Saturday, December 17, 2005

Recommendations, X10 vs. Insteon (really long!)

First let me thank everyone who has complimented me on my web sites and posts over the years. I promise I won't let them go to my head. :-) And no more posting when I'm tired it makes me sound like a troll (very unprofessional).

I've recently received about 4 or 5 requests for recommendations as to which Power Line Controller I would get if I were to get a new one. Remember my opinions are mostly Linux based as that is my OS of choice. As it stands I just made such a choice. I have 2 new Insteon V2 controllers (a serial and USB PLC) and I've dropped the CM11A from my Misterhouse (MH) setup. I still have it for my Heyu setup but that's for support reasons. BTW, I have the following controllers:

Now I don't think I've missed any but I might have a few more. ;-) I chose the Insteon Serial PowerLinc V2 so I can migrate to Insteon. I wrote some software for MH so I can dump my CM11A. The Perl software should work under Windows also but I haven't tested it yet. I think in the long run Insteon is going to be a winner in the home automation market. I think UPB and ZigBee (not ZWave) may give it a run for it's money but I'm not up to date on those technologies right now. If you're not running MH then your choices are limited to the software you want to run. The CM11A is still popular but it's a bit long in the tooth and has a long list of unique problems. The CM15A is it's replacement but X10 has not been kind enough to share the interface info so we only have some hacked info that the community pulled together.

Anyway back to my choice for MH, the Insteon PowerLinc V2. Here's my thoughts on Insteon and why I think it will be a winner. Benefits of Insteon:

  • X10 compatibility, the controller and the modules can send and receive X10 and Insteon. The only exception is the SignaLinc V2s which only repeat Insteon commands (these are great amplified phase bridges even with multiple phases).
  • Insteon and X10 modules can coexist on the same power line network. The Insteon modules can be setup to respond and transmit X10 in addition to the Insteon commands.
  • Better reliability, each Insteon module repeats an Insteon command thereby boosting the signal along the way. Also an Insteon command sent gets ACK'd, NAK'd or nothing (never reached its target).
  • Faster, X10 is about 60 bps (about 1 command/sec), Insteon is between 1K bps to 2K (4800 bps?). Faster than 1 command/sec. :-)
  • Better support! X10 I'm still waiting on the CM15A info.
  • Better quality, the price has come down and is compatible with any of the good X10 compatible products.

Yes there are some problems with Insteon but it is my opinion that they're not enough to hold Insteon back in the long rung. Some of the problems:

  • Insteon is new, expect some growing pains.
  • Protocol has a few holes in it but it's a lot better than X10's protocol.
  • Protocol documentation isn't Open Source friendly, I'm testing it's limits but I did speak with the Insteon folks and they are aware of what I'm doing and how far it will go. The good news is that anyone who purchases the Dev kit has license to the documentation. Besides the Dev Kit is a good deal, you get the PowerLinc V2 and a LampLinc V2.
  • The new protocol makes things a lot more complicated. Actually this isn't too bad. You have to 'link' the module to the PowerLinc or ControLinc. After that the minimal work you need to do is send the correct Insteon command but then that's just as bad as X10. The new protocol is half the reason to switch to Insteon (additional reliability).
  • No RF devices like X10, yet. For some folks this might be a problem. I haven't found X10's RF to work all that great so it hasn't been a problem for me. Besides you can still use the X10 RF. Insteon won't interfere with it.
  • Limited software available for Insteon and Linux. I have created iplcd, the Perl sample code (USB & Serial) and the Misterhouse iplc modules (should work with Linux & Windows if you have the Serial Insteon PowerLinc V2 controller) but I haven't written anything else yet. More will follow as soon as I get done with the book.

Let me state clearly that I still have X10 and X10 compatible modules but because I've gotten better support from Insteon I'm spending my money on Insteon. I may buy X10 compatible equipment still but it won't be X10 brand or other X10 rebranded products.

On the issue of my work on the Misterhouse module, it's Alpha code, X10 On and Off works but I haven't touched the dim/bright code yet and won't for a couple of months (still writing my book). The Insteon support will be a while and the first iteration of it will be extremely simple until I get the assembler and downloader (needed for the core app) working. Until then you need to use Windows to handle the core app (the hello world code Insteon supports). Also I don't have the USB code written so you'll need the serial controller. I recommend getting the Dev Kit (see above). Also get the SignaLinc V2s if you have more than 1 'phase' or separate fuse/breaker boxes. I don't know the real world distance of the devices. but mine works great at 20 feet apart.

