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Why is the Elk M1 so popular?

Stinger

Active Member
Since JDS Technologies (The maker of the Stargate) is no longer offerring the IVR board because some of the parts are no longer available, I'm beginning to look at other options in the event my board ever fails. The Stargate controller has been solid and extremely dependable as the heart of my automation. Homeseer runs the front-end interface aspect of my automation along with Main Lobby.

The issue that I'm finding, is that even the latest controllers that are on the market can't do many of the things that the aging Stargate controller does. If/then statements are the heart of the Stargate programming, however from what I understand the Elk controller has no such logic.

Is this something that will eventually be offerred, or am I just not comparing apples to apples? I know there are other strong points of the M1 that the Stargate doesn't offer, however I would think that by now some vendor would incorporate all of the positives of a stand alone controller into a single unit!

I am not sure why everyone is so enamored by the M1 when 10+ year old controllers can do many things that it cannot.

Not trying to start a big debate, but I would like to understand what I might be missing about the M1. I imagine it may be it's capability on newer standards, but I'm not clear.

I would buy it in a second if I thought it could cover everything my Stargate does without having to come up with workarounds for the lack of If/then logic.
 

upstatemike

Senior Member
I have also worked aggressively to find an equivalent to Stargate and so far everything has fallen short. Many new systems that support all the new technologies do so at the expense of dropping critical features that were commonly available on the older systems.

Ironically the closest thing to a Stargate is probably a HomeVision which is about the same age in terms of technology and does not have anything to match the SG IVR board. (but is otherwise a really solid system)

So far it looks like the best solution will be to keep the Stargate and enhance it with a supplementary system. The problem with that idea is that most systems that work with Stargate do it by replacing WinEVM on Stargate's main serial port. (Homeseer, ECS, MisterHouse, HAL, etc.) This means that you have to disable your supplementary system in order to program or troubleshoot your stargate from WinEVM. If the thing you are troubleshooting has to run in place of WinEVM then it is pretty hard to see what is really happening. And if you change you programming a lot like I do then bringing down a major part of your HA system all the time to do it is going to get old really fast.

As you point out, the biggest issue with most systems is in programming. Systems that are simple to program like the HAI Omni, Elk M1, Cortexa, etc. just don't have a rich enough command set to do what you are used to doing with a Stargate. Systems like Homeseer, ECS, MisterHouse and the like can probably do most of the logic but it is 100 time more complex to accomplish something that would just be 1 or 2 lines of code in the Stargate.

My plan right now is to keep my Stargate, replace the TW523 interface with a roZetta, and use WinEVM to trigger some other "new technology" stuff via xPL. I will also reserve one of my SG serial ports for potential future enhancements by getting it to talk to a PC running PowerHome but that is going to take some time.
 

Spanky

Senior Member
The ELK M1 does do a type of If/Then programming which is event based. ie. when something changes then do something. AND statements may also be added and multiple THEN statements.

Elk learned from the MagicModule MM443 programmable controller that the majority of the installer/users in the market for security and home automation equipment were not in depth programmers and could not or did not want to master a programming language like Basic or C.

The M1's WHENEVER/AND/THEN automation programming is powerful yet simple to learn. It will do MOST of the control needs for home automation short of intensive math which we let a connected PC do.
 

upstatemike

Senior Member
Spanky said:
Elk learned from the MagicModule MM443 programmable controller that the majority of the installer/users in the market for security and home automation equipment were not in depth programmers and could not or did not want to master a programming language like Basic or C.
Agree 100% except you made it a little too simple. Extend the command set to what you have with a Stargate and you will have the best of both worlds.
 

Guy Lavoie

Active Member
I agree in that the M1's language is not versatile enough. It is good for things like events triggering actions and scheduled events, but it falls way short of data handling capabilities. You cannot capture things like analog input values to variables, or embed variables to output strings. There are no OR statements allowing you to save on rule programming redundancy, no conditional logic nesting, etc.

