[Review] A first look at mControl


Staff member
A first look at mControl
by electron

mControl is a client-server application, part of the mHome product line, designed to provide the user with a seamless integration to Microsoft Windows Media Center and home automation hardware. It supports the more popular X10 controllers (such as the CM11A and CM17A, plus the new CM15A) and can also be entirely configured and controlled using only your MCE remote.

mControl is developed by Embedded Automation, a company founded in 1998, which has been working hard on the mHome product line and similar hardware. While Embedded Automation is probably not a familiar name , this is something that could change in the near future, since the mHome product line will be bringing home automation to the masses.

As mentioned before, the mControl software has a client component and a server component. The client component that configures mControl can be either your MCE interface or your Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser. These client options allow you to access the mControl interface on any TV or PC in your house.

Installing is extremely easy, as the following step is the only one where you will need a mouse. Just accept the EULA, follow the few prompts and you are all set as shown in the screen shots below. Keep in mind that mControl is .NET based, so make sure you have the latest Windows updates installed.

Click thumbnail to enlarge screenshot

At the end of the installation process, mServer.exe will be configured as a service, so you do not need to keep MCE running in order to execute the scheduled macros.

There are only a few things you have to know before starting to configure your mControl software. mControl uses zones (i.e. living room, kitchen, etc.), making it really easy to find the device you are trying to control. mControl also supports 3 types of macros:
  • manual: you activate the macro by highlighting it using your remote, and pushing the play button.
  • timed: configure the time of the day when you want a device to turn on / off
  • device status change: the macro gets activated when the specified device turns on / off.
Last but not least, after connecting a CM11A (powerline interface), I tried looking for a configuration screen where I could select an X10 interface, and what serial port it uses. After a few minutes, I realized that there was no way of selecting the COM port (that the CM11A resides on). It looks like the software will find the X10 interface on its own (you do have to specify during the configuration of a device which X10 interface you want to use), which is great, as it is another step towards a plug and play solution. [Update: It looks like it doesn't scan each port for the interface after all, it just uses COM1 by default, and it looks like you can not select any other COM port in this release, but this should change soon]

Start MCE, and find the mControl menu entry. Go to the Settings menu, and select "Manage Zones". This is where you can configure your rooms and devices as shown in the screenshots below.

Click thumbnail to enlarge screenshot

As you can see, it's very easy and fast to configure a zone and add some devices. Simply select the X10 interface you desire, the house and unit code, and the module you have. In my opinion, this is the only confusing part (selecting a module). For example, most people will not know that an AM466 is a simple X10 appliance module. While the manual itself explains what module does what, this was the only reason I even had to open it. A short module description is needed to accompany the menu setup module number listings.

One other disappointment was the lack of icons. As you can tell by the screenshots, no icon was available for my phone or speakers, but I consider this a very minor issue since the software was JUST released, and it looks like it's pretty easy to add your own icons (simply copy the images to the \Program Files\Embedded Automation\mControl\images\device directory).

Now that you have configured all your rooms and devices, it's time to add a macro! The screenshots below show how to configure a macro which will turn off your phone in the kitchen, and turn on the speakers in the living room. Keep in mind that one macro can have multiple actions!

Click thumbnail to enlarge screenshot

Now that we have configured the macro, simply go back to the main menu, select the living room zone, and you should be able to trigger this "movie time!" macro by selecting it and then clicking the play button.

Click thumbnail to enlarge screenshot

As you can tell by the screenshots, it's extremely easy to install this software. Anyone who owns a Microsoft Windows Media Center 2005 based HTPC can order one of the X10 beginner kits, and be up and running within minutes, without knowing anything about home automation. Thanks to the web based interface (which uses the exact same layout and graphics), you can access this interface from any machine using your web browser.

mControl supports the following X10 interfaces: CM15A (USB), CM17A (serial) and the CM11A/CM12U (serial).

I did not find any option which allows me to monitor my cameras, so I can only assume that they are still working on this functionality. Hopefully the software will support IP cameras, or support grabbing the latest snapshot from another machine, since most people run the video signal to a wiring closet, and not to their HTPC. I was also not able to verify if the interface will work with the MCE extenders, but I can not see a reason why mControl would not be compatible with these extenders.

