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Home Automation

Alexa, turn on my home theater–AnyMote Awesomeness

Heaven forbid that I should have to lift a handheld remote in my very Smart Home. I got to thinking that with everything I’ve voice enabled here, I had not done anything with my home theater equipment. I’ve got a bunch of stuff downstairs in the Living Room and a bunch of stuff in the Master Bedroom. I’ve already got a Harmony Ultimate Hub/Remote in the Bedroom and an old and dying Harmony 1100 in the Living Room that I’m replacing with AnyMote Home.

I decided it was time to experiment with Alexa voice control. The TLDR; version of this post is that AnyMote, which takes concentration and time to set up (and is pretty geeky when it comes to advanced functions), coupled with the Alexa AnyMote skill is awesome.

Here’s a quick list of what my two Home Theater’s include for major components:

Living Room Bedroom
Samsung LN52B750 TV

Sony STR-DA4ES Receiver

Samsung BD-F5900 BD Player

Comcast DCX 3400 DVR

Apple TV

Amazon Fire TV

WD Live Hub

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

5.1 Surround Speakers

Old Yamaha Receiver

Old LT-P326W Samsung TV

Comcast DCX 3400 DVR

Samsung BD-5900 BD Player

5.1 Surround Speakers

anymoteHarmony 1100 harmony hub

The Living Room (My Main Home Theater)

In my Living Room, my goal was to replace the dying Harmony 1100. I thought about getting another Harmony Hub for the Living Room to use with my iPad Air, but was concerned that when I got to voice enabling it that there would be conflicts with the Bedroom Harmony Hub (see below on the Master Bedroom) AND I’m not very fond of the individual device control interface for Harmony on the iPad. And Amazon had the AnyMote Home on sale for $89.00. Plus, AnyMote allows Alexa voice control of individual “buttons” (which is not the case with using the Harmony routines) as well as macros (activities).

AnyMote is an amazing tool. It’s a geek treasure hunt (like peeling back layers of an onion) that leads to discovery of the many things this little gadget can do when coupled with a supported device and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I used my iPad Air to set things up (and will also be using my iPhone) as I wanted the larger screen for first time set up. I pretty much found built in codes for most of my (aging) home theater components; I had to use the record a button feature to get a few things to work properly, but I got the basic functions working and tested fairly quickly.

After insuring the remotes were configured correctly and buttons were working properly, I jumped in and created macros that turned on three devices and set the proper inputs, etc. I started with 4 so that I could control my set top box and my BD ROM player; one each to turn everything on and one each to turn everything off. I used longish delays between powering on and off components so that I could properly test (see image below) and have been adjusting the delays as I go. Below is one of the macro in progress where I can stack commands and delays.

macro

I created a blank Smart Home Remote and named it Home Theater and imported the 4 macros. I was itching to try the Alexa AnyMote Skill, so I stopped there and got that up and running. Pairing with Alexa is built in to the AnyMote App; a phrase is displayed that you speak, and Alexa complies and acknowledges.

pair alexa

After pairing is complete, the AnyMote App displays an abbreviated tutorial (which didn’t cover everything I needed, but there is more information on the AnyMote Knowledge Base which answered most of my questions. Basically, you tell Alexa the name of the button to action and the device remote to use, e.g., “Alexa, tell AnyMote to MUTE my Sony Receiver”. For macros, the syntax is “Alexa, ask AnyMote to execute [macro_name]”.

pairing tutor

Watch Alexa and AnyMote in action in my Living Room. Alexa runs my macro to turn on three components to watch Cable TV. Next, Alexa opens MyDVR via AnyMote:

I created some macros for my favorite TV channels as well. When I tested them, I found that Alexa didn’t like some of the names I’d selected – neither MAX HD or MAX was recognized by Alexa, but CINEMAX worked fine. Go figure. Below is a screen shot that pretty much shows where I am at this point (with lots more to figure out and implement)

anymote finished

One of the gotchas’s is that every time you create new macros, apparently you need to disable the AnyMote Alexa Skill in the Echo App, repair your AnyMote with Alexa (which resynchronizes everything). It isn’t a big deal, but it is annoying.

