Idiot & Cheapskate’s Guide to Automating Your House (DIY SmartHome Hubs Controlled via Phone)

When I was a kid, I had this vision for my home that included automated everything — from lighting to blinds. Until last night, it was theoretical. Now I can turn off lamps from various rooms… from an Android or iPhone, even when I’m not in the house. It’s a start. And this morning when I got to work, I had the joy of toggling the lights from my phone to freak out WifeofNalts.

Let me warn you that we’re in an odd point of home-automation maturity. We’re moving beyond the era where it was reserved for the wealthy or techno elite. But it’s definitely not ready for prime time, and requires more patience and experimentation than I’d like… but such is the cost of being an early adopter, right?

My entry into “Smart Home Land” set me back only about $125: just $50 for a Wink hub (less if you buy it with add-ons) and about $75 for a bunch of GE Link lightbulbs (get the six pack). And I’ve got a plan for growing into additional functionality like remote monitors, appliance device on/off, security/alarms and broader control of lighting without doing the nightly sweep of 50 light switches. I can’t yet spring for the Nest, which is the connected thermostat that is the best-selling in its class. Honeywell and Lux fell asleep at the wheel.

Let me cut to wide shot and tell you about your options to entering “Smart Home Land.” Home automation was once reserved to the elite and wealthy, and required a special contractor and installation. Now you can pick up a hub and some $50-$150 add-ons and do-it-yourself quickly. I’m not going to get into the really nerdy hacks, but there are plenty of forums that can teach you to customize these beyond what the manufacturers specify or even offer.

There are too many options and a shake-down is looming. There’s Belkin Wemo, Phillips Hue, Quirky Wink, GE Link, Staples Connect, Harmony, Insteon, Lutron, Revolv, Smart Things. Overwhelmed yet? Here’s a review of some of them if you want to get into the weeds.

Let’s cut to your basic entry options, and then I’ll tell you why I started with the cheap, flawed but Swiss Army Knife option called Wink… note that I’m favoring options that don’t require ugly remotes or special displays. We’ll use our iPhones and Androids, thank you very much.

Which smart-home system offers the best flexibility at the best price?
Which smart-home system offers the best flexibility at the best price?
  1. Belkin has a Wemo switch that is a best-seller on Amazon and an easy place to dabble since it’s only $40. It uses your wifi and allows you to control any appliance via your Android/iPhone (just plug appliance into the Wemo, and the Wemo into your outlet. You can add on lots of additional options via Amazon or Home Depot. And if you’re all about lighting, you can get a Belkin Wemo starter kit for $85 that comes with a little hub and two lights… nice dorm room gift for that college techno kid. But I don’t see Wemo as a serious player.
  2. Then there are the lighting-specific solutions: Phillips answer to lighting customization: the Phillips Hue, which comes with a ton of different lighting options. The starter kit will set you back $188 and the individual lights get pretty expensive. Phillips Hue is generally cost-prohibitive except for those elite wealthy who might as well higher a contractor. But Home Depot has a decent spread of expensive lights so I imagine Phillips will be a formidable player. For those without excessive cash, the GE Links are better (you can also get these at Home Depot).
  3. There are a few other hubs that I didn’t look at closely. A cool-looking Revolv smart-home automation system (now part of Nest, the Google thermostat). Haven’t seen Revolv as a player yet. There’s Staples Connect (with Linksys), which is decent player and one that will likely survive the consolidation because Linksys and Staples are serious individual players. And the Smart Things Starter kit, which seems fairly comprehensive and has the best Amazon ratings… but is $300.
  4. And there are loads of home security devices, but I’m not writing about those.
  5. And the winner/wiener is… Wink hub despite some seriously negative reviews (including my own). Setup is torture (40 minutes of trial/error), but adding GE Link bulbs was as easy as screwing in bulbs and naming them. I can’t speak yet to the pain/joy of adding things beyond GE Link bulbs, but that alone made it worth the trivial entry cost of $50.

 

wink compatible products
Wink’s interface allows you to connect with a bunch of devices from other manufacturers

Wink is the buggy but poor-man’s Switzerland of all these home automation standards and devices. It has built-in support for Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Lutron ClearConnect, and Kidde. It also handles Phillips Hue (with some limitations) and works like a breeze with GE Link bulbs. I also like that Wink is a product of Quirky/GE, which gives inventors a chance to manufacturer ideas.

