Control & Automation

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 Imposes $500 ‘Lutron Tax’ on Integration
Crestron wants you to purchase an activation key to integrate with Lutron and Vantage lighting control, given that the company spends tons of money to support third-party integration.

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In what many dealers are calling a “Lutron tax,” Crestron is charging $500 for jobs that include Lutron or Vantage lighting controls.

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!”

Update: Why Crestron’s New Fee for Lutron and Vantage Integration Makes Sense

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.

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:

Third-Party Lighting System Activation: Key Request 

Please be prepared to provide the following:

SKU

PRICE

SW-3RDPARTY-INTEGRATION-1101

$500

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.



  About the Author

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]

Follow Julie on social media:
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Julie also participates in these groups:
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View Julie Jacobson's complete profile.



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Comments

Posted by Niko on March 7, 2017

This is dumb. Crestron is an AV company and not a lighting automation company. They like to THINK they can do lighting but Vantage and Lutron do this right and much better.  It’s why electricians who don’t do AV easily do Lutron and Vantage lighting systems and are mostly responsible for the support to the customer. Those are standalone systems and whether the AV guy uses Crestron, Control 4, Savant, ELAN, or whatever, the lighting will work no matter what.  All they do is hand the keys over to the AV guy and given them access to do whatever “cool” remote or touch screen thing they want to do. 

Lutron and Vantage both also provide excellent support. I doubt Crestron has ever had to deal with a blown RPM or dimming module or figure out why a particular LED bulb flickers with Lutron and Vantage systems.  I mean that usually doesn’t happen because they do lighting well.

Ultimately, Crestron is going to lose. Consumer products are taking over their gig. A consumer can get an Amazon Echo, Lutron Caseta system, and Sonos and do 90% of what Crestron does for $5000.  Even rich people are starting to see that and question why they have to spend $50,000 on a system that just integrates and doesn’t offer much in itself.  Lutron and Vantage will be around because consumer dimming products just don’t cut it…yet.

Posted by kipoca on March 6, 2017

capi, don’t bet on Crestron not adding a Mitsubishi tax for HVAC control. Look at the example of Crestron service they provided to show how Crestron is called in to solve problems not caused by Crestron: an HVAC issue.

Posted by capi on March 6, 2017

I do understand lost revenue due to elements out Crestrons control. We as integrators deal with it all of the time. A good example of this is ISP and TSP, electrical contractors and so on. With that said, I find it interesting that there is just a fee for integrating with lighting control systems and not other products that Crestron dealers integrate with, not purchased through Crestron such as security, TVs, climate etc.

Posted by Resitek on March 4, 2017

Besides both Lutron and Vantage being much better lighting control systems, with install times much less then Crestron, pretty soon all automation will be done through communication between product IoT hubs and the big iron systems will no longer be needed.  As a post note, everyone is right, Lutron has the best tech support of anyone in the industry.

Posted by Steve Cooper on March 3, 2017

This is bad business.

Crestron just raised their prices by $500. Simple as that. An integrator that insists on specifying Crestron will modify their standard work to automatically add the money to the quote and the activation key to the Bill of Materials. Even for clients that don’t want or need Lutron now. You will have that one, two or dozen that want Lutron six months or a year from now. Save yourself from having to explain the Crestron Lutron tax. It defies any other explanation than, “we want a walled garden” or “we just thought up a way to add some more nickles to the kitty.” Something your clients should never be expected to understand. We don’t understand it, do we?

Posted by Eyal Kattan on March 3, 2017

This is beyond ridicilous. It’s like Intel would charge you extra for installing their CPUs on a third party motherboard because they already make motherboards too. Oh, and they work very hard to ensure much more complex integration than Crestron or any other manufacturer in this industry.

I feel really bad for integrators who need to put up with this BS and for their clients who will end up paying for it.

Posted by Adroit1 on March 3, 2017

Lutron has about the best technical support team in the entire industry. They also make their systems so you can operate them without any external controller, thereby making it possible to easily isolate and troubleshoot any Lutron problems directly. This is precisely a tax for using a competitor’s product. If there is any issue between the Lutron lighting and the Crestron controller, it is simple for the integrator to determine where the problem lies. The only reason to contact Crestron would be if the issue is a controller issue, so the argument about tech support just doesn’t hold water.

Posted by ddetton on March 3, 2017

I have implemented many Vantage, Lutron and Crestron lighting projects controlled by Crestron control systems.  When I have a problem with a Vantage or Lutron integration, I either figure it out or call Vantage or Lutron for assistance.  If I have a problem integrating a Crestron lighting project, I either figure it out or call Crestron.  If you want to charge people for support controlling third party products, then charge them for support when they call in Don’t charge dealers to integrate third party products if they are not calling you for support.  For the record, I have had more issues integrating Crestron D3 lighting than the other two combined.

I would like to charge Crestron for the many, many hours I have spent on the phone with their tech support helping them troubleshoot problems with Crestron products but we all know that this is just a cost of doing business.

And how about when dealers who have purchased the activation license to control third party lighting and then the Crestron software incorrectly blocks the control due to some IP network anomaly?  Integrator’s time wasted along with Crestron time wasted.

If Crestron sticks with this “Third Party IP Lighting Control Tax”, this integrator is going to be doing more third party lighting control using RS232 and less Crestron lighting control over IP.  I know a few other dealers that feel the same way.

