I know what you mean; when I was installing X10 stuff I settled for the backlit rubber membrane style, because it could be custom engraved (and the engraving turns out rather nice, except for the script style which is too small to read on the little buttons).
Now I'm doing UPB, and PCS is using the same rubber membrane style. HAI is now manufacturing their own, and I was disappointed when I saw it
because it's another engraved rubber membrane, with even smaller buttons. I doubt you can fit full words on them.
Another is Simply Automated:
least they are firm buttons, but it's not very graceful and it looks like the labels will be hard to read.
I was hoping someone would come out with something nicer. The Lutron ones are indeed nice. I think my favorite is the minimalistic Centralite Classica series
As it turns out, Centralite is the product I'd like to use and because I don't care for the Europa keypads (much too contemporary for our classic home) I had been looking for alternatives. I have a sample Classica keypad with sample engraving and it is quite nice, though my wife and I don't like the fact that button sizes change depending on the number of buttons on the keypad (it's a decora style opening, and either has 1 large button, 2 medium buttons or 4 smaller buttons as the link you posted shows).
Jimmy Busby at Centralite did mention that they had modified keypads in the past. I think it was
he mentioned specifically (nice looking keypads), but I don't see the question in the new Centralite support forums. It seems like that might be my best bet, but it does require me to interact with a company that's not so big into DYI'ers. Jimmy had also mentioned that while I could probably hack the lutron, vantage or equivalent, I'd be junking expensive keypads just for a nice looking switch. After a lot of research, I still like Centralite over Lutron (being able to self-support my system being the biggest reason).
I think you're right. But you might be able to fit three letters, which is usually enough to be distinct and memorable. Might need to use a cheat sheet for a while, though. I think the rubber membrane design's so popular because it really keeps fingertip crud out of the switch innards. That's got to increase overall reliability, even if it's got a lower customer approval rating.
I like HAI's idea of a controller that can show, at a glance, the status of the house lights. But I wonder if a wall mounted device with an ever-changing light display isn't going to have poor SAF? I had to move the server and hub out of the guest bedroom because the LEDs were bothersome to certain, high-status guests. :-)
Reading on through HAI's site revealed this comment, which really bothered me:
Although the UPB? protocol is extremely robust and less susceptible to powerline conditions, HAI recommends the use of a UPB? Powerline Phase Coupler in every installation.
That tells me that UPB(tm) isn't much more robust than X-10 at reaching every corner of a large house without an assist. For lots of people, that's a pretty expensive issue (installing repeaters or couplers). What a disappoinment.
Then, they went on to say:
UPB? transmits using a pulse over existing house wiring instead of the 120 KHz tone used by X-10 . This pulse has a longer range and travels better on powerlines than the X-10 tone. The UPB? pulse is less susceptible to noise than X-10's tone.
I assume that's largely because a 40 volt signal is stronger that the 5 volt signal put out by most X-10 gear. But they still talk about phase bridging and three-phase issues that make most people's eyes roll when they are asked to understand the problem. As much as I dislike radio control, I think it's going to win because it solves many of the most intractable problems of powerline control. A "mesh" design of the radio network also promises to eliminate many of the problems inherent to radio control.
I like the big buttons, too. But look at all the opportunity for dirt to get in on those Centralites. While I agree that they are easier to understand and use, I'll bet they've got a significantly lower MTBF than the membrane style switch unless they've got some sort of gasketing around the switch rods. It's not until you start using trackballs in a dust environment that you appreciate how much bioslime gets into control interfaces.
An indicator light on a switch is a considerably different thing than ethernet link and activity lights. I'm fine with the amber glow of the neon in a wall dimmer but HATE the front-panel light on the DirecTV box (or any cable box, for that matter). A status light on a wall switch is a lot less likely to be annoying, especially since it's not flipping on/off but following state.
A trackball's sensitivty to crud is completely different. A wall switch in basically a single action. A trackball has 360 degrees of rotation on that ball and any crud on it will certainly be disruptive. I gave up on physical roller trackballs AGES ago. I greatly prefer the optical types such as the MS trackball series. It's only about once a month (if even that often) that I have to clean it. Even then it's only a quick swipe at the light sensors, not on any rollers.