BTW, the Insteon PowerLinc is the only X10 interface I have on MH other than the CM17A & MR26A which I need for a few RF remotes. I can send and receive X10 properly. The Insteon codes (such as the Event info) are just ignored. Sorry but I was in a rush. I only had 3 days to write the whole thing. Not bad considering I haven't written a Perl module before or interfaced to MH at this level.


At 12/19/2005 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My 2 cents...

Get the USB Insteon PowerLinc V2 and check out Indigo.

I'm a longtime Misterhouse user & I don't see myself going back now that I've actually paid (the horror!) for Indigo.

At 12/19/2005 8:38 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

Not paying attention are we? Are you running Linux?

Please notice that this blog is about Linux Home Automation. While I don't mind someone posting links about home automation software for the MAC OSX, I do mind that they've post a link to software that can not be used on Linux (check out the Indigo FAQ). The least you could have done is to state that it's MAC only. I'm going to leave the link. Someday they might port Indigo over to Linux (it shouldn't be too difficult except for the Applescript stuff).

Oh, if they have ported to Linux but aren't ready yet. Then I'll post a public apology. I've sent an email asking Indigo.

Now if Windows user start posting this kind of stuff, it's happened before, that post will be deleted. It's a Linux Home Automation blog!

BTW, there is also (ECS), commercial software and (Pluto) open source and commercial (?) software. I'm not sure if either support the MAC OSX but suspect that ECS does and porting Pluto to the MAC should not be difficult.

At 12/23/2005 6:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's "Mac OS X" Neil. I know you LINUX guys love to interCap and ALLCAPS things, but just so you know. :-)

At 12/25/2005 8:28 AM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

Actually I hate the up and down caps that some folks use. I prefer to think of those folks as annoying script kiddies ;-).

Thanks for the correction, I could never find out the correct spelling (though I didn't put too much effort into it ;-) ).

At 1/26/2006 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil. I am a geek who has fallen in love with Home automation. Unfortunately I am not very familiar with Linux. I use FreeBSD and OS X (sorry for the inercaps) so I am familiar with a CLI OS.

So my question is I have installed Plutohome and that is it. It doesn't do anything yet. I wanted to start with lighting and I agree with you Insteon seems like the way to go. I work in Irvine so I have been pestering the Smarthome guys all week in their showroom.

Sorry how do I load your iplcd on my Pluto (Debian Linus) system and make it work. I want sooooo bad to make it work. I have been searching the forums at Pluto and Googling like crazy for a week and I can not figure out how to get Pluto to work with Insteon. Have you seen, heard, read or gotten it working yourself? How do I install your application on a Linux system. Sorry if I am asking support questions. I am just looking for anything that could point me in the right direction. A link or anything. There is a software install option in the Pluto admin site on my server and I have used it to install libdvdcss can I use the same interface to install your application? It asks for a name, repository,

Pluto is the only HA system I have found so if you know of a better open source alternative I am all ears.

I understand if you have to pull my comment as it is probably off topic.

At 1/26/2006 8:40 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

Howdy fellow geek, don't worry about the questions. I don't mind helping others. I unfortunately blew up at the original poster when I should have taken a more tactful approach. I got the impression that he thought himself better than others because he bought something. Kind of ticked me off the wrong way.

Anyway, I'm not familiar with Pluto so I can't give you pointers there. How do you write code to interface to it? It's Java isn't it?

I've been using Mr. House and I've written an interface for the Serial Insteon controller. So far it just speaks X10 but I'm working on the Insteon objects. The first run of that will be simple on/off/dim/bright commands with no ACK/NAK support. Later I'll add more and eventually I'll write some kind of proper manager.

If you get the Insteon PLC you will need the development kit doc (that's if you want to write code). If not then you'll need to wait a little longer for someone to write some applications or you could use Mr. House. MH should run under OS X and *BSD (or any other Unix). And the Serial Insteon controller should also work as well.

As far as Linux vs. *BSD vs. OS X, underneath it all it's just Unix. Unfortunately there are enough differences that you need to get used to. It alsot he same for the different distributions. Sometimes it make you crazy.

At 1/27/2006 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell me about it. I don't understand why there are so many differences between Distros.

So have you heard of Plutohome or just not intersted?

