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Control4 ‘Composer Express’ Slashes Install Time, Reduces Home Automation Costs

Control4 is already the company for affordable home automation, but a new mobile programming platform called Composer Express makes it even cheaper and easier to sell.


Control4 Composer Express debuts at CEDIA Expo 2014
Julie Jacobson · September 10, 2014

When you think about custom-installed home automation systems for the mid-market, Control4 (Nasdaq: CTRL) probably comes to mind. By industry standards, the hardware is inexpensive and the configuration is fairly straightforward so integrators need not employ an army of high-priced programmers.

At CEDIA Expo 2014 in Denver this week, the company is announcing a new platform, called Composer Express, that makes its solution simpler than ever.

Express allows junior technicians to set up an entire Control4 system on the job site, and then leave it to the experienced programmers back at the office to customize the project.

“As we’ve talked to dealers, the thing that is consistently limiting growth potential is programmers,” says Paul Williams, VP support and training. “It’s fairly easy to find good installer, but finding the programming ninjas can be difficult.”

What makes Composer Express so simple is that all of the start-up processes are handled through a single mobile user interface. A technician can walk through the project with an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet and integrate all the devices within a few hours.

Watch this video from CEDIA Expo 2014 to see Composer Express in action

From the mobile device, installers register customer accounts, discover Control4 controllers, enter non-Control4 devices, enable ZigBee mesh networking, pair wireless devices, create A/V bindings (what’s connected to what and how) and perform all of the other preliminary tasks which, in theory, should not require a skilled programmer.

Got Control4 ZigBee devices? Composer Express recognizes the devices as soon as you tap them. No more guessing. That comes in handy, for example, when you don’t quite know what kind of dimmer is buried in a wallbox.

“We don’t need to remember,” says Williams. “Just tap four times to identify the switch and it shows up as a forward phase dimmer.”

The installer names devices on the fly – by voice if they want to.

RELATED: CEDIA Home Automation Vendors Go Down-Market as DIY Thrives

In the original Composer Pro software, integrators had to open up multiple applications within the program for each little task. For example, dealers would have to find and select a third-party device from one library, drag the driver into another program, and use yet another app to enroll the device into the system.

Even with SDDP devices with auto-discovery, the installer still needs to drag the discovered devices into a different process.

With Express, all of these processes are automated. Simply find the component in the driver library and click.

Not that Composer Pro is crazy complicated in the first place, says Williams: “We believe Pro is much simpler than anyone else’s software but it still requires a level of expertise.”

As such, it requires a substantial investment by dealers, who must send techs to Control4 training in Salt Lake City for four days.

Composer Pro & Programmers Still Required

Composer Express does not replace Composer Pro. It is a subset of Pro, which is still required.

Express lets dealers get the on-site process started for a Pro handoff. Control4 has seen dealers shave 70% of time off that start-up process.

On the downside, none of the system settings can be configured in the field (scenes, schedules, etc.), so the installer can’t leave the homeowner with a working system right away. Control4, however, is quick to point out that Express is an evolving platform.

Importantly, Composer Express does not require special hardware. It’s just a new programming environment that can be used and should be used with all Control4 products—lighting controls, thermostats, audio, video, hardwired, wireless, everything.

There is no reason not to use Express on the job site for all Control4 jobs, big and small.

Rethinking the Integration Business Model

The beauty of Composer Express is that it allows an integration company to create new tiers of technicians.

Greener techs can do the heavy lifting and Express configurations on the job, while higher-skilled programmers can stay hidden in their dimly lit rooms and program all day in their Star Trek t-shirts without lifting an A/V component or wasting precious time (money) in traffic.

Williams notes that Express also saves time on “simple maintenance.”

For example, in the old scenario of swapping out a TV, a programmer would actually have to perform the manual labor himself, just so he could be onsite to add the new TV to the program.

Now, a burly installer can do that, while the programmer sits back and makes a few software tweaks from the office.

And Another Thing: Consumer Programming

Does Composer Express allow consumers to do their own basic programming, like setting scenes and creating favorites? No. Control4 already has that feature set. Consumers themselves have been changing their home automation settings for a few years.

What the customer cannot do – still – is install and enroll their own devices. Leave it to the pros for that.

Paul Williams demos Composer Express

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If you’re like Paul Williams and can’t spell “chandelier,” just speak it into Composer Express.
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JULIE JACOBSON bio/articles: cepro.com/jj
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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


News · Composer Express · Control4 · All Topics
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