Those in the market for relatively cheap, cutting edge X10 control software would do well to consider HomeSeer. Some of its more exotic features may be a bit much for computer novices, and its occasionally quirky interface can be a touch annoying, but if you really want to be in control and you’re willing to do some work, this is the package to get.
HomeSeer’s greatest strength may be a bit nichey: it supports Windows Scripting Host (WSH) nicely. Using WSH, you’re not limited to just turning lights on and off; anything that can be done with VBScript, ActiveX components, and executable programs can be triggered by X10 events.
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Beyond that remarkable capability, HomeSeer is a solid X10 control package. It feels a bit young in its interface, but with the recent upgrade from 1.1 to 1.2, some of the rough edges did get sorted out. And 1.2.5 is already available in beta form. The company also seems very responsive on their message board, and most complaints of “hey, feature X broke” are answered by “Yes, it was, and now we fixed it” within a day or two.
Setting up HomeSeer is pretty typical of Windows programs. After going through the usual InstallShield bit, it’s time to configure the X10 devices that HomeSeer will control. I tested HomeSeer using the CM11A (? The normal computer/serial/x10 control), four X10 basic dimmer switches, two Hawkeye motion/light detectors, two Transciever Modules (set for different house codes), and entirely too many X10 RF remotes (man, do those things pile up).
Getting basic operation out of HomeSeer is pretty straightforward. The program uses a nice Outlook-like interface, and splits the world into Devices, Events, and the Event Log. Devices represent the various X10 devices, obviously enough. Configuring them is as simple as adding a new device, defining its house and unit code, and specifying what kind of device it is. HomeSeer can automatically detect if the device supports bi-directional communication.
Events are where things really happen.. Events can be triggered by time, by an X10 event or manually (that is, you have to click on it). HomeSeer’s scheduling is robust, allowing for rules like “Every Monday through Thursday at midnight.”
Within the Event dialog, you specify what should happen when the event is triggered. An event can affect multiple X10 devices, and can in fact call other events. HomeSeer also allows one element of an event to be delayed; I found this nifty for making an “end of evening” event that shut off all my downstairs lights except the one by the stairs, which would stay on for five minutes before turning off.
Now we get to the really cool part for those willing to do some extra work. One of the tabs in the event dialog allows you to specify WSH scripts to run when the event happens. WSH is effectively an interpreted form of Visual Basic, and allows for great flexibility.
From within WSH, X10 control is available through the “hs” object which HomeSeer provides. So scripts can intelligently and conditionally use X10 devices. But it gets way cooler than that: the WSH scripts can also use any other ActiveX component.
I used the WSH feature to build a bridge to my Slinke installation, a handy jukebox controller for Sony 200 disc changers from Nirvis. The Slinke package also supports general purpose IR receive and transmit.
Using WSH and the Slinkx control, I was able to map a single button on my X10 RF remote to gradually dim all the lights in my living room, turn off the aquarium pump (loud!), turn on the TV, receiver, and DVD player, and set the inputs on the TV and reciver, and finally open the DVD tray. Watching a DVD became as easy as slapping a disc in and hitting play.
Likewise for CD listening, a single preset sets the room lights to 30% (I like it somewhat dark), sets the receiver’s inputs, and starts a random play session on the CD changers.
HomeSeer uses the Microsoft Agent to support voice recognition as well as voice output. I find the former unreliable and the latter annoying. Then again, I haven’t really wired my place for microphones to where I would expect the voice rec to work from the living room.
One more nifty feature on HomeSeer is its web interface. Using it, you can control X10 devices as well as look at their state. Fortunately, HomeSeer can password protect the web interface, as it might grow tiresome to have friends constantly mucking about with your X10 system.
On the whole, HomeSeer is an excellent if slightly young product. Its advanced features make it incredibly flexible and adaptable to all sorts of things X10 was never intended for â€“ which is half the fun of home automation.