Obviously you have time invested in MH. I have not done enough reasearch to say what is better or even what MH can do.

Pluto was apealing becuase of the built in PBX and of course the cool Multi Media featurs. The idea I can control my home or TV/DVD stuff from my phone or PDA made me giddie too.

It is a self contained install that is wonderfull. The installer makes me think it is not a fly by night gig. Open sourse was attractive.

Sorry off the subject. Tell me why you chose MH. Are there any other players out there?

I just want something fun for me that won't confuse the wife. Keep the interface easy for the family while allowing me to do all the cool things that I want to do.

At 1/27/2006 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the first blogg I have used. It is kind of cool. Can your Nokia 770 boot to another image over thenetwork or does it have to use the internal OS.

This device would make a great Pluto orbiter (remote control. You can use a cell phone, TV remote or a touch pad) I want to get two or three touch pads but as you were saying about the pepper they are too expensive for what we are using them for. I would pay 350 for the Nokia. It is still a little pricy but worth it for the amount of control I will have over my home, security, meida, TV, PBX etc.

So has anyone talked about getting it to boot over the network?

At 1/27/2006 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I noticed you wrote some stuff on Asterisk. Is that as good of a PBX software as I have been reading?

Pluto uses Asterisk as it's PBX software. I have been trying to figure out what I have to do to my phones to get it all working. I know I can get a Diguim card to get the incoming signal from my CO. Then on that same card I can use those modules to output them to the internal house phone lines.

But I got lost somewhere. Do I need special phones?

Or can I use standard phones?

I figure for future planning I may at some point in my house have 4 lines. One for each kid and one for my wonderful wife and myself, and one for the mother in law. No I don't live with my parents she is disabled.

So I figured one of those Digium cards with four FXE (The red ones that connect to the CO I think it was FXE) then do I need four of the FXO modules too? Or Can I have one FXO Card and plug it onto a 110 punch down block.

Pluto's software can locate you in the house via a Bluetooth device like my PDA and then route the call to the phone nearest you. So if the baby is sleeping and I am in my office only my office phone rings and not the whole house. I think this is cool. Same thought process. When my daughter is old enough and gets her own line I would like to make sure the phone nearest her rings and doesn't disturb anyone else.

What is funny is you would think the phone ringing would not be a disturbance but my wife can not let a phone ring. If the phone rings she has to answer it. This can be very frustrating during dinner as well as when she and I are doing bills or watching TV together.

You can also easily put the PBX into a do not disturb mode so when the family is eating dinner all calls will be routed to voicemail and no phone will ever ring. The same holds true for sleeping. You push a button that says bedtime or what ever you want to call it and calls will be routed to voicemail.

If it is a personal friend who I have added to my cool people list then they are prompted with an option to wake me up (if it is important) and only the phone next to my bed will ring so as not to disturb the kids who eventually will have phones in their rooms.

This may sound like laziness but I am moving from CA to Kentucky. My mother, friends and family as well as my wife’s friends and family will still be in CA so if they call at 8:00pm their time it will be 11:00pm my time. I don't want to get woken up every night.

Whew. That was long winded. So can Asterisk use regular phones and I can just punch them down into a punch block or do I have to get special phones that support extensions or something? Any recommendation for wireless phones that look and act as normal as possible? By the way it can locate and route the call it sounds like I would need phones that support extensions. But I was also thinking that maybe I just get the really big Digium card that has like 21 modules. Then I could have four incoming modules 16 modules plugged directly into each internal phone line (my house is being built right now and I am having them run all the phone lines from each room directly to my office as well as CAT6 and coax for Cable/Satellite) and one module for a fax. I think that would allow any standard phone to work since each line would be plugged directly into the Digium card. However I was also hoping to save a lot of money and not have to get the 21 module card. I was hoping there was someway to have some type of external box that had one incoming port that supported X amount of lines and 16 outgoing ports that went to each standard phone. This box would have to be smart enough to route the call internal to it’s self. I was hoping something like that would be cheaper then the 21 module card.

Again sorry for all the questions. I do appreciate all your input. Should I take this offiline or just start e-mailing the Asterisk mailing list LOL? Thanks.

At 1/27/2006 3:12 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

Dang you've got diharea of the keyboard.:-D Actually I'm glad to reply to anyone about HA but especially soemone with enthusiasm (You might have a little ;-).