Engraved buttons will tend to pickup more crud than other styles. But not enough to raise any great concerns.
I suspect that people are bothered by such things on a continuum, with my MIL able to find any source of artificial illumination through several layers of lead. :-) I, on the other hand, can fall asleep in a room full of squawking police scanners. The wife is only susceptible to lights if she's got a migraine. What it means, in the long run, is that any device I use in the master or guest bedroom better have a stealth mode.
I didn't mean to imply that wall switches build up as much bioslime as trackballs. But I do believe that if you are in the repair department of someone like PCS or Centralite, you end up seeing devices that have died from crud infusions. That's why I think so many control makers have adopted the rubber membrane model for any device that gets touched by human fingers. Also, a membrane keypad probably makes manufacturing a lot easier since the buttons don't have to be mounted separately.
optical types such as the
Yeah - but . . . They felt inspired to change the button and ball layout as well and that made it peculiarly uncomfortable for my particular hand. At least with the MS trackball (old style) all the crud builds up on the three bearings and the two axial rollers. But it's an impressive amount of crud. A light switch in a kitchen or workshop environment is bound to build up some of the same crud, just in lower quantities than a trackball.
At least they don't wear off after extended use the way a lot of cheap remotes and phone buttons do.
One might suspect it being more of a MIL personality disorder instead...
Oh I'm with you there, I can fall asleep with TV on. But if nothing's making a sound and there's a single bright LED left on the satellite box it bugs the hell out of me. Go figure.
I think that's the bigger reason. Being able to stamp out a series of rubber panel membranes with their momentary contacts is undoubtedly a lot less expensive all around.
There are two distinct styles from MS and several from Logitech (and others). I greatly miss the layout of my old Kensington TurboRing but it was REALLY bad at accumulating crud. I prefer the 'move with fingers' style instead of the ones rolled with the thumb. That and I much prefer the scroll wheel on the MS Trackball Explorer as it's right there under the thumb and not out in some stupid location like Kensington's latest offerings.
Only impressive in that the tiny gap needed for roller actuation gets gummed up by it. The optical ones keep themselves clean by having an opening at the bottom that lets the crud fall out instead of gumming it up.
It shouldn't tell you that. It only tells you that HAI is playing it safe with a CYA statement, probably because they are new to UPB--their UPB products aren't actually available yet.
My experience is that UPB is FAR more robust than X-10.
So far, I've seen UPB at work in a couple houses, both 4000+ SF, and they've been 100% reliable without a phase coupler. I'm planning on using UPB in my new house under construction (I am, though, keeping an eye on Insteon, which was released but STILL has precious little info available). My current house, which is on the market, has PCS Scenemaster and SwitchLinc switches everywhere. It took an amplified coupler/repeater and liberal placement of filters to get it stable. UPB is not like that at all.
I assume it's going to be less susceptible to attentuation because if I read the specs correctly, the signal is 10 times the voltage of the X10 signal.
If it compares favorably with X10, pricewise, I'll be interested, but that's a pretty hard thing to do, even when lots of filters and a coupler is required. I just bought a dozen X10 Stanley mini-controllers for $2 each. Why? Because they're easy to make into pseudo universal modules. Where else can you get a four position load controller for 50 cents a load? Last year I bought two dozen appliance modules for $4 each. I think I should have bought four dozen in retrospect!
X10's low price calls to me like the Dark Side of the Force. I try to resist, but at these closeout prices, it's very, very hard.
There are all sorts of reasons to use X-10. When a friend was having prowler problems I easily set her up so that she could light up half the house from her bedside. Took a handful of modules and 10 minutes to set up. Since the modules cost $4 each and the controllers $2, she was ready to rock and roll for well under $50. No other automation system can touch that. For another $20 or so I could have set up a PIR and a transceiver, too.
