Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Flash, this just in ...

... quite literally. This week I received quite a few packages. So I've been a bit busy around here with setup and writing software. I have a working skeleton of libusb code for the X10 CM19A & the CM15A (I hope to have actual device drivers for both units based on the LabJack USB drivers). Woody Wilson has his code working for the CM15A using some code from the Dallas Onewire USB libraries. Woody helped me to get started with both X10 devices. I also received my NC1000-L10 IP camera which runs Linux! And finally I received word from the UPB folks that they have no problems with me writing a driver to use their RS232 interface and that if I need any help they'd be glad to assist! So here is a bit more on the details:

CM19A - X10 USB Wireless Transceiver

CM19A - ( - X10 Wireless transceiver. Looks like the MR26A except instead of having a RS232 plug it has a USB plug. So far I can verify that it supports all the standard X10 On, Off, Dim and Bright commands along with the commands to control the wireless cameras. I've already checked out X10 and they have no drivers but I did find Java code which interfaces to the CM19A. I couldn't really use it but it made a great source of information such as the initialization code that was needed to receive certain wireless X10 signals.

CM15A - X10 USB Powerline and Wireless Transceiver

CM15A - ( - This is a big unit which replaces both the CM11A and the CM19A. It looks like the CM11A except it's about 1.5 times the size of the it. The front has the battery holder (4 x AAA), the bottom has the USB port and there is no AC outlet on the front. Dave Houston did a test of it's power line signal and came up with 6v p-p. So it's a little stronger than it predecessor the CM11A. Dave also commented that it's wireless coverage was on the weak side as well. The CM15A has the capabilities of the CM11A (X10 powerline transceiver, battery backup for it's clock, can run macros without the PC connected) and CM19A wireless transceiver. Again no drivers for Linux. Woody has done most of the work on this but now that I have mine I'll start moving forward on my code also.

NC1000-L10 (wired 10/100) or NC1000-W10 (802.11B wireless)

I've been poking around for a cheap IP camera and accidentally came across the NC1000-L10. It's a 10/100, 32 bit ARM processor (Windbond) camera (640x480, 320*240 , 352*288 or 176x144 resolution). The camera runs Linux 2.4 but we haven't any other details yet (other than the spec's). I have an upgrade but no idea how to upgrade it using a Linux based browser (requires IE and ActiveX)! Nathan Daniel Holmes has a brief page with what he found out about the NC1000-W10 (wireless), NC1000-L10 (wired) and the O-Rite IC-300 IP Cam (here's a hint: they have the same guts :-). The site that seems to provide support for these cameras is It seems to use cab and asp files (oh joy) so some functionality is strictly IE only. But you still can view it with Mozilla/FireFox and other browsers just can't configure it if you don't have Active X.

UPB - Universal Powerline Bus

UPB - Yes I have high hopes for this technology! I contacted the folks at PCS Lighting about programming their RS232 interface, just to make sure I wasn't stepping over any kind of legal boundaries (as I might have if I reversed engineered another vendors wireless solution). They made it clear they have no problems with me using the available information! So here's a few more links:

Also, I checked out the dimmer switch and it can be programmed to send a status message when someone manually uses the switch. So yet another major problem of X10's technology has been overcome. Those major problems are reliability of signal and product, open loop natural of X10 protocol and no status sent when a device was manually controlled. UPB looks like it solves the last 2 easily. Only time will tell if it overcomes the first.


You'll note that I've posted X10 links next to the item the link would normally be associated with. I've done this for 2 reasons:

  1. X10's pop-ups, pop-unders and generally annoying ad's (bright, blinking, busy and in your face)!
  2. X10's annoying habit of providing only Windows support. They only need to share a little bit of the details of the device communications and the Non-Window community would be happy.
As a community we go a long way to help support X10 yet the community sees very little supports in return. As a general rule I don't like to recommend X10™ products. Instead I recommend X10 compatible products from ACT Solutions, Leviton, Smartlinc and PCS At present X10 is the leader in low cost HA so I can't ignore them but at the same time I don't want my readers to not have the links to the items I'm trying to describe. So my solution for now is the non-click-able links. Sorry!

Friday, November 05, 2004

An X10 alternative?

I've been very bad, i.e. no X10 problems x10 (part II) yet, sorry about that. Job concerns have plagued me along with returning to school (enough on those subjects) and figuring out which US Presidential candidate to vote for (or more like not vote for ...). But I have also been a bit busy with HA! And there are three new items, the first is that X10 (nasty X10'sies pops-up burns the eyes!) has released a new interface, the CM19A, PCS has UPB and Zensys has ZWave.

X10's CM19A

The CM19A appears to be a combination of the CM11A (RS232 to power line interface) and a CM19A (USB to RF interface). In other words it can transmit and receive X10 power line signals and X10 RF signals (though I doubt it can handle that at the same time). They've also released a Windows scripting SDK to go along with the CM15A. Now that doesn't sound bad and they've even invited the developers from the comp.home.automation newsgroup to participate in SDK forum. They only thing they've forgotten is that there are other OS's beside Windows (like Linux, BSD, QNX, ...). So far it's been more than 2 weeks since I posted a request for further information and it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I'm now trying 2 more direct methods for gaining the information. If, after that, I get no further information I may do like Dave Houston suggested and put in my own by replacement for the Cypress chip. Dave suggests a PIC or maybe an AVR (of course we may soon be able to use an ARM7 chip). I think that would at least permit access to the CM15A via other OS's. This is assuming that X10 won't share the information with us (I'm not done checking yet).

UPB - Universal Powerline Bus

UPB has the potential to pickup the slack where X10 left off. Here's what I can tell from the available documentation. It appear to use the frequency range of 4 - 40KHz (spread spectrum fashion) with 40 V peak signal. Where as X10 uses 120KHz at around 5V p-p. Because of this information I'm guessing that both UPB and X10 can co-exist (different frequency ranges). UPB supports 250 house codes, 255 unit codes and 254 link codes (I'm not really sure what that translates to yet). X10 supports 16 house and 16 unit codes (256 devices, though the Extended Codes support up to 4096) UPB devices ACK the commands received, in so doing, use 2-way communication (closed loop, where are X10 is open loop, no ACK). The response time is reported to be <.25 seconds where as X10 is slightly less than 1 sec. The devices are more expensive than X10 (though about the same price as the higher quality X10 ). There is a PC interface and they have a manual (PDF) that explains how to program it. Over all it sounds like a better X10 to me. Further technical specs can be found here (pdf) along with a X10 migration document (pdf). Better yet they don't seem to have a problem with the CHA folks writing there own programs to interface to UPB. A problem X10 and Zensys have yet to over come!

Zensys - ZWave

Zensys ZWave - Initially this looked like it was going to be another X10 replacement. It's wireless and has a USB interface to the PC. I contacted them and spoke to them about getting enough details so I could write a Linux driver for their interface. They were interested in selling me the services of a consultant to write an Open Source driver for Linux (which would of course be closed source). I tried to explain but I doubt they ever caught on as they still send me info and ask if I'm going to go with their products. This even after making it very clear (I did say no) that I was no longer interested. Zensys may still be very useful for Windows (they have software for that) but no other OSs are support. BTW, after investigating the USB interface (FTDI) we figured that we could reverse engineer the protocol and write a driver for Linux. But why support a vendor with your money when there are other alternatives (UPB and possibly ZigBee). That and the fact that the vender seems intent on locking you out .