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Control4’s New Lighting Family is its Biggest Launch in 10 Years

Lighting control is one of the principal hallmarks of a smart home’s automation system.

One of the major benefits of Control4 adding panelized lighting is that it eliminates the wall acne of dimmers and switches located throughout the home, creating a much sleeker and more modern look with keypads controlling all lighting. Lighting control is one of the principal hallmarks of a smart home’s automation system. Tap a single “Welcome” button and the home magically fills with lighting, all preset to the perfect level. Or an automated event can occur without the homeowner even lifting a finger, say at sunrise, turning off exterior lighting to ensure energy isn’t wasted trying to compete with the sun.

People that have lived with an automated lighting system almost always say they wouldn’t go back to “dumb” devices, and research predicts the worldwide intelligent lighting control market will surpass $4.3 billion in sales by 2020. Control4 wants to make sure that both itself and its dealers are poised to take a nice bite of that pie and, in response, the company has rolled out the largest product launch in its 10-year history, launching almost 300 SKUs all at once.

According to Scott Stephenson, Control4’s senior product manager for lighting and comfort, “Lighting control has been a key element of our business model since the very beginnings of Control4, and it represents significant revenue potential in the custom integration channel. This launch provides Control4 dealers with a comprehensive lighting control product line that is second to none.”

While Control4 had a lighting solution from the beginning, it was never one of the beautiful people, and it has remained largely unchanged since its inception. It worked to be sure, but aesthetically it didn’t scream “high end” or “luxury.” Now, according to Control4’s national trainer Gordon Mella, “It’s functional and sexy.”

Stephenson echoed this point, noting that the line’s new aesthetics are a “huge improvement,” making it easier for dealers to sell and giving customers something that truly enhances the style of their home rather than detracting from it. “You could say we’ve been working on this since we started shipping our first lighting control products because the new products incorporate all the feedback, requests, and learning we received over that history,” he said.

Control4 conducted a “Let’s Light It Up” tour this year, giving dealers coast-to-coast a first look at the new lighting products with some preliminary product training on how to integrate and plan for these new devices. I attended one of the single-day events in Washington DC where I had a chance to talk with other dealers and see/feel the new products for myself.

Aesthetic Improvements

Major improvements in Control4’s new Wireless Lighting products include a new industrial design with better fit and finish, improved tactile button-press feel, backlit engraving, and an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts backlighting and LED brightness levels. Visually the keypads received the biggest facelift.

Control4’s tradeshow demos usually draw big crowds. All About Sound & Video’s president Eric Klun, from Potomac, MD, shared his thoughts on the keypad’s new look. A Control4 dealer since 2005, Klun said that updating the way the keypads look was sorely needed. “The new ones look 10 times better,” he stated. “The older models were less expensive, but they also looked a lot cheaper, and the new ones look sexy.”

Besides just looking better, the new keypads are also configurable. They ship with multiple buttons and different sizes, allowing for 37 different configuration options. This will help with inventory and ordering issues as well as in-field upgrades, as dealers will always have what they need.

“Since it’s configurable,” Stephenson explained, “if the customer decides they want a different button layout, the dealer can simply rearrange the buttons. There’s no need to swap out the device.”

With the exception of the auxiliary keypad, all of the new devices feature backlit engraving. Unlike many other products, only the engraving is backlit, not the entire button, making it easier to read. The engraving is entered in Control4’s Composer software, which can then produce a report for customer sign-off prior to export to the web store for ordering.

“I think it’s particularly cool that it’s not just the keypad buttons that can be engraved,” Stephenson pointed out. “The dimmers and switches can as well. I’ve lived in houses for years in which I could never remember which switch did what in a three- or four-gang box. Engraving dimmers and switches is a relatively simple thing that creates a lot of value to the end user.”

Justin Tsuchida, project manager at iHome Integration in Burke, VA, has been a Gold/Platinum Control4 dealer for the past five years. He said that he is pleased with the look of the new pads. “They just look way better and having the backlit engraving makes it look cleaner, more professional and easier to read. It looks like a much more elegant product.”

In fact, the new look has already landed a project for Tsuchida’s firm. “We sold a recent project because of lighting,” he pointed out. “The job went to Control4 because the homeowner wanted the backlighting and the color-changing LEDs.”

Technical Enhancements

While Control4’s new Wireless Lighting line-up will still feature a traditional Forward Phase Dimmer and on/off switch, with incandescent bulbs rapidly going away, new technologies were needed to handle the fluorescent, LED, etc. that homeowners are likely to install.

Control4 handles these loads with a new Adaptive Phase Dimmer (APD) that can auto-detect the load type and then select forward- or reverse-phase dimming as needed. This adds some futureproofing to the lighting system, eliminating the need to wonder whether the dimmer will continue to function should the load type change. This can keep a simple light bulb change from turning into a service call and unexpected expense.

