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How-to: the integration of AV equipment with your smart home

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You are building a home theater. Placing the speakers will be fine and you already have a receiver in sight. But have you already thought about the next step: integration with smart home devices?

Ah, time to watch a movie. No problem, one push of a button and the curtains close, the light dims, the project screen rolls down, the projector shoots, the receiver turns on and selects the Movie mode with the Blu-ray player as the source, and the heating / air conditioning goes to a cozy 21 ° C. You just have to pop in the chair and choose the film of the evening. Press play and you are in seventh heaven.

Perhaps this is not the dream of everyone. But if you would like to automate more things in your living room slash home cinema, that is often possible. In this article we will investigate what is possible in terms of av and its integration with your smarthome.

The added value of automation

Many scenarios that have to do with av and automation mean that you do something – such as giving a voice command or pressing a button. For many, pressing one button on a remote device after which all the units are put into readiness is sufficient. But automation is often just more impressive and more convenient when it functions autonomously. What do we mean by that? Suppose you have a dedicated home theater in your house and you have the habit of holding a movie night every Friday. Why not set up a routine so that the room is brought to the right temperature and everything is being prepared so that you can immediately start looking at 20h? Or activate everything with presence sensors (such as a motion detector) as soon as you step through the door of your own film nirvana.

The message is actually that integration makes more possible than you think. It is just sometimes more about automation than operation. Because everything is fragmented, you may not immediately see all the potential. But maybe after some research you will be surprised about what you can already do. Maybe you already have more in-house that you can integrate with each other than you think!

In an integration story somewhere a hub belongs. A hub has two functions: control (via software to control devices, run routines, activate scenes) and connect (the connection with all devices, which can be done in a variety of ways, including wireless protocols such as Z-Wave and Zigbee). A hub can be a specialized box (such as the Devolo Central or Samsung SmartThings Hub), but can use a computer or NUC with software as openHAB. If you only have devices that work via WiFi, then that hub can even be an app or a web service (such as Alexa).

Your TV as a smart hub

Before really poking on integration in the context of a real home cinema It is also worth looking at what can be done at a basic level. Maybe you just like it that you can switch on the TV and bring the lights in the living room to the right level and color. That is also a smarthome: increasing the level of comfort by automating on a smaller scale, for example with Philips Hue for your lighting. That is the opposite of a grand project where an installer automates your entire home with Creston, KNX or one of the other major home automation platforms.

Smarthome and av are growing closer together. It is striking that both LG and Samsung in their televisions model year 2018 on automation. All Samsung TVs, for example, will receive the SmartThings function this year, which in theory makes the TV set a hub for controlling all kinds of smart home devices. This is not a new site for the Koreans. Samsung took over SmartThings a few years ago and has released a smarthome hub in a number of countries. Not in the Benelux unfortunately, though you can order it for example in Germany or the V.K. The fact that a TV becomes a smart home hub is quite interesting, especially because SmartThings is a very mature platform with a lively community and can talk with a lot of smart home devices. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the hub function on Samsung TVs is really the same as on the official Hub, which besides WiFi also has Bluetooth, Z-Wave and Zigbee on board. At first demos that our editors got, only smart Samsung devices could be linked to the new TV models. There may be a change here if the 2018 aircraft reach the market and the software is further developed. However, there is a chance that manufacturers will see the TV as a place for a smarthome dashboard rather than the device that would double as a hub. So that TV is not better or different than an app on your phone that you use to operate a smarthome hub.

A TV brand that is very far in terms of integration is Bang & Olufsen. They sell the Beolink Gateway so that BeoLink devices (almost all B & O TVs and audio devices) can be linked to smarthome devices and platforms from third parties. This makes it possible to activate scenes with BeoRemote, where, for example, lighting is adjusted and shutters are closed. On the BeoVision televisions themselves, smartphones can also be set up and operated via the TV menu.

