Top 10 Choices for Hardware Based Automation Contr


Senior Member
This is a list of the top 10 picks for hardware based automation controllers based on impressions I got from information on this site and elsewhere. It is not an objective feature comparison or a popularity ranking. It’s just a summary of the various hardware based home automation controllers.

Like the movie of the same name, the Stargate represents ancient technology that far surpasses the most ambitious efforts of modern man. It has a simple menu driven programming interface that permits the effortless construction of complex conditional logic. It supports the direct connection of a wide variety of devices through its opto-isolated digital inputs, analog inputs, audio and telephone switching matrix, RS-485 and RS-232 serial ports, Ethernet port, relay outputs and IR control module. It has a clean browser interface as well as a GUI program that permits direct programming, control, and monitoring of all systems as well as managing the operations such as triggering wav or executable files on a PC. It has a built-in voice vocabulary, built-in scaling for analog values, builit-in support for caddx security panels, built-in support for RCS thermostats and keypads, built-in, built-in, built-in… It supports hundreds of user defined variables, hundreds of flags, hundreds of Macros and 6,000-8,000 lines of program code. Unfortunately newer models no longer have the audio matrix features and the communications protocol is difficult to work with for programmers whishing to add enhanced features through an attached PC.

2---HomeVision Pro
The HomeVision Pro is similar in architecture to a Stargate but has a slightly different feature set. HomeVision never had the voice/audio/telephone options of the Stargate but instead has a composite video output and support for 64 digital temperature sensors. It supports flags, variables, and lines of codes at about the same level as Stargate. The interface protocol is a bit cleaner so it is supported by a lot of software packages.

The Ocelot is another Programmable Logic Controller with integrated hardware interfaces. It can process up to 4000 lines of complex conditional logic. It can be expanded to support a huge number of hard wired inputs and outputs on an RS-485 bus. It directly supports 1024 IR codes, 128 variables, 64 timers, 128 ASCII messages and power line based lighting controls. It is a versatile stand-alone controller but is becoming even more popular as an I/O and IR subsystem for PC based systems.

4---Elk M1
The Elk M1 is a security panel that has been enhanced with extensive home automation features. It has a logic engine that allows up to 528 rules to be programmed to allow input events to trigger actions. In this type of system it is assumed that all actions will be directly associated to events such as a threshold being crossed or at a preset time. It is not designed to do conditional logic so there is not much accommodation for manipulating variable values or evaluating nested logic constructs. Most resources are pre-associated to inputs or “zones†rather than having generic pools of timers and flags to draw from. The Elk excels at supporting advanced lighting technologies and has huge vocabulary of words that can be spoken under program control. It is becoming increasingly popular as a subsystem/co-system for PC based automation products. The UL approved security features and reasonable pricing has made it popular in DIY circles and Elk aggressively supports the Home Automation DIY community.

5---HAI Omni Pro II
The Omni Pro II is at the same time one of the most amazing and one of the most disappointing hardware automation systems out there. It is amazing because it is the most completely integrated systems available, supporting keypads, touch screens, camera systems, distributed audio, hard wired connections, advanced lighting systems, access control, a browser interface, DTMF control, and on and on. It is disappointing because HAI does not support DIY users and caters to the pro installer only. Because those pro installers are security system people (like the Elk, the Omni Pro II is an automation enabled security system) they don’t have much interest in using this system to its fullest potential. This has resulted in a lackluster logic engine that does not take full advantage of all that cool hardware horsepower. It is a popular system for connecting to Home Automation software packages and it could well become the new ultimate automation system of the 21st century if it is paired with a solid PC program such as CQC. The big unknown is whether its protocol will permit full access to all its many hardware components. For example: Will it report a temperature to a PC variable or just report the fact that a preset temperature threshold has been crossed?