Editing the visuals of a remote is also available. Inside the remote editor, I can change themes, button colors and text and use built in icons. I couldn’t get the channel icons for the United States to appear/work, so I settled for color coding the channels that I created macros for. I’m probably missing something obvious, but for now I can tell Alexa “Ask AnyMote to execute HBO” and the channel changes. Or I can push the buttons on the iPad.

I saw some negative comments about AnyMote, but I highly recommend this device and app if you’re comfortable with doing tweaking and fine tuning to get things “just right”.

The Master Bedroom

I have a SmartThings Hub that I was not using (I’d bought it in my quest to voice enable my Sonos speakers, but it didn’t meet my expectations so I went elsewhere to fill that need). I remembered that SmartThings was supposed to work with Logitech Harmony Wi-Fi based remotes, so with nothing to lose, my first task was to see what I could accomplish with my bedroom home theater gear.

SmartThings requires a whole series of steps, done in a particular order, to add “things” and authorize for use with Alexa (I’d previously disabled SmartThings in the Alexa App after the Sonos experiment.) Harmony remotes use “Activity” based commands (macros) and it looked like that these activities could be voice enabled (but not individual control of devices, like Play, Pause, Stop, Eject, etc. for an individual component). The process for me was a little rocky. SmartThings discovered my activities after I linked with my Harmony account and imported them as “Watch TV [Harmony Control]”, “Watch a DVD [Harmony Control]”, etc., so I had to rename them (deleted the [Harmony Control] part) and then relink SmartThings with Alexa.

Fortunately, the Alexa App is very smart and lets you pick which SmartThings devices to control.

smartthings1

I ran Discovery in the Alexa App and the two “activities” were discovered and added. However, Alexa just didn’t seem to understand the “Watch a DVD” or “Watch TV” syntax. I tried speaking slowly, quickly, but Alexa kept offering to play songs from my Music Library or other responses. After a while I decided that maybe renaming the activities was the solution. So I renamed to “My Movie Theater” and “Xfinity”.

 

smartthings2

I then disabled SmartThings in the Alexa App and unlinked SmartThings and relinked, etc. but couldn’t get Discovery to find the new named activities. I had to unlink/remove AND remove the Harmony Remote from SmartThings and re-run discovery for Things, rename to My Movie Theater and Xfinity, relink to Alexa and THEN run discovery to get the selected activity/Things to appear. Eureka. This works.

When I tell Alexa (via my upstairs Dot) to “Turn on My Movie Theater”, all the right things happen. The components are properly powered on and the handheld Harmony remote actually changes to reflect the running Activity so that I can use the buttons to Play, Pause, FFW, etc. I wish I could tell Alexa to “Play”, “Pause”, etc. and maybe someday I WILL be able to do this. I wasn’t too enthralled by the SmartThings setup process. I know Yonomi also can link to Harmony, but I wanted to first try my neglected SmartThings Hub. I’m sure Yonomi will be smoother, but again, only the Activities (macros) will be supported.

For me, AnyMote is the clear winner in Home Theater control. I’m using maybe 25% of its capabilities and as time goes on, I’ll be experimenting with other functionality.

Netgear’s Arlo Q Security Cam is a Winner

 

I’ve had quite a few different IP/Security Cameras from various vendors like D-Link, Foscam, Insteon, etc. going back to my first IP based wifi camera that was an 802.11b DCS1000W from D-Link. The early cameras were for geeks only (like me) and required knowledge of networking protocols like port forwarding and more to get the most out of these first and second generation cameras.

IP Cameras are now an integral part of Home Security and the field of DIY Security Camera players has grown considerably.

Netgear asked me to take a look at their newest camera, the Arlo Q indoor camera, and provided me with a review sample for this purpose. The TL; DR version of this post is “this is the camera to get”.