At the time of this writing, no pricing information was available. I was told that the MSRP will be announced ASAP as they are still working out some details. Hopefully the price won't be a showstopper since I can't see any other reason why this product should not be recommended.

Microsoft Windows Media Center is here to stay, and Microsoft is working hard to make sure that as many people as possible will be making Media Center an important part of their "Cocooning" experience, so it only makes sense to use Media Center to control your appliances. Several other home automation hardware and software offerings are now supporting Media Center as well, but I personally feel that this is the best solution I have gotten my hands on so far.

I would definitely recommend mHome to anyone who is interested in controlling their home automation equipment using MCE. Even if you already have a state of the art HA system, you could use one of your older/spare X10 interface to turn your TV into the ultimate home automation control interface.

Manufacture: Embedded Automation
Price: N/A
Trial: 30days, download here

I just got word from Embedded Automation that both the HP and Xbox extenders have been tested, and are fully supported. Video functionality will be added later this year (Q3). They also will be including more icons, so the price is the only unknown at this point.

I have also been informed that only the CM15A supports 2-way X10, so macros can not be triggered by an X10 code when using the CM11A/CM12U interface. This is something that will be added in upcoming releases.

Update 2
Embedded Automation finally released the pricing information, but also announced support for the new SmartHome INSTEON product line as well. Read this for more information.
Did you make the background graphics or is that how it comes? The BG graphics look a little sloppy... can you customize it?

Also do you think this currently has the power to replace homeseer or is this simply something that you would run along side HS.
The background matches the MCE interface, it doesn't look sloppy at all. I had to resize the MCE window so I didn't have to post 1776x1000 screenshots.

As for replacing Homeseer, this software isn't designed to replace advanced software packages such as Homeseer, HAL, etc., so the answer would be no. It makes a great addition to your existing HA setup tho. Depending on the price, I might buy this myself since it looks really great on a 56" TV.
Thanks for the quick and great review. I have been debating purchasing Homeseer for years, lurked on message boards for years, and have used MCE a lot for the last six months with two HP extenders on a proj screen and plasma.
This looks like everything I need in order to get me hooked. Then I will need more control and finally purchase Homeseer! I can't wait to try this tonight!
I will confirm it works with the MCE Extenders, thanks again.
Excellent review. I'm sure a lot of people are going to keep their eyes on this one as their really is no true (good) MCE interface for our HA systems.
ouzome: Homeseer already has a MCE plugin ($60), so you might want to look at that as well, eventho I think I like the look/feel of mControl better.
electron - thanks, I was aware of the plugin, but like you said the look / feel of this looks much better. There doesn't seem to be too many people using the Homeseer plugin and/or much discussion from Homeseer on their MCE plugin message board. I'm not sure which way I would go if I 'moved up' to Homeseer, I guess it is somewhat dependant on the cost of mControl.
Very good review, Thanks.

EDIT: Downloaded the trial. Rushed over to the MCE2005 box. oopps!

No spare serial ports. Guess I'll need to get another USB to serial converter before I can play with it.

My suggestion to them before downloading was to add support to USB X10 interfaces also.

Still a great review, electron. Look "forward" to finding out the price.
the CM15A is USB based, but from what I hav seen so far, that device is pretty flaky.
Yes, everthing I've heard about the the CM15A makes me want to avoid it at all costs..

I was thinking more of the Powerlinc USB, like I use with my Homeseer box
When I first looked at this software (back in the days when it was still in beta), they only supported the CM15A, so I am hoping that the fact it supports more than just the CM11A now means they are working on adding as many of them as possible. I definitely would like to see the USB Powerlinc supported as well.
I updated the review with some more details, see the Update section for more details. I also corrected the COM port detection statement, since it looks like it doesn't auto detect them at all, it just uses COM1 by default, and this can not be changed for now.
electron - yup, I confirmed with the mfg that they currently do not allow the COM port to be changed, but they are planning that for the future. I wish I could figure out what is using my COM1.

I also had a problem as my installation wasn't on the C Drive, and the speed of response and detailed support was impressive fwiw.
I finally got the COM1 figured out, and can confirm that mControl works great on my HP MCE Extender box. It has the full interface available via the Extender, you can control everything as you would from the desktop including all the settings.