Once you have a hub and suffer through setup, you can add all kinds of things: alarms (Kidde/Nest), blinds (Bali/Lutron/ZWave), cameras (Dropcam), weird things from Quirky, garage doors (Chamberlain and Quirky/GE), heating and cooling (Honeywell, Nest, Zwave, Quirky/GE), lawn/patio, kitchen, door and window locks, and general appliances via a power plug that accommodates two different plugs that can be controlled separately (the other two are just plain extension plugs). Warning- that power plug got absolutely hosed on Amazon comments and it’s clearly flawed.

We’re still a few years before this stuff becomes more mainstream, but it’s nice that it’s become somewhat affordable and I like that you can experiment with different components to see what’s worthwhile.

Have you tried any of these? Would love your experience and “watch outs.”

You Tube – Clean Up or Censorship?

hot off the press…

A YouTube for All of Us
As a community, we have come to count on each other to be entertained, challenged, and moved by what we watch and share on YouTube. We’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to make the collective YouTube experience even better, particularly on our most visited pages. Our goal is to help ensure that you’re viewing content that’s relevant to you, and not inadvertently coming across content that isn’t. Here are a few things we came up with:

* Stricter standard for mature content – While videos featuring pornographic images or sex acts are always removed from the site when they’re flagged, we’re tightening the standard for what is considered “sexually suggestive.” Videos with sexually suggestive (but not prohibited) content will be age-restricted, which means they’ll be available only to viewers who are 18 or older. To learn more about what constitutes “sexually suggestive” content, click here.

* Demotion of sexually suggestive content and profanity – Videos that are considered sexually suggestive, or that contain profanity, will be algorithmically demoted on our ‘Most Viewed,’ ‘Top Favorited,’ and other browse pages. The classification of these types of videos is based on a number of factors, including video content and descriptions. In testing, we’ve found that out of the thousands of videos on these pages, only several each day are automatically demoted for being too graphic or explicit. However, those videos are often the ones which end up being repeatedly flagged by the community as being inappropriate.

* Improved thumbnails – To make sure your thumbnail represents your video, your choices will now be selected algorithmically. You’ll still have three thumbnails to choose from, but they will no longer be auto-generated from the 25/50/75 points in the video index.

* More accurate video information – Our Community Guidelines have always prohibited folks from attempting to game view counts by entering misleading information in video descriptions, tags, titles, and other metadata. We remain serious about enforcing these rules. Remember, violations of these guidelines could result in removal of your video and repeated violations will lead to termination of your account.

The preservation and improvement of the YouTube experience is a responsibility we share. Let’s work together to ensure that the YouTube community continues to thrive as a positive place for all of us.

The YouTube Team

Brief Editorial:
by Zack Scott

1. Why should videos be demoted on profanity alone? Why not just hide them for people not logged in and are 18 or older?

2. Some of YouTube‘s most popular stars…Bo Burnham, Charles Trippy, sXePhil, Chris Crocker, Mark Day, etc…(name as many as you want) all have used profanity.

3. The new thumbnail idea sucks. Now what if none of the thumbnails are good?

4. YouTube sometimes features videos with profanity.

—————–

OK, now I finally understand YouTube’s “Stricter standard for mature content”

“Videos that are considered sexually suggestive, or that contain profanity, will be algorithmically demoted on our ‘Most Viewed,’ ‘Top Favorited,’ and other browse pages.”

They must not like sXePhil.

One Small Step for Video Ad Standards. One Giant Leap for Creators and Brands.

One of the factors that has limited the growth of online-video advertising is the production and traffic work. Mike Shields of Mediaweek reports that the Interactive Advertising Bureau this week introduced a set of guidelines to standartize online-video advertising and make the medium “easier for advertisers to buy.”

The new guidelines cover three basic forms of online video ad formats: linear ads — interruptive video spots which are typically of the pre-roll variety, non-linear ads — which include the increasingly popular ‘overlay’ ad units, and companion ads — bannerlike ads that appear alongside video as it plays on the Web.

The guidelines, writes Shields, are the product of work conducted by the IAB’s Digital Video Committee, which is composed of 145 leading media companies, including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. “This is a historic day,” IAB president and CEO Randall Rothenberg said, likening the announcement to a similar set of landmark guidelines put in place for banner advertising in the late 1990s. IAB senior vp David Doty said he thinks leadership and marketing, predicted “seismic shifts” would occur in the online ad business as a result of their adoption.

So while the viewer in me isn’t too excited to see the new “interruptive video spots,” the creator and marketer in me looks forward to the possibility that this may unlock some of the potential of this medium.

In related news, tech writer Leah Messinger writes about other sites beyond YouTube that offer advertising models brands can consider.