While Control4’s new Wireless Lighting line-up will still feature a traditional Forward Phase Dimmer and on/off switch, with incandescent bulbs rapidly going away, new technologies were needed to handle the fluorescent, LED, etc. that homeowners are likely to install. The APD has a very low–1 watt–minimum wattage when wired with a neutral, making it ideal for low-draw LED lighting. Another problem solver will be the Wireless 0-10V dimmer that controls four-wire dimmable fluorescent ballasts and LEDs. These 0-10v dimmers can handle all sink/source standards that previously required a third-party interface.

Also new for Control4 is a Wireless Fan Speed Controller that adds control over ceiling fans, with four speeds and an off button. The fan speed can also be integrated with climate control and other automated events, allowing additional features. Further, with the support of 277 volt, new opportunities for lighting control are available to dealers in commercial spaces such as boardrooms, bars/restaurants, and conference centers. Also, the devices are available in 240 volt as well, providing support for the international market, including wallplate styles that are popular abroad.

Kudos to the Keypad Dimmer

If you’ve ever done a lighting system retrofit, you’ve run against times where a homeowner would love to have a keypad for control right next to an existing switch. Instead of cutting in a new wall box and then having both a dimmer and a switch, the Keypad Dimmer combines both devices into one for a far cleaner look.

“There’s no doubt that the Keypad Dimmer is one of the most exciting new products, as it provides an amazing amount of flexibility,” Stephenson said. “From a dimming standpoint, it’s an adaptive phase dimmer, meaning it can handle almost any load type. Next, add the configurable keypad, and you’ve now got something allowing you to replace an existing switch with a device that both controls that attached load and also provides full control system capabilities.”

Tsuchida concurred, adding, the Keypad Dimmer is ideal for places where “it’s a lot of work to rip out a single gang to put in a double, where you don’t want to have multiple devices in one location,” such as a keypad next to dimmer.

Panelized Lighting Picks Up Steam

In addition to the wireless devices, Control4 also launched an ambitious panelized lighting system that will prove useful on large, new construction projects. This project had been in the works for some time, but, Stephenson admitted, it was scaled back when there “wasn’t a whole lot of new construction going on.”

“With the housing market really picking up, this was the right time to launch the product line,” he added.

One of the major benefits of panelized lighting is that it eliminates the wall acne of dimmers and switches located throughout the home, creating a much sleeker and more modern look with keypads controlling all lighting. The benefit to dealers opting to use the new Control4 Panelized Lighting is that it was designed to work from the ground up as an integrated system, which should prove more reliable.

What excited Klun most about this line was its ease of integration. “With the Control4 panelized solution, you build your project and at the same time you are generating reports for the electrician and also a customer sign-off sheet,” he said. “You only need to go to one spot to do everything. That alone is worth the price of admission.”

Programming changes to Control4’s Composer software also benefit integrators installing new bulb technologies. For instance, LED, fluorescent, and CFL lights frequently don’t have a full zero to 100 percent dimming range. Composer allows integrators to set minimum and maximum values to “smooth out” the dimming curve and provide a better dimming experience with these new bulb technologies. Additionally, a cold-start setting allows better functionality, setting the turn-on levels the dimmer must output to first turn on a device. For example, some LEDs and fluorescent lights won’t turn on initially at a low lighting level, but will dim to that level once they are on. In programming, the system can turn on a light to 40 percent power for 100 ms to turn on, and then automatically drop it to a lower level if required by a scene button press. This kind of logic allows a wider compatibility with a wider range of load types.

Further, all of the new lighting devices will be collecting energy data: minutes off, minutes on, minutes on today, current power, energy used, energy used today. Installers could then program events based off these energy values.

“All of our new lighting control products do have the ability to measure energy usage in real-time and report that up to the system,” Stephenson explained. “I’ll be honest, though, we’re still investigating the best ways to utilize this data. Our experience in the energy sector taught us that most people don’t really react to energy data–partly because they don’t have a good context for it. I do expect that we will add reporting capabilities up into our UIs at some point, but we really want to find a way to do that in a meaningful way. In the meantime, the data is available to be used in programming so it’s possible to set up alerts based on energy use, automatically turn lights off, etc.”

All of the lighting devices are now offered in five gloss, four satin, and three new metal faceplates including satin nickel, stainless steel, and Venetian bronze. At the training event, dealers were encouraged to mix-and-match look options, creating a variety of stylish looks.

Ultimately, lighting represents a lot of potential business and revenue both for dealers and Control4. Tsuchida summed it up perfectly, saying, “A significant portion of our business this year will be both from lighting control and lighting. Automation is what is driving the business; it’s not televisions, it’s not media rooms. The other stuff is cool, but people understand lighting control.”

Residential Systems contributing writer John Sciacca is a principal owner of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.