As an alarm system, its programmability is amazing. But as a main home automation controller, it is difficult to use it alone. Relying on a PC based application is one alternative, but the reliability of a dedicated hardware controller would be a big plus. Presently, I find the combination of a M1 with an Ocelot to be a very powerful system. The Ocelot addds the complex logic and IR capabilities that the Elk doesn't have. My current projects aim at integrating the two as well as possible.
 

BraveSirRobbin

Moderator
If Elk can combine the programming power of the Ocelot and make their analog input capability more versatile, it would be the product of the century!! :p ;) :D
 

DavidL

Senior Member
Of course I agree with Spanky that the combo of an ELK and PC based HA software is the best overall approach. Keep mission critical in the ELK, and monitor and sophisticated control in the HA software.
When you tie Media Management into the mix (beyond an embedded controller unless you pay Crestron pricing - which still isn't completeley embedded then you have to have a PC in the mix anyway. Might as well capitilize on that investment.

Wasn't the Stargate quite a bit more money than an ELK even back then? I remember looking at it to buy, but went the PC route instead quite a while back.
 

Stinger

Active Member
Thanks for all the responses. I guess they really reinforce my puzzlement as why there has been so much facination with the M1 gold here, as the technology as a home controller is not even on par with 10 year old systems!

I wish I could understand why it is so difficult to combine the pros of both systems into one. While the stargate IVR board wasn't the best, it worked great for my announcements, and allowed it to be an all-in-one system, with an exception to the front end interface.

I would suggest the folks at Elk take a serious look at their product and provide much more versitile programming options. Like Upstate, I will probably stay on my stargate given that there is no other option, but if my voice board fails, I lose a significant amount of my schedule. I will probably move the voice announcements over to Homeseer, but it's not something I like being forced into by the vendor.

There are so many folks that understand what features would be useful in a home controller, and of course while the ranking of those differ from person to person, I'm surprised the feedback and beta studies haven't pointed these vendors toward a controller that all would find useful.

A controller does not need to replace a PC based solution such as Homeseer, however my "dream" controller would be responsible for all core functions with the phone (not voicemail, just general control), security, lighting, announcements, etc. Homeseer would be utilized to dress up the core functionality in terms of interface.

Does anyone know why there has been so little progress in this arena? Are developers not willing to invest in the hardware necessary for such a system? At this point of the game, I believe it would be very profitable to introduce a system that had all these capabilities as home automation is becoming more and more popular.
 

Stinger

Active Member
The issue of ease of programming was brought up. Why can't the If/then format of Starglish be used in programming new systems? I've been around it a bit now at this point, but the "language" was very simple to learn/use and extremely powerful.

I don't agree at all that a PC based system is the best solution. Stability being the primary factor as to why it's not.
 

DavidL

Senior Member
I don't agree that ELK would make tremendous money putting lsignificant additional logic in it's box. I suspect (with no real basis) that Elk is a more profitable company than JDS is. ELK is higher priced today than the volume alarm systems that offer no automation. There is another tier that wants some automation and ELK caters to this market and the next - which is the DIY like who post on this forum. The sales I don't believe are to DIY but to the security integrator who gets request for some automation.

ELK has done a great job of supporting the DIY community and has gotten the respect (and Sales) because of it.

I too don't believe a PC replaces a security controller. I have an ELK in my home. But, the other 90% of automation and media control runs on a PC. I have my choice to do either and find that is what works and is powerful.
 

Guy Lavoie

Active Member
The programming language of the Stargate, Ocelot and Elk are all based on the ladder logic model. The Elk differs in that a scan through the rules is triggered either by an event or forced by a WHENEVER EVERY x SECONDS statement. I for one love ladder logic. It is an industry standard in programmable logic controllers. People who know me on this site are well aware of my appreciation for the Ocelot controller. To most hobbyists coming from the PC world, ladder logic is viewed as difficult and awkward. But once you learn and master it, you can do almost any kind of complex logic with it and create a very predicatable state machine.

The Elk's ladder logic implementation is very basic and doesn't have any data manipulation instructions to do math, etc. on variable data. If it had all that, it would indeed be a great hardware controller. The main reason for the enthusiasm around the Elk is that its a UL approved alarm panel that is made by a company that supports end-user programming. This is quite a departure from the usually "closed system" attitude of the alarm industry that only wants to deal with pro installers. Its like the PC vs the old mainframe mentality where everything is now accessible instead being locked away from you.

