiver, WinAmp, Windows Media Center, etc.

If you want HVAC controls, you need to add Aprilaire or RCS or HAI thermostats, etc.

If you want lighting, you add UPB, Insteon, ZWave, etc.

As for wiring whole house audio - there are systems that allow you to use Cat5 wiring to each room (and then speaker wire to the speakers). Personally, I didn't go that route since (at the time of my investigation, it may have improved by now) these systems had very limited power. I wired for speaker cables all homerun and use multiple amps for the various zones (gives me lots of power in each room - and the only minor headache was the upfront wiring)

How do you learn about these things? Unfortunately there is no easy answer (that I know of). Most of us learned by jumping in and see what happens. These forums are a huge blessing and benefit because now you have the collective minds of many many smart people to help "talk through" your projects and to learn from. Depending on where you live, there may be a local user group nearby. Otherwise, learning means lots of digging on the web and reading product brochures...

One book that helped me when I got started... it's very simple but it builds confidence in putting it all together... Integrating the Smart Home

Last comment - it takes time to put this all together. Even if you purchased everything at once, you couldn't install it fast enough. Buy the key components (main brains) up front (StarGate/Elk/HVPro/CQC), make sure you've wired as much as possible for the various components (security, HVAC, AV, monitoring, announcements, touchscreens, etc) - and then start adding on.
The current state of the HA (home automation) "industry" is similar to the way personal computing was in the late '70s and early '80s: Back then you could have a TRS-80, an Apple II, a Commodore, etc or even a homebuilt system. They were all fundamentally imcompatible with each other but there were certain low level ways to interconnect them, such as by serial ports or modem connections. People would then write utility programs that would allow one to send data to the other and do conversions. Over time, standards evolved and some peripherals (such as printers and diskette drives) even became usable with several otherwise incompatible systems.

Home automation is at this state presently. The "common" things are protocols like X-10, Insteon, Z-Wave, UPB...but each HA system has its own hardware platform that it runs on (PC, hardware box) each has its own expansion options, using common hardware techniques like RS-485 or ethernet, but each one using its own (and often proprietary) protocol across these physical connections. People (like us Cocooners!) then write programs and applications that allow some of these different systems to talk to each other on a case by case basis (often based on what we have ourselves), hence the hodgepodge of different interconnectivity levels.

At this time, there is no HA "Microsoft" that attempts to be everything to everyone. You have PC software applications like Homeseer, CQC, HAL that don't do anything useful on their own: they do their thing through hardware interfaces that connect to the PCs serial, USB, ethernet, etc ports. You have dedicated hardware boxes like the Elk, Ocelot, Stargate, etc. that have a programming language built in (that you program using a PC and then download into the box) and with built in i/o interfaces, often expandable. Then you also have specialty applications like MainLobby, RedRadio (or whatever its called) that are third party add ons to some of these software/hardware products. Last but not least, there is a lot of shareware/freeware stuff and projects available on boards like Cocoontech that are produced by HA enthusiasts like us.
Good point Tanstaaf1,
Sometimes the people that have been doing HA (home automation) and security a while tends to use reference shortcuts and assumes everyone knows what they are talking about. I can see that it is hard for the new HA integrator to follow along.

My suggestion to you and anyone else, if you do not understand, ask the person to interpret what he has posted. Perhaps those people will learn to explain themselves better.

Welcome to the wonder world of improving your home lifestyle.
I can certainly understand your frustration.

Their are many ways to accomplish the same thing, and each "advanced Cocooner" has made a personal choice as to which components / technology they are comfortable with, and are very passionate about defending their choices.
(As evidenced by your other post regarding Insteon)

I use the Ocelot (a hardware controller that does X10 and infared, cost about $150.00) as the main brains of my system, to control items that I consider "mission critical". Your Stargate has similar (and probably more capability, as does the newer Elk M1 Gold). The post by Guy Lavoie, is very good. Incidently, Guy is THE Ocelot guru! He can made that little box do almost ANYTHING, and on the Ocelot support forum, he is the answer man.

I use HomeSeer for the "fluff". A web based graphical front end user interface, TTS, caller ID announcements, telephone answering machine, weather announcements, etc, I really use probably only 10% of HomeSeer's capability in my applications.

Also as Guy mentioned, right now is an INTERESTING time in this industry, as there are more choices and directions then I have ever seen before.

Many of us started years ago with Active Home X10 software, then I switched to MisterHouse, then several years later, to HomeSeer.

Right now, I have not embraced any of the new lighting protocols (UPB, Zwave, Intsteon, I'm still using X10, but by this time next year, if not sooner, I will be switching over to "something" else, just waiting for these newones to mature a little bit more. Many use a combination of all 4 in there installations.

Also, there is a "Glossary" section on this board with definitions of a lot of the terms and accronims that are thrown around in various posts.

