Crestron Imposes $500 ‘Lutron Tax’ on Integration
In the interest of 'user experience,' if Crestron dealers want to integrate with Lutron or Vantage lighting controls, they must pay $500 for a license.
Crestron, a $1.5 billion leader in building controls and home automation, makes its own lighting control systems. The company wants dealers to integrate with Crestron’s own products rather than third-party solutions, of which Lutron is the most popular.
Social media is lighting up: “This is a wonderful example of the ridiculousness of our industry,” says one dealer. “Arguably the largest integration/control manufacturer is charging their users to integrate with a product they don't make!”
Another says, “telling everyone to call their reps and raise heck... the kick in the [expletive] is that no one was warned.”
Indeed, Crestron announced the fee on March 1, the same day it went into effect. Projects with Crestron Series 3 controllers now require a “Third Party Lighting Activation Key” and $500 to unlock integration with Lutron and Vantage.
It Really Does Make Sense
If you sit down and speak with Crestron VP of residential John Clancy like I did, the move sounds perfectly sensible. It’s just that Crestron didn’t sit down with its dealers and explain it so very good.
Crestron spends a ton of money on technical support. The company employs about 200 members of an “Advanced Technology Services Group” that goes into the field to support end users when dealers themselves can’t get the job done.
“We don’t charge for this,” Clancy says. “It is inherently built into what we do.”
As we all know, when an end-user announces, “My home automation system is broken,” there’s a high likelihood that the problem doesn’t lie with the home automation system itself, but with some other element of the ecosystem.
Given that Crestron itself must go into the field to help clients with “broken” systems, it’s a whole lot easier if the ecosystem is built with Crestron parts.
A “significant number” of service calls “have to do with things beyond our control,” Clancy notes. “Many times, we have competing products where there wouldn’t have been an issue.”
Lighting control is particularly troublesome, Clancy notes, because Crestron does not have deep relationships with its fierce competitors in the category. In other categories like audio and video, Crestron does have the relationships that help the company more easily resolve integration challenges.
At the end of the day, the Lutron tax (“Please don’t call it that!”) is all about the user experience, Clancy explains. A Crestron job doesn’t end when a system goes in. “It’s about the services and expectations that go on after the installation.”
The $500 fee would barely be a blip on a full-blown Crestron job. It should sting dealers just enough to remind them “there is another solution that provides a better user experience,” Clancy says.
Lutron (Vantage, too) has been making lighting control systems far longer than Crestron has, so it’s still the go-to brand for many Crestron dealers. Crestron wants to break those habits.
As one dealer notes on social media, “We only spec crestron. … I see no issue here just making some of the fake crestron dealers leave. Hopefully this clears up some of the BS calls into tech support.”
Below is the Crestron announcement. Clancy tells CE Pro that the activation should take just a few minutes, not necessarily the 24 hours noted in the Crestron memo.
Also, Crestron says it won't be charging for pre-existing systems or systems that have already been specified. Crestron wants dealers to know that there is some leeway here.
Third-Party Lighting System Activation Key
In order to provide a best in class end user experience and continue to provide the level of customer support our customers have come to expect, all Crestron 3-Series Control Systems purchased on or after March 1st, 2017 will require a Lighting System Activation Key in order to communicate with certain third-party lighting systems over IP. This communication provides instructions for purchasing the key, and attempts to answer any questions regarding it.
How do you purchase a third-party activation key?
To purchase a Third-party Activation Key visit the following website:
Please be prepared to provide the following:
- The Hostname, System Key, and Serial Number of the 3-Series Control System to be activated. Instructions for obtaining these are included on the web page.
- Purchase Order number. POs should include part numbers listed below and can be sent directly to[email protected].
During normal business hours (Monday through Friday 9AM – 5:30PM Eastern Time), you should receive your Activation Key via email within an hour of submitting your request online. This email will include instructions for how to activate your 3-Series Control System®. These instructions are also included below.
After hours and on weekends the response will be delayed, but typically you should receive the Key within 24 hours. If you have an urgent need, please contact Customer Support.
How do you deploy the Activation Key to a 3-Series Control System?
Once you have received an Activation Key from Crestron, follow these steps to activate your 3-Series Control Processor:
- Open the System Information tool in Crestron Toolbox and connect to the Control System to be activated
- Select Functions > License Management from the menu bar
- Click "Add" License tab
- Paste the activation key above into the License Key field, and click "Apply"
What happens if I try to connect to a third-party lighting system without an Activation Key?
If a control system attempts to connect via IP to a third-party lighting system and no activation key is present, the connection will fail and a message will be added to the processor’s error log. This message will point you to the key request website listed above.
In addition, in the latest version of Crestron Toolbox you can use the "Diagnose" button in the System Info
tool to indicate whether or not your control system is in need of an Activation Key.
Are older 3-Series Control Systems affected when firmware is updated?
No. Any 3-Series Control Systems shipped prior to March 1st, 2017 does not require the Activation Key, even if it is uploaded to newer firmware.
What if I need to replace an activated 3-Series Control System?
If you have replace an activated 3-Series Control System for any reason, there are two options:
If you can still communicate with the “activated” control system
If you are able to communicate with the activated control system, you can use Crestron Toolbox to transfer the Key to the new control system. To do this, follow these steps:
- Open Crestron Toolbox and connect to the activated control system
- Select Functions > License Management from the menu bar
- Click “Transfer” tab and follow the instructions
NOTE: You will need the System Key of the new control system in order to complete the transfer. Thus, you will need Toolbox access to both the activated and new control systems on hand in order to perform the transfer.
If you cannot communicate with the “activated” control system
If the activated control system is either non-responsive or is no longer in your possession, you can request a new Activation Key by contacting customer support. Please be prepared to supply the serial number of the activated control system.
What if I need to replace an older 3-Series Control System?
3-Series Control Systems sold prior to March 1st, 2017 did not require an Activation Key. However, if you need to replace an older unit for some reason, the replacement model may require an Activation Key.
In this case, you should contact customer support and request a Key. Please be prepared to provide the serial number of the older control system.
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]
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