Back in 2005, I was one of the first reviewers to look at an automation system from a relatively new and little-known company, called Control4. Fastforward to today, and Control4 is now a major player in the automation world.
Control4’s 7-inch portable touchscreen offers an integrated full-motion, color video camera for intercom.In the interest of transparency, I will start this review by saying that I work for a company that is a Control4 dealer. That means that I’m not only very familiar with the company’s products, having sold, installed, and programmed multiple systems, but I’m also aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
Control4 sent me its latest processors, the HC800 and the HC250, along with two of the new 7-inch portable touchscreens and an SR- 250 wand controller. They also supplied me with the housewide intercom and site license for PC, Android, or iOS control.
My home theater system is pretty complex; my previous controller utilized five infrared and five RS-232 connections. While the HC-800 only has two RS-232 connections, IP control is becoming the new go-to, so I chose to control my Kaleidescape, Marantz pre-pro, and Lutron RA2 lighting/thermostat/shade system all via IP. I was quite pleased with how easily and seamlessly the RA2 system integrated with Control4. Also, with Control4’s advanced “if/then/else” programming logic, I gave my RA2 some very HomeWorks-esque features. Additionally, there are multiple IR, relay, and contact inputs. On top of the welcome addition of an HDMI output, the HC-800 also has three additional–two analog, one digital–audio outputs, perfect for feeding a housewide music system.
The HC-800’s big news is the massive increase in processing power. It is rocking a 1.8GHz dualcore processor, with 10 times the processing power of the HC-300, rating 1100 on the C4 Performance Calculator. This means that it can be both the main controller and backbone of virtually any sized project. In reality, what I noticed was lightning-fast response time, especially on the on-screen GUI and when switching rooms in my project or navigating my 9000 song music library (from a USB-connected hard drive). The HC-800 also features external Wi-Fi and Zigbee antennas which should greatly improve reception.
I installed the HC-250 in my bedroom, and its thin shape and mounting plate allowed it to slide in behind my wall-mounted flat-panel TV. The HC- 250 has on-board PoE, meaning it can receive both power and control over a single Cat wire. As I didn’t have a spare Cat cable, I connected to my network via Wi-Fi. With four control ports (two IR or RS- 232 and two IR-only), one contact and one relay input, the HC-250 is perfect for handling the typical receiver, TV, Blu-ray, and cable/satellite system install. More impressive is that the HC-250’s 1GHz processor is nearly 4.5-times faster than the HC300 (or 500 points on the performance calculator). So while it is the perfect “smart remote” starter system, it packs enough power to allow dealers to come back and add lighting, HVAC, and other control as the job grows.
With the advent of the iPad, many dealers “lost” the ability to sell a separate, dedicated touchscreen controller. And with iPad2s now selling for $399, why would someone purchase Control4’s 7-inch portable touchscreen for almost $1,000? Well, some people won’t, but for others the new portable does offers some compelling reasons to be spec’d into projects. For one, as a dedicated controller it is always in “Control4” mode, ready to wake and operate the system. Also, it tends to “wander” around the house a lot less than an iPad would. Further, it gives access to the Control4 app store and any installed control apps, and has four programmable “hard” buttons perfect for “no-look” tasks like volume and channel changes.
Control4’s HC-250 controller empowers dealers with a single-room control solution that has the power and flexibility to extend automation beyond just media entertainment devices.But the portable touchscreen’s real super power is its video intercom feature. When the license is added to a project, clients can video chat between portables and audio chat with existing in-wall units. (An upcoming in-wall panel will feature a camera, as will a new door station.) For clients wanting to incorporate intercom functions into their system, this is an amazingly elegant solution. It offers point to- point or broadcast to multiple locations, and the video and audio quality is quite good.
While the touchscreens typically worked flawlessly, there were times when they just randomly rebooted–suddenly resetting and then reconnecting with the controller and reloading the project. And other times the intercom function stopped working, requiring a controller reset to restore. Control4 said that this issue has been corrected in the OS 2.2.2 release, which was available June 18. That version of software also delivers enhancements to the intercom functionality that will make it an even more robust communications solution.
The processing speed of the new controllers is a quantum improvement for Control4’s product line. The HC-250 now has the chops to run many systems, and the HC-800 takes it to the next level. I see these serving as primary controllers on most of my jobs going forward. For installs requiring intercom, the video features of the portable touchscreen are mega cool.
HC800 is incredible speedy and powerful enough to run massive systems which the HC250’s svelte size is the perfect 2nd room controller; video intercom is uber cool
Occasional touchpanel issues
• Next-generation 1GHz core and ZigBee processors deliver faster speed and performance
• Integrated 802.11g/n WiFi simplifies network connectivity
• Expansive I/O to control devices through IR, RS- 232 serial, IP, ZigBee, contacts and relays
• 4 audio outputs – 2 analog, 1 digital and 1 HDMI – allow for up to 4 discrete digital music listening zones
7-inch Touch Screen
• Integrated full-motion, color video camera for intercom
• Wired and wireless connections