The gist of it is: If you are going to be getting your own alarm panel, the Elk represents a great value and the built-in automation functionality is icing on the cake, like getting a (albeit basic) home automation controller as a bonus. Plus, its connectivity with other controllers or a PC is miles ahead of other alarm panels for its cost.

If you're buying the Elk as an automation controller first, you might be disappointed with the overall programmability. But if you're getting an alarm panel first with automation capabilities/connectivity as an additionnal requirement then you'll really like it.
 

Steve

Senior Member
Admittedly I know almost nothing about the Stargate, but can you give some practical examples of what are missing? You mention IVR - phone control of the system. The M1 has that, I use it and control any of the Elk functions from a telephone - so what is the M1 missing there? As far as programming, WHENEVER/THEN to me is the same as IF/THEN. I agree with others that analog support may be a bit weak and perhaps there could be a larger command set but I don't really see the difference in the programming there unless the Stargate supports variables, etc which makes it more of a language then simply IF THEN stuff.

I also agree with and in fact run my system like DavidL says. I have core stuff like security/lighting/irrigation in the Elk and do complete TTS, pretty front ends, etc with a PC. I don't think a hardware controller with its limited memory, etc will ever do everything a PC based system will do but what it does it does great. Room for improvement - sure - maybe the M2?
 

upstatemike

Senior Member
Steve said:
Admittedly I know almost nothing about the Stargate, but can you give some practical examples of what are missing?
The way I evaluate any potential new system is to use specific examples from my Stargate and try to figure out how I would port them over to the new system.. in this case an Elk M1. The program fragment I want to port is:

EVENT: Kitchen Thermostat Change
If
(HVAC:Kitchen Setpoint) Changes Value
Then
(V:SpeaKit) = (V:SpeaKit) + 5
(RELAY:SpeaKit) ON
Voice:KITCHEN HEATING IS NOW SET TO Kitchen Setpoint DEGREES [Spkr,Line]
End

What this does is whenever the setpoint is manually changed on the kitchen thermostat, a relay in the kitchen connects the local speakers to a PA amp and the new setpoint is spoken through the Stargate line level output that feeds the amp. In this case I am also having it speak through the Stargate speaker output which is down in the wiring room near the Stargate. The all caps words in the voice line are selected from Stargate's built-in vocabulary and the lower case "Kitchen Setpoint" is a built-in Stargate variable containing the new setpoint. There is no need to turn the relay back off as I decrement the relay variable once per second and the relay turns off at zero in a different piece of shared code.

I couldn't find a way to do this with the M1.
 

upstatemike

Senior Member
Another thermostat example:

EVENT: Kitchen Thermostat Limit
If
(HVAC:Kitchen Setpoint) Changes Value
and (HVAC:Kitchen Setpoint) >= 74
Then
(HVAC:Kitchen) Change Setpoint to 73 degrees
(V:SpeaKit) = (V:SpeaKit) + 9
(RELAY:SpeaKit) ON
Voice:Kitchen SetpointDEGREES IS TO WARM SILENCE1 NOW SETTING DOWN TO 70 3 [Spkr,Line]
End
 

upstatemike

Senior Member
Doorbell Example:

THEN Macro: Front Doorbell
MACRO BEGIN
Go OFF Hook
DELAY 0:00:02
TelePhone Out:'33*'
DELAY 0:00:03
Voice:DINGDONG SILENCE1 FRONT HALL DOORBELL SILENCE1 DINGDONG SILENCE1 FRONT HALL DOORBELL SILENCE1 DINGDONG [Spkr,CO]
DELAY 0:00:08
TelePhone Out:'+'
MACRO END

Not sure if you can do this with the M1 or not. This macro is triggered when the front door rings. It picks up an extension on my Panasonic phone system and dials the code for all-call page and announces which doorbell was just pressed. I have a lot of these types of announcements... several different doors, mailbox alert, etc.

Note the voice is directed to the CO (phone out) instead of the line out this time. I still have it echoed on the monitor speaker in the automation room as well.
 
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