EchoStar Sage OTT Home Automation Looks Super-Impressive
The first home automation system from satellite giant EchoStar is not a me-too product. At CES 2015, you'll see a slick TV interface and a couple of problem-solving products for cameras and doorbells.
Julie Jacobson · January 2, 2015
Shown for the first time publicly at CES 2015, EchoStar’s new Sage home automation system makes good use of the TV as a GUI and could be a serious contender in the increasingly crowded smart-home space.
Word trickled out about the new Sage home automation platform from satellite giant EchoStar last year, but little has been said about it since.
I spoke with EchoStar VP engineering David Lett last year about the new system and I was way more impressed with Sage than I thought I would be. The key is a TV interface that really no one is doing effectively today.
The system starts with a box that includes ZigBee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (“so we could support Thread or 6LoWPAN through a download,” Lett says of the 802.15.4 radio used for ZigBee). It has one HDMI and two USB ports, plus a remote control for quick access to functions like rules, cameras and temperature.
Sage can be used in with any TV service provider that supports OTT (over the top) services – not just EchoStar’s sister company Dish Network.
To be sure, Dish showed an implementation of a concept system last year and we expect to see a real Dish/Sage demo at CES 2015.
FLASHBACK 2014: Dish Demos Z-Wave/ZigBee Home Automation via Hopper DVR
Like virtually all of the other new smart-home players, EchoStar reports that its system is “extremely easy to use, like your grandparents can do it,” Lett says. “What we have is a very conversational rules engine that allows anyone to set it up.”
For example, if it’s the middle of the night and motion is detected, turn the bathroom lights to 25 percent, he suggests.
So far … nothing new here, even if it’s as easy as Lett has us believe.
Why EchoStar Sage is Different
What sets it apart is what appears to be a slick TV interface, with graphic overlays and/or PIP that lets users continue to watch the on-screen action even during automation events.
Here is an obvious scenario that custom integrators implement all the time, but isn’t easy to accomplish with today’s simpler systems: The doorbell rings and an image from the front-door camera pops up as a picture-in-picture on the TV screen.
“Yeah, but I can get this on my cellphone,” you say?
Sure, if you want to take your eyes off the Big Game while you search for the phone and pull up the image.
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A more useful scenario is to keep your eye on the kids at all times while you’re watching TV. Easy, just arrange the video images on one side of the screen. Or open your Sage control dashboard in full-screen mode while your TV show plays in the corner.
But back to the doorbell scenario. Even products that integrate doorbells with home automation systems have an issue. The existing doorbell must be replaced by something more expensive, possibly trickier to install, and certainly more attractive to vandals.
EchoStar wasn’t content with that, so they built a clever product that lets users keep their existing buttons intact. The doorbell module connects between the doorbell and chime, passing signals along from there to the Sage system.
And that’s not the only pesky-product issue that EchoStar has solved. It also has an answer to outdoor cameras. So here’s the problem: Unless you have a very strong Wi-Fi signal and your camera has very big batteries, you’re going to have to run wire outside for power and/or signal.
Total drag for the do-it-yourselfer.
EchoStar’s answer is something I could use today. Its camera connects with a cable so flat you can shove it through the side of your window. The cable, which carries data and power, runs to a module that plugs into an A/C outlet inside. The module delivers video signals wirelessly to Sage.
We assume they’re using Flatwire from Taperwire,
but don’t know for sure.
[UPDATE: Lett tells us, “we are making our own flat Ethernet cable because it allows different indoor and outdoor colors and lengths while providing an outdoor weather seal.”]
I love this idea, even though I really can’t envision it.
And lest you be concerned about security, remember that EchoStar is an expert in that department.
“We use encrypted data throughout,” Lett says. “It’s the same security that is used for protecting content.”
Echostar will offer a certain amount of video storage for free, but a premium service will be announced at CES. Remote access is available through EchoStar’s Sling infrastructure.
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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@example.com
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