6---Cortexa 7202
A ruggedized PC running FreeBSD. It replaces your broadband router and acts as a firewall/camera switcher/media server/HA controller. Mostly focuses on media and Internet technologies but has some basic HA functionality via serial port connections for lighting and thermostat control. It does not support any direct hard wired I/O but can use Global Cache boxes and also works with many brands of security panels. It is meant for the DIY market but I couldn’t find any details on the rules engine to gauge its capabilities.

7---HST Pro 100
A ruggedized PC running a “locked down†version of Homeseer software. Should be able to support everything you can do with Homeseer on a regular PC as long as you don’t need to change the software or plugins. It is sold through dealers only so no DIY

8---Control4 AVM-MC1-8
An interesting controller that appears to be a ruggedized Media PC with some hard wired I/O built in. It uses a proprietary implementation of Zigbee for its lighting control and has the ability to add Ethernet connected expansion boxes for additional relays and contacts. It is sold through dealers only so no DIY

9---HomeLogic HomeBrick
A ruggedized PC designed to connect to some expansion modules or “bricksâ€. Currently all you can get are bricks for thermostats, irrigation, lighting, and serial. It is sold through dealers only so no DIY

10---mServer Residential.
Has not yet been released but will essentially be a ruggedized PC running mControl software. It mostly focuses on lighting and uses lighting protocols like X-10 to talk to thermostats and other devices. Hardware I/O is limited to what you can attach via Global Cache boxes. It is sold through dealers only so no DIY

Other hardware based systems:

Basically just stripped down Stargates.

High cost equipment sold through dealers only. Not readily available to the DIY market.
Looks like a pretty good list.

One comment though:

Basically just stripped down Stargates.
Pretty acurate statement actually since RCS manufactures the Stargate for JDS. The difference is in the JDS software.

For those of you not familiar with RCS' offering, it's called Comstar. RCS doesn't advertise it at all. I think they are trying to keep it a secret!
upstatemike said:
I just noticed the HST Pro 100 is now available at SmartHome.

Link to Smarthome Listing

Does this mean it is now being directed to the DIY market instead of professional installers?
at that price, I don't think we need to worry about it being too hot on the DIY market. Nice list!
I would like to add more to the Cortexa.
The rules are created by using drop down menus in your web browser. The rules use a case action list. You can create rules to start based on time/date, sunrise/sunset, lighting, internet weather data, security, HVAC, IR, etc..., and you can create case logic based on time/date, device states, weather, etc.. We are trying to be very agnostic on all of the sub-systems that we control. The Cortexa can hold around 50,000 lines. So there is plenty of room to create macros.
Our hardware is completely solid state, so there is no hard drive or fans which make it not a PC, but an embedded device. The OS is running FreeBSD, which makes it free of viruses, spy ware, and free of end users adding software, which keeps our support calls down. The Cortexa comes with 4 com ports, and the end user can add up to 8 more Com ports.
The Cortexa does have a very extensive router/firewall built into it, which has VPN (PPTP/IPSEC), Dynamic DNS, Traffic Shaping, DNS Server, MAC Filtering, etc...
The Cortexa can come with on board 4 port video board, allowing you to archive video to the built-in flash card, or you can use an external video server / IP Camera.
It comes with an I-Tunes player for audio, and we support connections to NuVo, and Netstreams.
We support most of the security panels, out there, GE, HAI, DSC, ELK, etc.

We have been much quit lately because we are doing some huge upgrades, and adding some suppressing new features, which are free to customers who already have a Cortexa.

Thanks for the additional information. I notice you support RCS thermostats via X-10, any plans to support their serial models?

I was also wondering if you will be supporting any weather stations besides Davis Instruments such as RainWise? How about supporting Virtual Weather Station so that you can communicate with all brands?

And what are the surprising new features you mentioned that you have been working on?
We are planning to support both RCS and Aprilaire thermostats. The only weather station that we support right now is Davis, but yes we already do support communications with Virtual Weather Station.

We will mention the new features soon.