Domia Harmony Home Control Starter Kit review
The digital home dream may remain just that for most of us, but it doesn’t stop people imagining new ways to put technology in places that it currently doesn’t reach. Computers have sneaked into parts of our home over the past decade, but now they want to control it.
Admittedly, home-automation products have been around since the first days of the home computer, but products are starting to enter consumer territory, with this beginner’s kit aimed at the individual for self-installation.
The first good news is that there’s no need for any extra wiring or wireless setup, as it uses your existing mains wiring – specifically Domia, the latest incarnation of the long-established X10 protocol. This uses a 120kHz carrier signal superimposed on the mains to give a basic 50bits/sec signal to transmit commands across the mish-mash of cabling in your walls. Given that most of what you’d want to control in a house is already plugged in, it’s an ideal infrastructure to hop on the back of, giving access to just about everything from heating and lighting to security.
X10-compatible hardware extends to a surprising range of sensors, CCTV and such delights as mechanised curtain pullers, as well as RF receivers for all manner of dedicated remote controls (see www.idomus.co.uk). This Starter Kit, however, is designed to take advantage of a PC and comprises server software, plus an extension for Windows XP Media Center Edition, as well as a hardware control module. For controlling devices, there are two lamp dimmers designed for free-standing lights bundled.
For a product aimed at consumers, the software installation isn’t the friendliest. The server software comes in the form of a 30-day trial, which you have to activate within five days. It asks for an email address to send an activation code to, which you then have to wait for. While you can skip onto the next screen to begin setting up, the next time you load the app it will still ask for an email address; it still won’t be registered, and the activation code box will be greyed out until you’ve been sent another email. Once past this, you’re greeted with an opaque question about default setups, and you’re left to guess how to respond. Thankfully, it doesn’t really matter, and you’ll be taken to the setup screen, before having to quit again to install the control module. This needs a USB-to-serial driver from the supplied CD, and then you restart the application.
After that, it isn’t entirely clear where to go – the quick-start guide will broadly tell you, but it shouldn’t be necessary for such a simple, predictable procedure. Thankfully, once you’ve created a New Device within the software for each of the dimmer modules and plugged them in, it gets easier. The server application isn’t exactly self-explanatory, but it’s powerful. Most of that power is only unleashed by adding extra hardware – events detected by motion or light sensors, for example – but actions can also be time-triggered, so this Starter Kit is enough to have a couple of lights come on and off automatically at preset times. Another option is to create “scenes”, which sets attached devices to predefined states. You can also access its interface over the web (not a simple job for the uninitiated) or via a PDA using the optional software extender.
By itself, this kit is naturally limiting, not least because using your PC to control everything is only convenient for setting up or automating events. To take it from talking point to useful system, you’ll at least need a couple of sensors, extra lighting or appliance modules. Couple it with a remote control, and it becomes much easier to use – dimming lights with a PC isn’t exactly natural. Sadly, this kit as it stands doesn’t let you, both from an installation point of view and what you can do with it. You’re left with a solid foundation for expansion, but there’s little value in buying it if you don’t intend to extend it further.