[This post was updated on May 12 to better clarify the differences between Savant's consumer and pro remote offerings.]
Last week Savant held meetings at its NYC Experience Center to debut the Savant Remote to non-Savant dealers. (This is a consumer targeted remote. They also sell the Savant Pro remote, which was not the focus of this meeting.) I have been really interested in learning more about this remote since seeing it at CEDIA 2015. While I unfortunately couldn’t make it due to last-minute client needs, I know several dealers that went to see the product and learn more about it. I have spoken with them and based on their feedback and my own input, have put together some thoughts on this very interesting new product.
The Savant Remote
First off, there are two versions of the remotes from Savant. The consumer model (the Savant Remote) is essentially a single-room solution, while the Pro device (Savant Pro Remote) connects to the company’s professionally integrated Hosts to add the remote to the larger Savant ecosystem, including embedded Savant Music and lighting. There are some features that are evolutionary in our business and make it a great product, but there are also some features of the Savant Remote that clearly make the Savant Pro Remote a better option, in my opinion.
The Savant Pro Remote, which works with voice commands, sits in a charging cradle and uses low-power Bluetooth to communicate with the cradle. The cradle then uses Wi-Fi to talk to the Smart Host. The Smart Host is the processor and executes all commands. Additional available accessories are an IR blaster and lamp modules. The Savant Pro remote is built for Savant Pro integrators and, according to the company, there are no restrictions on number of rooms it can be used with; you can control any number of rooms and add any number of remotes. With one single Savant Smart Host you can use up to 20 Savant Pro Remotes to control up to 20 rooms, the company says.
The direct-to-consumer Savant Remote, which was the focus on the NYC event mentioned at the beginning of this post, is a DIY offering that will be available through retailers. It was created for more moderate entertainment systems, with a more consumer-friendly configuration via the Savant app by either the homeowner or an integrator, should the consumer decide to work with a professional for set up. With the consumer model, you can have up to four Savant Remotes controlling four rooms via IP and IR. Unlike the Pro version, it is not yet shipping.
First off, the remote is beautiful (both models feature an identical industrial design.) It's sleek, sexy, and easy to use. It has some of the best features of Savant, including capturing scenes with the click of a button and editing scenes. The consumer version of this remote is going to be marketed through retail outlets such as Best Buy/Magnolia, so you know setup is going to be easy. Savant even has a full database for cable systems and its channel lineup, which is kept up to date. So when a favorite button is added for ESPN and a year later, the cable company changes its lineup and ESPN moves from channel 120 to channel 220, the system will automatically update that channel so no service calls or even remote logins are required. And the favorites will automatically rearrange based on usage—the most popular will bubble up to the top of the list. There are currently IP drivers in place for Sonos and Savant lamp dimmers. More will come, and the database will be built out. In the meantime, most control is via IR. Setting up the remote and the Smart Host is really fast and very intuitive. A tech should be able to get this up and running in 30 minutes or less.
Voice control is the real killer feature in these remotes. Hold down the voice command button and say “Watch ESPN” and the macro is executed to activate the system and turn to ESPN. Or "Dim the living room lights" or "Listen to Classic Rock in the Den." While it doesn’t integrate with Siri or Alexa, it is still an awesome feature and the first remote sold through our channel to use voice commands.
The help function seems very intuitive for the end user (for example if the cable box ended up in an “opposite” state and turned off when the TV turned on.)
The Savant Remote does not offer routable IR emitters. Currently all IR commands are sent from IR blasters—built into the charging base and available as an accessory standalone IR blaster. This makes it impossible to have two of any of the same device in a cabinet (cable boxes, Apple TVs, etc.) as they will both get all commands sent. I just don’t trust IR blasters—if someone walks in front of the blaster while commands are being sent, now the TV may not turn or on or might not go to the correct input. Or the IR blaster might get moved while someone is rummaging around in the cabinet for a video game, a controller, or something totally unrelated. Then nothing works right and a service call is required to move the blaster back to where it belongs. Also, the IR blaster is battery powered only, with no option for a power cord. So either this means an annual service call to replace batteries, or talking the client through finding the blaster in the cabinet to replace the batteries and then placing it back in the right spot.
[In response to my original post, Savant representatives emphasized that the Savant Pro Remote, on the other hand, ["can 100 percent be used with routable wired IR, including Savant Smart Control Wi-Fi products that don’t require hard ethernet. It can control IP devices, IR, RS232/422/485, BACnet, KNX... If there are any concerns with the client being unable to understand how to change batteries in a blaster without handholding, or a client with racks of gear, they’re likely a great candidate for a Savant Pro system with the Savant Pro Remote. It is not impossible to have two of the same device in a cabinet, as you can specify in the App which blaster you want the commands sent from, the base or another blaster. That way a device in a far closet that the base can’t reach doesn’t require costly wiring."]
If you are looking for an alternative to the Harmony remotes of the world, the consumer version of the Savant Remote is a strong contender that also offers a gateway to a larger integrated system featuring the Savant Pro Remote. Plus there's some margin and support from a company rooted in the custom integration market.