Like some of the current crop of cameras, the Arlo Q offers 1080p HD streaming, audio and video motion sensing/alerts, but unlike the other contenders for this market, Arlo Q offers FREE event based 7 day cloud video storage (you can buy more and even set up continuous video recording, but 7 days revolving storage for FREE sets it apart from the others). Plan details are at https://community.netgear.com/t5/Arlo-Knowledge-Base/What-are-the-available-Arlo-subscription-plans-and-how-much/ta-p/88 (my opinion is that the Basic Free Plan is great and should be enough for most folks).

There are multiple ways to actually mount the camera, including a magnetic base for metal surfaces (the mag mount is strong). A nice long power cord (really a long USB adapter and wall wart plug with USB slot) is included. There’s also a wall mount and mounting screws, etc. included in the box, so there’s lots of flexibility.

in the box

Arlo Q can be set up with an iOS or Android app, as well as a browser based app. I used my iPhone and it was quick and simple to set up an account as a new user. This is the first IP camera I’ve used that supports both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands. The camera is a 802.11n device, and I configured it to use the 2.4GHz band even though I have a dual band Netgear Nighthawk 802.11ac router that supports both 2.4 and 5GHz. Connecting to your wireless network is wizard based, including a neat QR code process where you place your phone 8 inches away from the camera which reads the generated QR code, wait for a pleasant chime to signify “success” and wait about 30 seconds while the Wi-Fi network you specified is provisioned and ready to use. While it is ready to use “as is” after this, you can go into settings and fine tune schedules, and you can rename the camera from its default alpha-numeric (useful if you have more than one Arlo camera).

setup

The iPhone app automatically filled in the SSID that my iPhone was connected to, which was a 5GHz 802.11ac band, but since I wanted to test with 2.4GHz, I had to supply the name of that network (no pick list is available, but that won’t be a problem for most people – I just specifically wanted to test on a slower connection to see worst case performance).

There’s a scheduler that allows you full control of arming/disarming the triggered detection recordings and alerts, or you can leave armed/disarmed. Usage will depend on camera location and the kind of traffic you expect and when you expect it.

The video quality is superb. There was hardly any lag on the 2.4GHz connection using Live view. While there’s no PTZ (pan and tilt) the field of view is very very wide and gives more than enough coverage (and this avoids the device being much heavier).

field of view

Unlike the other cameras of this type, Arlo Q also has user configurable “activity zones” that let you customize three locations that will trigger alerts. It was easy to configure these by dragging the zone around visually on my iPhone. This camera supports two-way audio, so if you’re in another room or miles away, you can kick the dog off the sofa. Alerts arrive by e-mail nearly instantly. The email includes a still image from the captured video and a link to view the full captured video event in your library.

email alert

Sample Video Capture (see the high quality!):

 

You can add “friends” to your Arlo account per the user guide “Friends can view live streams from your cameras, record video clips, view, share, mark as favorite, and delete clips from your library, and take snapshots. Friends can be granted limited access to some of the settings and features on your Arlo account. You can select which cameras friends can see (if you have multiple cameras) and what administrative rights are available to them“, so you don’t need to share your credentials will your kids but you can let them access features.

I really like Arlo Q and highly recommend it.

HomeKit and My Connected Home

 

The Internet of Things isn’t arriving fast enough for me, but I’ve managed to jumpstart my Connected Home’s entrance into this brave new world thanks to Apple’s iOS HomeKit.

What I have now using HomeKit is a preview of things to come, and I’m hoping that iOS9 brings some improvements and refinement, as has been rumored by many who more actively follow the iOS ecosystem. And I’m happy to play with what I have today, a somewhat fragile but working system that lets me control HomeKit enabled devices from multiple vendors both from my iPhone 6 and by voice command using Siri over my home network.