I use X10 for Christmas lights, general house lighting and some appliance switching but nothing critical or related to security. I've had a fair number of modules fail, but at less than $5 a load, I buy spares. The real bugaboo has been all the devices that require filtration to keep a steady X10 signal but even buying a $20 filter brings the total up to less than any other protocol. I've also found that with careful planning you can put two or three signal suckers on a filter. Most often, they are low current draw switching power supplies or compact fluorescent.
I kind of look at X-10 as dangerous at any price :-) Seriously, I just would never use X-10 anymore with the alternatives that are out there. I'd rather have fewer, more reliable switches personally. Just my opinion of course.
------------------------------------- Dean Roddey Chairman/CTO, Charmed Quark Systems
The powerline interface module (PIM) is far more sophisticated than, say, a CM11A. It has the capability of reporting pulse strength and measuring noise levels on the powerline. It's like having a built-in tester.
One thing I like about PCS is that they have all their specs documented and open for anyone to use. Several descriptive documents are here:
I don't know the answer to your question of distance, although I think PCS has more detailed physical layer documentation available somewhere.
I've read the detailed technical docs at PCS and, quite frankly, they flatly contradict much of the hype I've seen elsewhere. Maybe it's just a case of PCS playing CYA but...
For instance, they state that a coupler "may" be required in split-phase systems as the utility transformer will "greatly attenuate" the signal. The specs also refer to repeater devices that sound like they function in a similar manner to SmartHome's BoosterLinc devices. Three-phase systems require special steps.
Given that the UPB pulses are essentially just noise pulses (capacitor discharges), how are they distinguished from other noise pulses with similar profiles like triac noise, ballast noise, impulse noise from motors, etc.? This must be potentially troublesome as the PIM documentation says, "UPB Noise is defined as any UPB Pulse that is on the powerline that is not part of an actual UPB Communications Packet. This powerline noise can be caused by many sources including fluorescent ballasts, electric motors, light switches, etc." It certainly sounds as if it will be bothered by the same things that bother X-10. Is it just the two-way protocol that makes it robust? I can't see that helping in a really noisy environment.
What do surge protectors do to the signals?
Are there any wireless UPB control devices?
All of their documentation greatly exagerates the unreliability of X-10 and misrepresents the X-10 feature set. When I see a company deliberately misrepresenting things like this I become wary of their other claims.
I also wonder how they perform in a noisy environment (though I have the same question about wireless technologies). I'm not sure how to test that--how can I generate the right kind of noise on the line?
I'm not sure but motors, triacs and fluorescent ballasts (when turned off) tend to put the same type of short duration, high voltage pulses on the line. I've posted an o-scope screenshot showing triac pulses at
(scroll to the bottom of the page).
Equipment sold in Europe has to withstand these types of transients and surges so there are standard procedures and equipment for testing. Search on IEC 61000-4-4 and IEC 61000-4-5.
I have a fluorescent fixture in one bathroom that would, when turned off, frequently cause an X-10 screw-in lamp module (the older, dimmable model) to turn off. I put that lamp on an LM14A which isn't bothered by the fluorescent but will frequently turn off when I turn an older, cheapo box fan off (a four position rotary switch that rotates from low to medium to high to off). The fan is on the same outlet. When it was used in another room, it did not bother the LM14A. My Melita coffee grinder frequently tries to start when the refrigerator compressor turns off. It did start and complete a grind cycle when lightning hit the neighbor's tree last summer.
Here's a link to an inexpensive DIY "capacitor discharge firing box".
which might be useful to test the UPB devices.
I can understand the appeal of UPB to installers. The margins are higher and there's a promise that there will be far fewer problems to deal with. My concern is that there may be problems that are very difficult to diagnose and fix.
I would not worry much about noise problems with wireless as that's fairly easily dealt with at the design level. I think the key to its success will be range. If you need a rather dense population of devices to insure coverage, the total cost increases geometrically with the size of the area that you need to cover.
I'm of the opinion that costs for doing this using something like HomePlug and IP multicasting are rapidly falling and that it won't be long before someone marries a triac to a BPL modem. BPL modems for ethernet over the powerlines are now retailing for $20 or so. I thought the Control4 "Ethernet Dimmer" might be the first one but it turns out it needs CAT5 for its network connection.