Posted by avnowtw on March 3, 2017

Another reason to not purchase an over priced controller.  You don’t see anyone else charging extra if you use Crestron lighting “that’s because you never would”.  As far as they’re needing the fees because of their robust support is total BS, everyone supports third-party products and has to it’s part of the game. this is just their way of bullying dealers into using their own lighting control.  I seriously doubt there spending hours and hours supporting A good Lutron or vantage lighting control design. Shame on them! What about Lighting manufacturers working hours in supporting Crestron product you tell me that doesn’t happen?

Posted by kipoca on March 3, 2017

The reason Lutron and Vantage are still the leaders, even with Crestron dealers, is that Crestron lighting products don’t offer the same level of control features. It’s a sacrifice to use Crestron lighting in a residential situation.

View all comments.

Posted by TotalControlRemotes on March 3, 2017

Pretty clear to me that this is more or less aimed to preempt dealers from purchasing Lutron systems than it is about paying for support.  Lutron is simply the best out there - and ironically the least problematic.  Can’t imagine why anyone would call their control system dealer if they were having a problem with Lutron .  Anytime we have ever had an issue Lutron offered incredible support and ultimately fixed it.

Posted by kipoca on March 3, 2017

Why not charge a fee for support for 3rd party products? Us integrators that don’t need the help are doing just fine, thanks.

Posted by kipoca on March 3, 2017

The problem is Crestron is an automation company at its core who started and sustained as a company who can integrate multiple features from practically any company into one interface. To now suggest you should be using Crestron’s products they later developed to compete with those other companies is a huge demarcation from that core.

Posted by kipoca on March 3, 2017

The reason Lutron and Vantage are still the leaders, even with Crestron dealers, is that Crestron lighting products don’t offer the same level of control features. It’s a sacrifice to use Crestron lighting in a residential situation.

Posted by avnowtw on March 3, 2017

Another reason to not purchase an over priced controller.  You don’t see anyone else charging extra if you use Crestron lighting “that’s because you never would”.  As far as they’re needing the fees because of their robust support is total BS, everyone supports third-party products and has to it’s part of the game. this is just their way of bullying dealers into using their own lighting control.  I seriously doubt there spending hours and hours supporting A good Lutron or vantage lighting control design. Shame on them! What about Lighting manufacturers working hours in supporting Crestron product you tell me that doesn’t happen?

Posted by ddetton on March 3, 2017

I have implemented many Vantage, Lutron and Crestron lighting projects controlled by Crestron control systems.  When I have a problem with a Vantage or Lutron integration, I either figure it out or call Vantage or Lutron for assistance.  If I have a problem integrating a Crestron lighting project, I either figure it out or call Crestron.  If you want to charge people for support controlling third party products, then charge them for support when they call in Don’t charge dealers to integrate third party products if they are not calling you for support.  For the record, I have had more issues integrating Crestron D3 lighting than the other two combined.

I would like to charge Crestron for the many, many hours I have spent on the phone with their tech support helping them troubleshoot problems with Crestron products but we all know that this is just a cost of doing business.

And how about when dealers who have purchased the activation license to control third party lighting and then the Crestron software incorrectly blocks the control due to some IP network anomaly?  Integrator’s time wasted along with Crestron time wasted.

If Crestron sticks with this “Third Party IP Lighting Control Tax”, this integrator is going to be doing more third party lighting control using RS232 and less Crestron lighting control over IP.  I know a few other dealers that feel the same way.

Posted by Adroit1 on March 3, 2017

Lutron has about the best technical support team in the entire industry. They also make their systems so you can operate them without any external controller, thereby making it possible to easily isolate and troubleshoot any Lutron problems directly. This is precisely a tax for using a competitor’s product. If there is any issue between the Lutron lighting and the Crestron controller, it is simple for the integrator to determine where the problem lies. The only reason to contact Crestron would be if the issue is a controller issue, so the argument about tech support just doesn’t hold water.

Posted by Eyal Kattan on March 3, 2017

This is beyond ridicilous. It’s like Intel would charge you extra for installing their CPUs on a third party motherboard because they already make motherboards too. Oh, and they work very hard to ensure much more complex integration than Crestron or any other manufacturer in this industry.

I feel really bad for integrators who need to put up with this BS and for their clients who will end up paying for it.

Posted by Steve Cooper on March 3, 2017

This is bad business.

Crestron just raised their prices by $500. Simple as that. An integrator that insists on specifying Crestron will modify their standard work to automatically add the money to the quote and the activation key to the Bill of Materials. Even for clients that don’t want or need Lutron now. You will have that one, two or dozen that want Lutron six months or a year from now. Save yourself from having to explain the Crestron Lutron tax. It defies any other explanation than, “we want a walled garden” or “we just thought up a way to add some more nickles to the kitty.” Something your clients should never be expected to understand. We don’t understand it, do we?

Posted by Resitek on March 4, 2017

Besides both Lutron and Vantage being much better lighting control systems, with install times much less then Crestron, pretty soon all automation will be done through communication between product IoT hubs and the big iron systems will no longer be needed.  As a post note, everyone is right, Lutron has the best tech support of anyone in the industry.

View all comments.