One final suggestion, regarding your purchases, if you are not aware of AutomatedOutlet, check them out for the best prices and service anywhere! Martin has his own subforum in the Market Place forum and is very active here on CocoonTech. He also uses what he sells in his own home.
JohnBullard said:
I can certainly understand your frustration...

...right now is an INTERESTING time in this industry, as there are more choices and directions then I have ever seen before.
That's right, both interesting and somewhat frustrating! Like with the personal computing comparison I made earlier, there will undoubtedly be a shakeout over time and some of the control protocols and products might die off or never really catch on (where is LonWorks and CEBus today?). The "interesting" thing here is trying to guess which ones... X-10 has been around by far the longest and its death has been predicated many times, but its still there plodding along...mainly due to its low cost and the wide variety of available devices. The other new protocols (if I'm right, they came out in this order: Z-wave, UPB, Insteon...all over just the past couple of years). They are all really nice, but switches all cost around $40-$50 or more apiece. The recent breakthrough in pricing is the lower cost Insteon compatible switches named Icon, at around $20 a switch. This has created quite a bit of excitement here and on the other boards. This alone might make Insteon the next dominant protocol, at least among us DIYers.
I think a lot of the choices made by people involve COST and what product was available at the time.

Plus, I think very few people here actually put in their entire installation system at one time. For instance in my case I started out wanting to automate my exterior lighting in my older home (I did a retrofit with conduit and such to acquire this outdoor lighting and wanted more than just a switch to turn it on).

This lead to my first X-10 switches, an RR501 (RF to power line converter) and a palm pad remote. Man, what a mistake this was as it lead to a near full time hobby! :lol:

Later, I installed switches inside my home, and then needed a phase coupler. After I had the satisfaction of being able to turn on all of my lights with a palm pad, I started to investigage other uses and wanted more. This lead to HomeSeer and my Ocelot purchases.

Down the road, I added motion sensors, cameras, etc... Then in my new home I installed my first whole house security system.

I guess the point I am making is I would be VERY nervous specifying all of this at once without any hands on experience. There are a lot of choices and most as I said are personal preference AND usually solve personal automation needs.
Just for the sake of debate, I wouldn't necessarily see so much difference between the PC world and automation world. If you think about it, what is the PC but a big integration point for ethernet, USB, Firewire, PCI, etc..., where software drivers are required to make those things all accessible in a generic way. It might seem to the end user like they just all fit together but they are all radically different. The OS provides a generic view of these things and software built on the OS provides ways to coordinate them in useful ways.

That's exactly what something like CQC does, just at a higher level. It acts as an integration point for serial, ethernet, IR, firewire, etc... based devices, provides drivers to make those devices accessible in a generic way, and provides software tools to allow you to coordinate them in useful ways.

Clearly there are more standards in the PC world. But, to be fair, if most people didn't buy a pre-assembled computer, and had to do it themselves as a DIY person has to do in the automation world, they wouldn't be really much better off. The choices and variations are many and the incompatibilities are fairly common. If you are able to buy a solution, then HA is no harder than buying a PC, just a lot more expensive.
Point well taken Dean, but I'm sure most of our members will agree that the PC is not to be trusted with anything critical, though any non-critical tasks can easily be brought together WITH a PC if one desires.

This is the Elk M1 Gold's strong point.

As I stated before I wanted my Ocelot to play with my Caddx and it was a lot of work. Grant it I could have integrated functions I deemed critical via my HomeSeer PC (since both were tied to it via serial ports), but I just didn't want to do that. ;)
Well... it depends on what you mean by a 'PC'. A PC that's really an appliance, running on a dedicated, locked down and stripped down, well planned platform, that is not used for anything but that purpose, is completely capable of dealing with critical functions. Homeseer might not be robust enough for that, but the platform certainly is, and CQC on that kind of platform is. My dedicated controller has been up for over a year now, and has never glitched. I've stopped CQC a few times in that period, in order to install new versions as they've been released, but the machine hasn't been stopped or rebooted or failed to operate correctly.

If you know how to put together a solid system, and you have sufficiently robust automation software, it will run without problems for years. If you strip out all the stuff you don't need from Windows (or Linux if your system is based on that), and you don't need a LOT of it for this purpose, they are not really terribly different from a Crestron controller, which is just software running on a fairly general purpose CPU and bus architecture.

If you are doing security, we argue for an underlying hardware box for liability reasons, not for reasons of robustness and reliability. You could do your own security system based on CQC, and we could write a pre-fab set of functionality to help you do that more easily, but we don't want to get into the legal liability issues involved in security systems, since we don't install the CQC based systems ourselves and cannot guarantee the correctness of them, and don't want to end up in court proving that the failure to report that breakin was not our fault. So we make no claims in that area.