Most of the top tier Home Automation and Control vendors like Insteon and Lutron, who already had bridges and addressable devices in the marketplace, are introducing HomeKit enabled bridges or have introduced them. Existing dimmer switches and on/off switches should work with the new bridges, but battery powered devices like motion sensors most likely will not work. There may be support for motion sensors in iOS9, but it’s not known if existing sensors will need to be replaced by a new HomeKit enabled sensor.

HomeKit can control devices, scenes that control multiple devices, rooms, and zones, depending on the iOS app. You need to add/discover a particular vendor’s HomeKit enabled bridge and you’ll need to add devices from a particular vendor using that vendor’s app. Once devices are enabled, you can use any vendor’s app to configure scenes, rooms, and zones, provided that the app supports this.

There are only a few apps in the iTunes Store that work with HomeKit devices. Lutron’s App is sandboxed and only controls Lutron devices. It does recognize Rooms created by other apps. It can create Scenes, but only using Lutron devices as HomeKit devices from other Vendors don’t appear in their app.

 

lutron scenes

 

Insteon’s HomeKit enabled Insteon+ App has full HomeKit integration and no restriction on using other vendor HomeKit devices in scenes. I can include Lutron dimmers in scenes I create in the Insteon+ app.

 

insteon scenes

 

While I don’t have any Elgato devices, I actually like the Elgato Eve app best because it is easier for me to read. The Elgato Eve app also lets me add/edit scenes and rooms.

 

elgato eve

I’ve got Hey Siri enabled on my iPhone 6. And I’ve got a charging cradle in my Bedroom where my iPhone spends the night. Siri integration with HomeKit is not perfect, but it’s pretty cool to tell Siri to run on a light or a scene, as shown in my video.

To control devices over cellular or while away from home, a 3rd generation Apple TV with firmware 7+ is required. I found that I had to move my Apple TV from Ethernet to Wireless for this to work. I also had to sign out and in to iCloud a few times. HomeKit works remotely using iCloud integration. Siri commands over cellular didn’t work, but using the actual Apps on my iPhone worked fine (with a short delay).

All in all, this is great fun for an over the bleeding edge geek.

Get MMS Alerts from Insteon Cameras

 

I’ve got a great set up for Home Automation and Security, thanks to my Insteon devices and software, including the newly released Windows 8 Insteon for Hub App. While I can set up my motion sensors to send email and text/SMS notifications from within both the iOS and Windows 8 apps, currently there is no way to configure alerts from the Insteon Indoor 75790 cameras. These cameras support both video and audio alerts, and I’d love to see  an interface for configuring this, as well as other advanced features, inside the Insteon for Hub apps.

I sat down this morning to figure out how to do this, and it was extremely easy.

Start by logging into the web interface for your camera. You’ll need the IP and the Port you configured (don’t leave these cameras configured on Port 80). In other words, open your web browser and go to the address that looks like http://192.168.0.114:25114 that you set up when you configured your camera. Log in with your configured username and password.

Next, navigate to the Mail Service Settings to configure the sender account and the receiver. You can designate multiple receivers, so you can send text, SMS and MMS or whatever combination suits your needs.

I tested sending with both a Comcast and a Gmail address. Comcast’s SMTP server is smtp.comcast.net and Google’s is smtp.gmail.com. Both require the same settings, use port 587, STARTTLS, and need authentication. Configure your Receiver(s). For MMS, use your 10 digit phone number and your carriers email to SMS gateway address which you can normally find at your carrier’s web site. There is a large list at http://www.tech-faq.com/how-to-send-text-messages-free.html but I don’t know how current/accurate it is. For example, you can’t send images to Verizon phones via MMS using vtext.com. You can, however, do this with vzwpix.com.

set email for mms

When you’ve finished configuring your mail and receiver settings, select Submit, then navigate to Alarm Service Settings

turn motion detection on

Check Motion Detection Alarmed and select Submit. Return to the Mail Service Settings and then select Test to insure your configuration is correct.

Here is a sample of a received MMS alert:

 

 sms received

I’d really like to see the ability to configure these alerts included in the various Insteon Apps, so that everything is part of a single, easily accessible interface.

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