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Gadget Review

X-10 Home Automation System

By Kailas Narendan

staff writer

Pros

* Allows remote and automated control of almost all of your room

* Flexible, modular design

* Reasonable cost

Cons

* Software for computer interface somewhat inflexible

The lowdown

From the makers of those damn pop-up ads that canvass the Internet with pictures of scantily clad women being watched by a “security” camera comes the X-10 home automation system.

The X-10 system, when built up with individual modules, can quickly and affordably give your living or working space the sci-fi touch. The X-10 system is comprised of a number of modules, about the size of wall warts, inserted into power outlets around your place. These modules utilize a clever mechanism for talking to each other, using the existing wiring of the power lines in your building.

In a network, there are a few commanding modules, and a plurality of slave modules. The slave modules control everything from lamps to air conditioners, while the commanding modules can be controlled from your computer, a table top console or a wireless remote.

It slices and dices

I was very impressed by the ease of use and versatility of this entire system. It literally takes minutes.

There are a large number of slave modules you can purchase “a la carte” from the X-10 Web site that afford binary (on/off) control and even dimming functionality for incandescent lamps.

The computer interface for the system goes as far as to actually watch the network activity and learn about your daily activities, in case you want to replay them when you are gone for an extended period of time. It can even determine dawn/dusk times (from date and location information), and run lights based on those hours.

In addition to automated control of lights, you can control all your appliances from a cordless remote using the wireless modules. There is even a model of a remote that is integrated into a universal TV remote, allowing you to dim the lights and start your movie without even leaving your seat.

Software inflexibility

While the software did have quite a bit of functionality, it lacked some flexibility that could have been easily added. While it’s simple to have all your lights go to a predetermined brightness level at the push of a button, or your air conditioner turn on an hour before you get home, it isn’t as easy to make your room voice activated.

The bottom line

I found the ability to control all my lights centrally made life much easier. Instead of running around the room turning lights on and off when necessary, I have a few strategically placed remotes that command the entire apartment.

The affordable and expandable nature of this system is key. Spending as little as $100, it’s possible to automate the lighting of almost any dorm room or small apartment. If you want to expand later, the system is designed to still function with a very large house.

If you’re not happy with the little wall warts, there are modules built into light switches and outlets, allowing your room to preserve a normal look, with added functionality. You can buy modules through the company Web site at http://www.x10.com.

They’re always running various promotions or deals, so if you can wait and watch, you can most likely get a good deal. I also found various modules on EBay at substantial savings.