by Jeremy J. Glowacki
There are several features that stood out for me as I learned more about Control4’s new HC-250 controller from company CEO Martin Plaehn this week.
First, the little black box that can sit in an equipment rack or be tucked behind a flat-panel TV enables what seems like very intuitive single-room connectivity of a traditional stack of gear at a relatively low price point (introductory U.S. MSRP of $599).
Then there’s the flexibility to link multiple TVs throughout the home to the same equipment stack by adding an HC-250 to the back of each display and utilizing the familiar Control4 on-screen navigation, through dedicated in-wall and tabletop Control4 touch screens, and via their tablet and smart phone with the Control4 MyHome application.
The HC-250 mounted to the back of a flat-panel TV
Then there’s the ability to scale the system to integrate other networked devices like lights, shades, and security, which is only limited, really, by the size of a given home.
And last but not least there was the design versatility afforded by having Power over Ethernet (PoE) and WiFi on one device along with significantly higher speed and power afforded by a next-generation 1GHz processor.
Control4, from the start, has been a company focused on home automation that projects may start modest and then grow as a homeowner becomes more comfortable with the system or has more money to spend on it. The HC-250 controller, with its availability through Best Buy’s Magnolia stores as well as custom installation dealers, fits that philosophy to a T. The system can start off as a one-room problem solver and then grow to integrate an entire home.
As Plaehm noted, almost every family suffers from the complexity of all of the connected devices in a room, whether it’s a big-screen television connected to a surround sound system, connected to a game system, connected to a video disk player or music archives or online streaming media. The HC-250, he said, offers a “very compelling, intuitive, and practical” control solution that is “day in and day out reliable every time.
“It has all power, all the inputs and outputs to nail that challenge,” Plaehm said.
He also noted that the HC-250 is a “future-proof runway” for when consumers want to add lighting, connect to their security system or connect to their shades/blinds in their entertainment room. “They can easily do that without ripping out their existing experience or infrastructure,” he said.
The second big opportunity involves large installations where interactive control of an automation system is available through every television in the home. The form factor of the HC-250 enables it to easily “disappear” behind a television and connect via Cat-5/Cat-6 via PoE or wirelessly via WiFi if that network cable is not already present. In fact, this is the first time Control4 has featured both PoE and WiFi on the same device.
There is always a limit to how a system can be used, and Plaehm offered this advice: “For automating devices like lights, switches, gates, doors, connecting to a security system the HC-250 is a very strong product, but if you scale that up to hundreds and hundreds of devices through a big home with lots of lights and contacts then we would recommend the HC-800 as the controller.”
During its recent beta testing phase (orders are being taken starting today and the product will ship at the end of April) the versatility of the HC-250 was noted by several dealers, according to Control4 product manager Kordon Vaughn, just the ability to receive power and network connectivity over a single cable has been “incredible.”
“It seems kinda silly but just having enough power ports in a power strip can be an issue sometimes and it’s not one dealers have to contend with any more,” Vaughn explained.
And another dealer, who had scoped out a project in a three-story condo, faced an unforeseen dilemma, that was easily solved by the HC-250. “They thought Cat-5 was pulled throughout the whole house, but realized once they got for the install that Cat-5 was only present at one of the locations and the other three controller locations were not wired. “They were just very pleased that WiFi was integrated, and they didn’t have to pull new cable or go out and buy any other accessories.”