Jon’s HTPC: Home Automation (the best for last)

This is Part of Jon’s HTPC setup. For more, see: Introduction and Table of Contents

OK, the best for last right?
Smart HomeThis is the part that gets the biggest WOW factor from guests. The HTPC controls every single light inside and outside the house, along with several other appliances. To do this I use a very old technology called “X10” that never really caught on in the mainstream. This is good, because now you can get X10 stuff super cheap from online retailers or ebay. Essentially, the computer has a data connection to the power outlet, and then can send and receive signals through your homes power lines. Then you just attach an X10 device to whatever you want to control (a light for example) and now the computer can talk to it. It can turn it on, turn it off, dim up, dim down, whatever. About a year ago I upgraded all of our lights to X10, and installed motion sensors all over the place. Using the motion sensors the computer actually tracks where you are in the house and where you might be going next and then uses a “fuzzy logic” to turn lights on BEFORE you walk into a room and turns them off after you leave the room. At first this seems a bit like simple motion controlled lights, but it’s actually very different. Since it’s all controlled through the computer you can script all sorts of commands and actions limited only by your imagination. For example, the computer can sense when a DVD is playing and then dim all the lights in the house off. Then it might disable the living room motion detector so you don’t trigger the lights by eating pizza or rolling over on the couch. Then it might watch for motion in the dining room (in our house it’s between the living room an the kitchen/bathroom). If it sees motion in the dining room (it is assuming you are going to the restroom or getting more food) it will pause the DVD and bring up the lights to 50% in the kitchen and bathroom. Then it can watch for motion in the dining room again (it is waiting for you to go back and watch the movie again) and when it sees motion it might wait 10 seconds (for you to sit down) then dim all the lights back down, rewind the DVD 15 seconds, and then resume play on the DVD. This all just happened without you ever even touching a button; you just got up and walked to the kitchen or restroom. I don’t use that script anymore because I like to have a little more control than that, but I’ve got all sorts of scripts set up for in the morning and at night and special circumstances. It doesn’t need to all be automated either, you can install X10 switches in the wall that activate whatever you want manually. For example, in our house there are a few buttons next to the front door. If you push one of them, the living room starts blasting my theme song (Ghetto Superstar). If you push another button on the wall, the living room starts blasting my fiancé’s theme song (It’s getting hot in here). It’s really dorky, but also pretty darn cool. Another thing I have the computer doing is monitoring 4 stocks that I have. Then I have 3 candles (electronic) and a fountain hooked up to the X10, and the computer turns on/off the respective candle/fountain depending if the particular stock is up/down. I use it as a passive way to monitor my stocks everyday simply by glancing at the candles and fountain. We’ve used the X10 in the past to control the crock-pot and coffee maker as well. It’s also fun to have the ability to VNC into the computer and control the lights. Are you at work and you need to get a hold of you fiancé? Is she sleeping in the bedroom with her phone off? No problem, VNC in from work and manually flash the bedroom lights on and off over and over again until she wakes up. ☺ Again, the amount of stuff you can do with this is limited only by your imagination. The computer software I use to do this is called Housebot and it’s technically owned by Meedio, however it was actually written by a guy named Scott and was acquired by Meedio a little over a year ago. Meedio hasn’t done anything with it since the purchase (besides adding “Meedio” to the name) so I can’t really give Meedio any credit for it. The original author (Scott a.k.a. Scottbot) is a major contributor to the Meedio help forums and has been a huge help to me with some problems I’ve had along the way. Scott’s a great guy.

I would consider X10 an integral part of any HTPC just because of the automated dynamics it can add to your home theater rooms. Select “Play” on a DVD and have it lower your HDTV screen, close the blinds, start the fireplace, and lower the room temperature so your date needs to scoot closer to you on the couch (to keep warm). I don’t have all the components to do all that, but if you want to it’s all available using different X10 products.

It all sounds really flashy, but in my opinion if you have your X10 setup properly it should really not even be noticed. It should be they type of thing that you go about your everyday life without even thinking about. It just simply takes care of things for you. But that’s only my opinion. We never touch any light switches anymore.

Housebot software…

Great place to get new X10 components… (best place for used is ebay)

Powerlinc USB computer interface and W800RF32A interface… (I have way to many individual components to give links to them all. Instead I’ll just link to the 2 different computer interfaces I use)

Next Chapter> Wrap Up – Negatives and Positives


gravatar Jon

I should have mentioned the one big drawback of X10. It’s slow. Different commands are different lengths, but generally each command takes about half a second to issue and be received. Plus, X10 can only send one command through the power lines at a time. So, if you have 8 lights that you want to turn off it will take at least 4 seconds to happen. Dim commands are slightly slower, so if you want to dim them off instead of turn them off it will take a bit longer. There are ways to speed things up. That’s why I have two computer interfaces. Previously the motion sensors would see someone, send the command through the power lines to the computer, the computer would then issue the proper commands through the power lines to the appropriate appliance. In the above scenario two commands were sent through the power lines. The second computer interface I have is a RF interface for the motion sensors. With the current setup, the motion senor sees someone and sends an RF command directly to the computer, and then the computer issues the proper command through the power lines. This way there is only one command going through the power line and the speed is doubled. You can also use some creative scripting to make things speed up more as well. Speed is really the only negative I can think of with the X10, and like I mentioned, there are ways to help this out. If you need lightning fast home automation there are newer technologies out there to accomplish this (Z Wave comes to mind), however plan on spending a lot more on components, and the newer technologies aren’t as heavily supported and X10. I might eventually upgrade to Z Wave, but I’d probably do it one component at a time over a few years. For now, X10 works just fine for me.

gravatar Tim

There are tons of great NEW X10 items available on eBay, not just used, and the pricing is MUCH better than SmartHome. The posting is in error in saying that eBay is only for used.

Also, you can easily beat a lot of the prices on basic X10 items that SmartHome offers. Check my website and compare to them!

Happy X-10!


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