Back in January, during a visit to Control4 headquarters in Salt Lake City for the unveiling of the new EA line of entertainment and automation controllers, I got a sneak peek at something super secret: Amazon Alexa integration with Control4. It kinda worked, at least some of the time. The voice commands were a bit limited, and you had to tell Alexa to tell Control4 to do things instead of just telling Alexa to do things. It was kludgey. It was inconsistent. And I really, really wanted it in my own home.
Flash-forward eight months or so and Alexa integration with Control4 is finally here. And to say that it’s a far cry from the earlier implementation I saw in January is an understatement. Judging by the reaction to the official unveiling of Alexa/Control4 integration at this year’s CEDIA, it’s also a thing that a lot of people really, really want in their own homes. But what does it mean for you, the Control4 dealer (or potential Control4 dealer), who now has to integrate this $180 voice-activated speaker into systems both large and small?
Alexa integration with Control4
As I demonstrated in my unboxing video of the Amazon Echo (which you can check out at residentialsystems.com/blogentry/1250), the bulk of the task of getting Alexa up and running with Control4 is in the homeowner’s hands.
Control4 integrates with the Alexa platform the same way any of the various DIY smart home systems do–at least on the surface. The owner simply installs the Control4 Smart Home Skill via the Alexa app (Skills being the different voice-activated programs you can add to your Echo ecosystem), then scans for connected devices, and that’s pretty much that. There is a limit to the types of devices that can be discovered this way–namely thermostats, lights, and lighting scenes–for what I consider to be obvious reasons. And it does require a 4Sight subscription to make it work.
In truth, I think this will probably be enough integration to satisfy a significant portion of Control4 homeowners, especially those who are comfortable creating their own lighting scenes. True, there’s no control of AV devices and the like, but there’s still something quite magical about being able to dial in the exact right amount of light (or temperature) in a room without digging for your smartphone or reaching for a touch screen. I can’t count the number of times in the past few weeks when I’ve had my hands full–installing a new dishwasher, or washing the dishes by hand when that went horribly wrong–and asked Alexa to turn up the brightness in the room, when before I probably would have just squinted or hollered for my wife to do it.
What’s more, the voice recognition capabilities of the Alexa platform are nothing short of amazing. For one thing, my dad can actually use the system! He has such a thick, mountain-man southern drawl that it truly sounds like an affectation to most people. Imagine Foghorn Leghorn doing an impersonation of Buford T. Justice. Siri can’t understand him. The voice-activated navigation system in his Cadillac doesn’t even bother to guess where he wants to go. OK Google just shrugs. Cortana doesn’t even recognize the fact that he’s saying “Hey, Cortana.”
I’ve sat and watched him carry on conversations with Alexa with my jaw on the floor, though. Like, seriously, she can understand him at times when even I can’t. And she doesn’t really care if he calls the Kitchen Dimmer “Kitchen Light” instead. She seems to have a firm grasp on the fact that “switch” and “dimmer” and “lamp” and “light” are all pretty much synonymous.
Which brings me to another point about what a Control4 homeowner can do with their Alexa without a bit of assistance from you, the dealer. They can rename any light or thermostat or lighting scene in the home. It doesn’t change the name within the Control4 system, mind you; simply the spoken name that Alexa responds to.
So, what does that leave for you to do? AV devices, for one thing, and music, TV, and pretty much any other non-security devices connected to Control4. While Amazon does allow DIYers to control certain smart locks directly, Control4 has (again, wisely in my opinion) disallowed such bindings. So if you’re going through Control4, you can’t say, “Alexa, unlock the front door.” And I hope you never can.
But, just to give you an example of one of the advanced voice commands I’ve set up using Composer Pro, you can create a scene like, “Alexa, turn on WeatherNation,” which fires up the home theater system, dials in all the appropriate inputs, and tunes the satellite receiver to channel 215 just as quickly as if you’d used your SR-260 system remote. All of these commands are triggered by the phrase “Turn on,” so take that into account when naming them. It’s best to come up with scene names that flow naturally from there.
Programming and renaming them couldn’t be easier, though: you simply drag the Voice Scene driver into your project (once and only once), type in a name for each scene you want to set up, drop down to the Programming tab, and set up macros corresponding to “Turn on” and “Turn off” for each scene.
If I have any advice for you in this department, it is this: encourage your customers to live with basic DIY Alexa integration for a couple of weeks before you come in to set up advanced voice scenes. And once you do, schedule a follow-up visit a couple weeks later to make adjustments. Because most of the advanced voice scenes I set up during the first couple of days of use now go unused. And I didn’t think of others (ones I actually now use) until after living with this new world of voice automation for a bit.
The one key takeaway from my time spent so far with Alexa and Control4 working in concert is that voice control hasn’t caused me to use my system remotes or touch screen or mobile app or Apple Watch any less. But it has resulted in my using Control4 more overall, in substantially different ways.
I won’t go so far as to say that Alexa integration with Control4 has changed my own life. But I will say that it gives personality to my control system in a way I find really fascinating. It makes my smart home feel even smarter and more integrated. And those rare times when something goes wrong, it almost feels more like a personality quirk than a technological frustration.
Simple setup, superb voice recognition, and intuitive operation; works as a wonderful complement to existing control interfaces without replacing any of them.
The reliability and responsiveness is dependent on a solid internet connection.
► Alexa Wi-Fi Connectivity: Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO). Supports 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi networks. Does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.
► Alexa Bluetooth Connectivity: Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) support for audio streaming from your mobile device to Amazon Echo and Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) for voice control of connected mobile devices. Hands-free voice control is not supported for Mac OS X devices.
► Alexa System Requirements: The Alexa App is compatible with Fire OS, Android, and iOS devices and also accessible via your web browser.