If you want to have a hardware substrate for other reasons, obviously that's cool and plenty of people do it, and it can in some cases open up the automation software to things it couldn't control directly at the time, for instance we don't have UPB support yet, but we can control it via an Elk. But at least speaking for our product, there is not a problem with reliability and I wouldn't hesitate to use it for critical stuff, if I knew it was set up by a competent person (but that probably is equally applicable to hardware systems as well, in that they can easily be unreliable if not set up correctly.)
bfisher said:
If you want a PC involved for displays or additional logic and controls, then you add CQC or HomeSeer/MainLobby. etc. etc. (I don't have either so I don't know if they are competitive or even similar).

If you want a media server - you buy a black box server or make one out of a PC using JRiver, WinAmp, Windows Media Center, etc.

If you want HVAC controls, you need to add Aprilaire or RCS or HAI thermostats, etc.

If you want lighting, you add UPB, Insteon, ZWave, etc.

As for wiring whole house audio - there are systems that allow you to use Cat5 wiring to each room (and then speaker wire to the speakers). Personally, I didn't go that route since (at the time of my investigation, it may have improved by now) these systems had very limited power. I wired for speaker cables all homerun and use multiple amps for the various zones (gives me lots of power in each room - and the only minor headache was the upfront wiring)

THIS (your post in particular) is actually THE most comprehensive overview/hierarchy of the options that I have read ANYWHERE. BY FAR.

I'm not asking for others to tell me specifically what is the "best" choice. Obviously, there is a plethora of reasons why someone might have a particular organization, including: history, scope of the home resources to be automated, price, degree of control (do you need complicated program logic or simple triggering of events), gui preference, light switch protocol supported, wife's preference for decor, etc.

What I have found conspicuously lacking is any attempt at a comprehensive overview (top down view) of the options. I call this a "hierarchy" of possible devices. I'm not sure I've seen even a single attempts at even one individual presenting their system clearly in this light. I know I've never before seen any good effort (probably not even a bad effort!) at trying to present a comprehensive overview of options.

It occurs to me that some sort of graphical mark up of systems would fit the bill. I could then peruse various setups, hopefully read some notes on why/how the components were selected ... and how they augment each other when there appears to be overlap.

I think this would even make for a good book, btw. Certainly, I would buy it (I already bought "Integrating the Smart Home and It's Owner", corresponded with the author a bit, and generally didn't find either very helpful in this regard.
Probably no one does any comprehensive book because it would take so long to compile (if it were anything beyond just surface level) that it would likely be invalid by the time it was published. There are a lot of options and they continuously move forward (or backwards in some cases) so it would be hard to have a book form track that. It would probably have to be online to stay up to date fast enough.

But then you have the problem of who has the time and money to do such a comprehensive survey and to constantly keep it up to date. It would be a huge undertaking, and probably no one would do it unless they were going to make enough bucks off it to make it worth doing I guess. I'd sure hate to be presented with that challenge. There may not be enough coffee produced in a given year to support that effort.

I think that there was an effort here at one point to just even come up with a 'features check list' type of thing for the major automation systems, but I think even that might have fizzled out due to the effort involved in getting it right and choosing the correct criteria, and keeping it up to date. And that still wouldn't address more diffuse things like robustness, long term prospects, etc... that are significant factors when chosing this type of system.

We have an overview tutorial type thing (use the Learn tab and then Using CQC.) It's not super-comprehensive since it's supposed to be an overview, and no one would sit down and go through 100 pages of stuff even if I wrote it probably.
I also want to acknowledge (before someone rubs my nose in it! ;-) the effort made on Cocoon to at least LIST the options in hardware/software HA controllers. I assume the same thought was there at the initiation of that project. The Cocoon list is part of what made me feel hopeful about this forum to begin with - the myriad responses to my first question was the second.

But what the simple listing lacked was any depth or context. In other words, the listing would be made much stronger imo by linkages to at least an overview of each product. In terms of context, it would be nice if some way could be found to put the various choices into the context of how this product could be/has been integrated into a complete HA model. How exactly to present this is something I have begun to puzzle over a bit. When I made the comment about how some sort of graphic overview would be nice, that is what I was referring to. I'm relating to how in top down design of a program there are a variety of formal graphic ways to present the calling hierarchy of the functions and procedures. (My programming education predates "object oriented" programming so I can't really speak much to whether an object oriented diagramming tool might or might not be more appropriate).

As I said, this is not about what system or systems are "best" but, rather, what is the supposed target of the component and how it can be/ has been integrated into an overall solution. That is a different issue and probably just allowing individuals who have worked with the various components to critically rate/rank/review them is the best thing for that.

Any thoughts on how this sort of hierarchical overview could be compiled and presented? Could it be done on this forum? If so, then the fact that no one person possesses a sufficient expertise in the whole field of options would not be too much of a problem. Each person could potentially carve out a space presenting or commenting on what they knew. But coming up with an ORANIZATION to capture and convey the information seems like the sticking point that needs to be thought through.

Alternatively, although not as integrated, each person could present THEIR system in a top-down summary (I'd suggest no more than 1 page for the summary listing, with linkages to more complete details, component pictures, etc. This would also be very helpful and seems easier in concept.