Home automation isn’t anything new, this reviewer has had remote controlled dimmer switches and curtains that close automatically when a movie starts playing for many years now.

But this reviewer is a geek who cobbled together disparate solutions and built a bodge that would have ended weaker marriages than his. Which is the problem with home automation, you either need to be a technical wizard (using X10 technology) or very rich indeed (buying into the AMX or Crestron dream) to get a fully integrated system that does everything from control the lighting, heating and security to automate your home entertainment systems. Until now, thanks to Control4.

OK, let’s get this straight: professionally installed home automation still isn’t cheap, it’s just cheaper than before. But this Home Theatre Controller truly is a revolutionary product in that it does bring the cost of starting such a system into the reach of a much broader audience. And they haven’t skimped on the clever stuff either, this is an intelligent controller make no mistake.

Features include built-in Ethernet networking so that it can talk to other components within the automation network – such as rather snazzy colour touch screen control keypads, light dimmers, curtain closers and so on. Because the system is built to be modular, you can incrementally upgrade it rather than have to go the whole hog at once. Which is just as well considering one of those touch screen control panels will cost you £700, and that’s for a small one and doesn’t include the cost of installation.

What you get for your money is that rare combination of power and usability. Want to listen to a track from your iPod, simply select the album cover art from the colour touch screen control panel, want different music playing in each room, no problem, want the same music playing at different volumes in different rooms, again no problem. The same simplicity applies to watching movies, the remote control handset isn’t just another universal remote, this one features a proper two way Radio Frequency system so there’s none of that "line of sight" operation you have with infrared kit.

We visited the UK HQ of Control4, just outside of York, for a full hands-on demonstration of the system as quite understandably they weren’t keen on installing the full kit in the reviewers house free of charge. We were, none the less, very impressed by the system. Everything just works, and works oh so sweetly. Not quite a millionaire lifestyle on a consumer budget, as one reviewer rather optimistically claimed. More a case of the perfect house for a lazy person with the price of a small car to spare, without having to buy a new house or a butler.

Verdict

On its own the Home Theatre Controller is an expensive way to stream audio visual content around the house. But at the heart of a professionally installed intelligent automation system, it’s astonishingly good value.

Sections TV