So I already have a house chock full of X-10, but as usual reliability is still somewhat of an issue and commands still get lost in the ether. It would be nice to add a level of "robustness" to the system. So I start this thread and hope it can become a quick primer on the newer tech versus the X-10 or a mini buyers guide.
So what if any would be a good technology to invest in for your modern house ? What are the simple pros and cons of Z-wave and Insteon versus X-10 for a24/7 PC based automation system. Are there any new technologies promising to make obsolete all the others ?
I'll open by summarizing X-10s pros and cons for newbies who might stumble upon this and leave the Zigbee Insteon, etc for other to chime in about.
An X-10 "controller" sends a signal to a "module". Modules can turn on, off or dim lights etc. The X-10 controllers and modules constitute a primitive network.
X-10 Build quality X-10 is the company who created the first home automation products for the consumer. The technology was fairly advanced for its day, but that was back in the seventies and has seen little improvement since then. X-10 has developed new models over the years but they have lacked the polish of a product suitable for modern homes. Indeed the company seems more interested in quantity of sales versus quality. The plastics they chose degraded and discolored readily, circuit boards suffered from cold solder joints, wall switch contacts were fragile. There are newer models but the best ones always seem to be made by companies other than X-10. Any serious old-school X-10 home automator likely has a box of dead X-10 parts waiting to be recycled when the next module dies. Home Automation got off to a rocky start since X-10 was doomed to be a hobby for the technically inclined. Poor build quality was X-10s first real problem.
X-10 and powerline noise X-10's underlying technology is part of its second problem. The homes powerlines that the modules are wired or plugged into, are used to distribute the signals. The signal is one way and modules have no provision to send an acknowledgment. More on that later. If you had an operating TV or motorized appliance plugged into the same circuit as a module, it was unlikely the module would work due to noise on the powerlines.
X-10 phase coupling Houses in North America use split phase wiring (2 x 110volt phases = 220V). The X-10 signal had to be able to jump across the from one phase to the other or the signal would only reach half the outlets in the house. A capacitive signal bridge of the phases using a module called a "phase coupler" helped for the most part but required wiring into a 220volt circuit either in a breaker box or a dryer or stove outlet. This was not for the average home owner and is the third problem.
X-10 device limitations There are 16 House codes x 16 Unit codes = 256 useable addresses. It was thought that no one would use more than 16 units in their houses. Signals travel on the powerline up to the power pole, cross over to the other phase and back down. In many cases a neighbor who used X-10 could control your lights if they share the same power pole. So the idea was to allow each house to use 16 modules and there could be 16 houses. Who'd have thought I could have 16 devices in a bedroom alone. So this is surely a limitation and X-10s fourth problem.
X-10 network speed Commands can only be sent at the zero crossing of the AC waveform which severely limits the amount of information that can be passed in a reasonable amount of time. X-10 control systems have visible lag due to the speed limitations. The fifth problem has and can not be solved with current X-10 technology.
X-10 one-way network A big hurdle for automators was not knowing if the signal reached the module or not. X-10s answer was the "2-way module". They are not really 2-way since they can't acknowledge a command directly but they can be polled. the problem is that due to the slow speed of the X-10 network the polling responses can collide with other commands being sent. X-10 2-way is not worth the extra money or trouble. This sixth problem is also hard wired into the protocol.
X-10 user unfriendly I had a friend insist on dimming his stereo with an X-10 lamp module, only to watch his amp go up in smoke taking the module with it. Okay these are electrical loads, and the problem is not unique to X-10, all electrical dimmers behave in a similar fashion. A consumer having to know what an inductive load is a mind bender for most, if not all, non technical people. The seventh problem for X-10.
Those are the 7 deadly sins in HA as I see it. Yes there may be more but lets get on to the good stuff. X-10 has a wide product line and the availability of unique modules not yet available with other network protocols. An example of this might be the PR511 floodlight motion detector. Pricing can also be a factor and X-10 seems to give stuff away killing the smaller dedicated home automation dealers.
Please confine the comments to other technologies since X-10 has already been covered.