Brent Stewart

Live life on purpose

Giving my home a voice

Since I stated my foray back into home automation, I have been looking for a good whole house audio solution.  For a long time I have been wanting the holy grail of whole house audio, a system that will play what I want, where I want, when I want.  There are a few different approaches to this problem.  First, and the one I has always lusted after, is a dedicated multi-source/multi-output controller.  This type of system lets you connect a variety of inputs and then through some sort of remote control, usually an in wall keypad, and then pick which audio source goes to which sets of speakers.  This system has been around for many years and is still the choice for most high end home automations, but there are some drawbacks as well.  First the system requires the purchase of a main controller and keypads for every location from where you want to control the system.  You also need to install speakers and  speaker wire to all of the rooms where you want to play music.  While I considered a system like this, I ultimately decided to go with a newer option that has a lower barrier to entry.  I decided to go with wireless speakers, specifically Sonos speakers.  The Sonos speakers let me send various online music sources to one or more speakers as well as letting me use local music files as a source.  I chose Sonos because of their reputation for great sounding speakers and the fact that they have been around for a while and there are quite a bit of information available on how to hack them.  I went with two of their cheapest speakers to start with, the PLAY 1 series, and they sound impressive for their size.  I compared them against my much more expensive Focal bookshelf speakers and they not only held their own, but I feel they surpassed them on certain musical passages.  Sync’ing the music between the speakers is seamless and I can detect no delay.  The integration to my home automation system has been hit and miss.  The basics are all there and work great.  I can control the playback from my harmony remote, I can trigger sound files from my SmartThings hub, or I can schedule them to come on or go off at a certain time.  The only issue I have with the Sonos speaker system is that there is currently not a way to send audio from an unsupported audio source.  I really want to be able to send my audiobook to my speakers, but there is no official way to do it without buying more expensive equipment from Sonos.  They provide a line in on their $500 PLAY 5 speaker, or I can get their $300 hub that also has a line-in.  I don’t have the need for either at the moment and feel like there should be a way to make this happen.  I am playing around with the idea of making a PC act as an Apple AirPlay target that then streams the input as HTTP Live stream which would allow me to subscribe to the stream as a radio station in the Sonos software.  I hope to post some follow up articles that document my solution, but until them I guess I had better get back to work on figuring everything out.

IoT is making home automation main stream

I have been into home automation for the past 20 years, but it has always been the realm of the tolerant, adventurous, and highly geeky.  I had taken a break from actively following the progress of the industry for the last few years, but I recently felt the home automation madness returning, so I pulled out my wallet and took the plunge once again.  What I have discovered surprised me, home automation is going main stream.  I found that most of the products I wanted to play with were available at my local Best Buy and that there was a very impressive selection of options.  The first thing that I wanted to try automating was the lighting in my house.  In the past I had looked at what I needed to make a reliable easy to use lighting control system, and it was going to be well outside of my budget to implement a Creston or Lutron system.  I was aware of  the Philips Hue system and thought that it might be a viable solution for what I was wanting, and sure enough it looked like an amazing solution to my simple needs.  I was looking for a lighting system that would not only let me automate turning on/off and dimming, but I loved the idea of being able to change the colors to fit my mood.  As I continued my research into the Hue system, I discovered LIFX, an alternative that seemed to render colors better, so that is the system the I have started with.  Each light  bulb is an IoT device that connects to the Internet and is controllable over Wi-Fi.  The bulbs are impressive and the flexibility they give me makes me a happy camper.  I have just setup my living room so far, but I already notice how they make my life just a little easier, I don’t have to go around to each lamp and turn it on or off and I can schedule them to turn off based on time or some activity.  It is a little thing, but its all the little things that make or break how a day goes.  Each time I see all my lights come on because it is starting to get dark outside and I don’t have to lift a finger to light the room, I smile and and think about how we live in an amazing age and get inspired to do even more.  It is easy to take things for granted and I am sure that the newness will wear off, but for now I am enjoying my first foray back into home automation.  I am sure there are many more “investments” to be made in this area so stay tuned.