To make this a little bit easier it might be best if this were post on my HA forum. Just fonnect to and click on External Links/Linux HA forum. The blogs aren't the best place to answer questions like this. Don't worry the foums are open to everyone (except spammers). Not too many folks are there yet as it's supposed to support the book. I may have to write a chapter just to answer your questions. ;-)

Post to HA/General Question (not Book/General questions). Create a message with everything and I'll answer it in parts.

At 1/27/2006 9:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Created an account so I will wait to get something saing the account was activated.

Sorry again for the runs. I am flying to KY on Sunday and meeting with the builders. I want to be totaly dialed in and know exactly what I am talking about. He is trying to back out of my CAT6 wiring through the house and that will put me through the roof. I am going in fists swinging.

At 1/27/2006 10:11 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

The account is activated!

Building a new home is stressful (I haven't tried it). I prefer used homes ;-).

Good luck with the builder. BTW, electrical neutrals are very important for X10 and I suspect Insteon (probably UPB also). I think today's wiring methods don't normally put the neutral in the switch box (they are in the outlet box). I'm not an electrician so I'm afraid I may have the details incorrect.

You can take a look at the Insteon documentation at Smarthome. The have the user guide and the install guide with the product description (pdf's).

And don't worry about the runs, there are a lot of details to all this stuff. Cool technology but you still have to be careful with the details.

At 5/25/2006 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Hey there. The house still isn't done. It was supposed to be done on April 1st. The builder told us the day all of our stuff was driven off by the moving company. Nice guy huh.

It should be done on June 1st. I made the conduit happen. I wired a good many rooms for speakers. Not home run but I can make that happen too if I ever have the money. I had to fight tooth and nail for a neutral in every box of the house. My builder went off on me over that. And how they don't do that in KY. But in the end I got it done.

At 12/24/2006 8:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the heck, INSTEON doesn't have a single receptical yet. Until these devices are available X10 is the only answer unless you have an affinity for wall warts.

At 5/10/2007 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Neil

I'd love to use Insteon, but I have an older home without that neutral wire running through it. This makes Insteon wall switches (and some advanced x10 switches) impossible. I don't mind the random wall wort -- they're convenient -- but short of re-wiring my home it looks like I'm stuck. I use "heyu" on an NSLU2 "Slug" server with a USB-to-serial adapter and I love it. There doesnt appear to be much stable Linux s/w for Insteon, so that's another reason not to switch. Ovrall it kind of bites -- I'd like to upgrade, but can't. Any thoughts?

At 5/10/2007 3:46 PM, Blogger Neil Cherry said...

Anonymous 12/24/2006: INSTEON doesn't have a single receptical yet. Until these devices are available X10 is the only answer unless you have an affinity for wall warts.

The reason no one else has them is that they're garbage. Seems it's pretty hard to get the electronics packed that can withstand the heat and confined space of an outlet box.

Anonymous 5/10/2007:
I think that Insteon will work with your 2 wire system. If X10 will Insteon should since they're using the same outlet and underlying technology. The neutral is an issue in the switch boxes because those have hot and ground and not the neutral. Standard wall switches only need to switch the hot. This is a problem with all homes not wired with a neutral in the switch box (as Josh mentioned in an earlier post)

At 7/06/2007 8:14 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Now you can have the best of both worlds! the abundance and cost-effectiveness of X10 RF devices (like palmpads, keyfobs and motion detectors), and the reliability of Insteon. Check out the new X10/Insteon transceiver from Simplehomenet. In addition to doing everything the WGL whole-house transceiver does, the unit can be set up to send Insteon in respnse to X10!!

At 7/17/2007 11:33 PM, Blogger Broncosis said...

I just signed up on
the forums hopefully
I can help answer some electrical
questions as I'm a electrician
I know just about every house wired here has neutral in every box some switches are done with out but could be delt with every light has to have one and every outlet does too IE every device has to have it
so if your creative you should be able to get it done

and I have some asterisk experience as well how ever I'm just starting to do the home automation part

At 9/20/2007 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a dedicated user of Heyu & the CM11A serial interface. I'm looking to move to Insteon, but I will need to be able to use Heyu with it as I have written an extensive web interface that uses it. Is there a version of Heyu that will work with the Insteon Powerlinc, either USB or serial?

At 3/20/2009 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm kind of curious for an update - now that the home automation landscape has changed a bit what do you recommend now?


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