Operation by voice

Integration means that you can connect all kinds of devices. That is not entirely what voice assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant offer, although you can already achieve a high degree of integration through these services. For example, Alexa has a Smart Home hatch under which you can group devices and create scenes. That gives you quite a lot of possibilities to automate things in your living room or home theater. Alexa is currently the most promising because Amazon offers the most ‘skills’ or integrations with devices. Unfortunately, for the time being you have to speak English, German or French to Alexa. If you can overcome that threshold, you can include AV receivers (from Denon, Marantz and Yamaha), TVs (Samsung and Sony), multiroom speakers (Bose, Samsung, Sonos and others), lighting (Philips Hue, Osram Lightify and Sengled).

Google Assistant will soon speak Dutch. For the time being, the Google service does not yet offer many bridges to third-party devices, but Google Assistant is being integrated into more and more AV devices. That it is present in televisions running Android TV may not surprise. But also LG is going to provide the Google Assistant with its new devices. While Google Assistant is in a lot of portable speakers and headphones, that is less relevant for home use. What is useful is the presence of Google Assistant in Android Wear. This way your spoken orders can be picked up and forwarded by your smartwatch. That seems more natural than looking for and talking to your smartphone.

With Alexa and Google Assistant you can not escape the need for a way to send your vote to the cloud. Some devices therefore have a microphone built-in. But if that is missing from your devices, an Echo Dot from Amazon is an affordable option. It is a device the size of a puck that you can place somewhere in the room and that thanks to a microphone array even at a larger distance you will understand. The Home Mini is something similar from Google. Officially, both products are not in our store, but you can order them easily online in the near future.

IFTTT

Should Alexa or Google Assistant is not able to connect all your devices, then you still have the option of IFTTT. This web service plays the role of bridge between devices that otherwise can not talk to each other. For example, in our home we were able to link Alexa with our smart thermostat from Vaillant, although the latter is not equipped with voice control. However, Alexa and the thermostat link with IFTTT. It was a job of less than a minute to link a voice command to the heating via a wizard on the IFTTT site. IFTTT can therefore be a lifesaver, even though the service is far from perfect. It does not always respond very quickly, which is less fun in a home cinema. If you want to dim lights, you do not want to wait a few minutes. You also can not link multiple actions with one trigger or command. Dimming lights, turning on TV and starting the Blu-ray player can not be done with one word.

IFTTT is especially good to make a connection with smarthome devices, because the support for AV equipment is modest . The big exception is AnyMote, a very versatile remote app for iOS and Android. This app can control a lot of AV devices via infrared, IP and WiFi. Until recently you could also use a separate IR blaster that connected via Bluetooth to your mobile device, but recently AnyMote announced that it would stop. However, the app and IR commands remain available. Via IFTTT you can use a voice command via Alexa or a press Logitech Pop to switch on an AV device or send a command (such as “increase volume” or “go to the home screen”). If it is on the remote control of your device, you can also use AnyMote. Condition is that the IR blaster is in view of your AV device.

Via IP or RS232

] Some AV devices offer another way to remotely control and integrate them: IP Control. It is an option that you find with better AV receivers and certain HiFi devices (such as the Hegel Röst) and sometimes with TV screens. Among others, Samsung and Sony offer it. IP Control simply means that commands are sent over the network. You can often do that on your computer, via Telnet on Windows or Terminal on your Mac. Nice to experiment, but it mainly opens the door to automation via smarthome hubs that allow scripts. There are also a lot of apps that allow you to set up an IP Control remote via your smartphone. iRule is quite familiar, but there are still.

The advantage of IP Control is that it works with existing network cables. RS-232 is an older but still common system with its own trapezoidal plug and cables. With a lot of AV devices, it is still the only option if you want to operate remotely. To integrate with smart home devices, at least an interface will then be required. Such a box translates IP commands into RS-232 signals

It is so rudimentary that many people forget it, but many receivers also have a 12V trigger function. You can not really do complex things here, but you can use this to, for example, roll out a projector screen or turn on a projector.

Conclusion

If you really dunk, it turns out many possibilities to exist in the field of av and smarthome integration. A realistic plan does mean that you do the necessary research. There is not one solution that does everything. Those who do not want to dive into dedicated software such as openHAB or a platform like SmartThings can look for help from an AI assistant and / or IFTTT. The chances are that you will eventually have to use several things to get everything automated. That is more difficult to build, but when it all works, that does not have to be noticed.

More about the possibilities of a smart home read on SmarthomeMagazine.net

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