by Jeremy J. Glowacki
It seems like a long time ago that URC began promoting its Total Control line of home automation products to the industry. In fact it was only this past CEDIA, but the products have been in development for three years. That number must seem like an eternity to the Harrison, NY-based team of engineers and product specialists who were asked to follow the vision of founder and CEO Chang K. Park, who wanted to take his company beyond remote controls and into whole-house home automation.
“This is not a reaction, but a vision,” explained URC director of business development Mitchell Klein, during a press overview of the line at the company’s headquarters on May 11. “This started in 2008 right at the point when the economy took a turn, but all credit to our CEO who wanted to go forward instead of cutting back.”
Klein and Russ Hoffman, manager of content development, are shipping major pieces of the line to dealers on May 16 and have helped the company develop an invitation-only dealer training program, with complementary webinars having already been deployed.
“Because this is an entirely new line,” Klein said, “we’re starting from the ground up on our training program. We want to make sure everyone gets the information they need.”
From left: Chang K. Park, founder and CEO; Mitchell Klein, director of business development; Jon Sienkiewicz, director of marketing.
Although the line has been revealed in dribs and drabs since right before CEDIA EXPO in September, Klein and Hoffman went into great detail with visiting members of the press, describing Total Control. Every piece of the family, Hoffman said, is what the company calls “Native to the Network,” or IP enabled specific to URC. Although other controllers in the line have included this design feature, this is the first time an entire line functions on the network without the need for a special “black box” to receive metadata and other information from the network. Hoffman referred to the “black box” approach to whole-house network connectivity the “science project” path, while referring to URC’s approach as the “engineered path” where new products are designed to maximize network capability and to use digital data transfer to achieve new levels of control, automation, and efficiency.
“Now the whole line is Native of the Network, allowing products to breathe and breed there,” Hoffman explained, pausing to admire his unplanned turn of phrase. “We can now have a true custom customer experience with interfaces, whole-house audio, network audio entertainment, online info, lighting control, climate control, energy monitoring, security management, and camera surveillance.”
With the launch of True Control’s first control, the TRC-780, URC is hoping to provide dealers with the information and sales training that they need to get systems installed. One of those points is a remote control feature borrowed from Facebook, called “room monitoring.” It allows to end user to always know the status of any room right from any user interface in the house. Once a room is selected, the menu for the devices in that particular room appear on the remote. This feature essentially allows a homeowner to use a single remote to control any room of the house. Of course, this feature is “defeatable” by the integrator who prefers to sell more than one remote to a household.
Another feature, called “room linking” offers the end-user the ability to see all the rooms and temporarily link them for a party mode. Users will know which rooms are linked by a graphic of a chain link next to the connected rooms. Not just a dumbed down Party mode, room linking still allows flexible volume adjustments per room or all at the same time. What’s particularly nice about this feature is that it’s a standard attribute to the company’s CCP programming software. “There is no extra work,” Hoffman noted. “This happens automatically.”
Russ Hoffman, education and content development manager.
Native to the Network enables two-way feedback metadata exchange with compatible sources, devices, or subsystems. The TRC-780, which features a smaller menu screen, is limited to feedback from URC devices only, but the metadata exchange is still there.
There is a concern by URC that many of its traditional dealer base is so set on AV, because that’s where they started, that they will have a real problem with subsystem control even though it’s been out there for years from other manufacturers. “They’ve made great macros for AV,” Hoffman explained. “Now they need to think beyond AV. Turn off whole house, or all connected AV gear, close connected drapes, turn on porch light activate security, reduce/increase temp. These are all whole-house macros that we will spend a lot of time on during dealer training.”
One particularly noteworthy comment from Hoffman was that URC is putting a lot of control in the hands of end users. He made this comment is reference to event timers for certain home automation macros within the Total Control line. Although the actually design of these macros is still fully in the hands of the URC dealer, the client has been given much more control over changing the start and stop times for event such as sprinkler system on/off, night light on/off, “good morning” scenes, etc. The integrator programs the macros, and the customer, with the aid of a built-in astronomical clock, can set start and off times themselves.
Another empowering gesture was URC’s decision to offer off-site control to a client’s system, but only after the client has enabled this access by clicking one “button” on his or her user interface.
Yet another key point offered by URC as to why its Total Control line is worth a look was that it offers CD-quality sound throughout a home, with no compression or buffering. By using Ethernet, URC hopes to provide better audio quality without bandwidth issues that lead to latency delays and sync problems between rooms.
I was impressed with what URC has achieved in three years. Total Control is squarely aimed at competing with Contro4’s home automation solution and Crestron’s lower priced Prodigy platform. URC is serious about this endeavor and hopes that dealers who may have been only AV focused in the past, can now expand into subsystem control as well. This month’s launch is only part of system that will become more complete by mid-Summer. After that, there is even more on the company’s roadmap.
Now I completely understand why Universal Remote Control changed its name to URC. The company still makes great handheld remotes, for sure, but now it’s offering so much more.