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May 2004
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July 2004

Standalone Remote Home Control

It's great to see SmartHome continue to offer new home automation products that work with well-established systems. That is, instead of putting forth a whole new "standard" for control and automation, they're finding niches within the X10 world that aren't currently well served.

Now they're providing a solution for remotely-controlling your home via the Internet. The new PowerLinc IP is a standalone network device that provides a web-based interface to your home. Unlike other solutions, you don't need a computer up-and-running, just connect this box to your home broadband network. The PowerLinc IP, in turn, is connected to a PowerLinc II controller, which is what translates your Web input to X10 commands and sends the commands to your house via the power line. (Interestingly, SmartHome decided to require the old-style PowerLinc II, instead of the much newer PowerLinc USB, for this new product.)

Out of the box, the PowerLinc IP is set up to poll a server at SmartHome to see if you've sent any commands to your home. Yes, you read that correctly, SmartHome acts as the intermediary for controlling your home. This really bothered me at first, but it's clear that the system is designed this way in order to lower the technical sophistication threshold necessary to use the product. By having the device poll for commands SmartHome avoids firewall and dynamic IP address issues that would otherwise limit the product's appeal to the average home user. According to the manual (available at their website) the device polls for commands about every 10 seconds. Once a command is received, it checks in every 3 seconds, to see if there are immediate subsequent commands to process. So in practice, it could take about 15 seconds for to turn on a light in your home from afar. Not too shabby at all.

But the really good news is that you don't have to sign-up for and use the SmartHome intermediary servers. You can talk directly to the PowerLinc IP using HTTP. You're on your own if you do this -- SmartHome support won't assist you in figuring it out -- but they promise to provide a technical guide for implementing your own HTTP controller from the product's website. (Alas, it's not posted there yet.)

So, if you already have a computer-based home automation system, using something like XTension, Indigo, or HomeSeer, you may be better off working with the web-control options those applications already support. But, on the other hand, if you're a home automator looking for a simpler solution, or want to add Web-control for a vacation home, the PowerLinc IP looks quite promising.