Exclusive: URC Total Control 2.0 is Complete Overhaul of Flagship Home Automation System
Launching before CEDIA 2017, URC’s Total Control 2.0 isn’t just a gorgeous new user interface, but a highly-efficient home-automation machine that’s faster, more reliable and more customizable than ever.
When you see it at CEDIA 2017, the first thing you’ll notice about URC’s Total Control 2.0 home-automation system is the refined user interface that makes rooms, scenes and devices much easier to access and control than ever before. Picture the “kitchen” as an image of the user’s own culinary space, overlaid with shortcut controls and status for the room.
Users can view the status of lights, see what media is playing, mute the audio or drill into the room to view and control other devices.
Of course, URC isn’t the first major smart-home company to offer this type of experience … but it could be the first with URC-like price points. Not to mention, URC offers a wider range of remote controls than most of its competitors.
But the brand new UI, described in more detail below, is just one (very important) aspect of Total Control 2.0.
It couldn’t happen without the new Accelerator 2.0 programming environment and a complete rewrite of the underlying code.
Total Control 2.0: Under the Hood
Until we dive into it, let’s take for granted that the new graphics and application-oriented improvements in 2.0 are quite powerful – at the very least, vastly improved over 1.0, which hasn’t seen a major upgrade since Total Control launched about five years ago.
You might think the new platform would require new URC processors, as 1.0 already seems to overwhelm URC’s existing hardware. But you would be wrong. In fact, URC took such great care in coding the new software that it is more efficient than ever, allowing the system to run even faster than 1.0 on the exact same Total Control processors.
“One of the goals of the new software was not to force people to have to get another processor to enjoy all the benefits of 2.0,” says Russ Hoffman, URC director of training. “They can run all of the rich new features on old processors, going all the way back, even some discontinued products.” (Not all features may be available on older processors.)
Faster for integrator
The faster speeds are reflected on both the customer-facing app as well as the back end. For integrators, it used to take 10 or more minutes to load new programming into a customer’s processor – not bad for a one-off software dump, but when you consider multiple “re-downloads” to test a new feature, for example, those 10-minute transfers can add up.
With 2.0, the transfer time shrinks to about four minutes, Hoffman says.
Faster for user
For the user, the new URC system “is more reactive than ever, even with the new graphics,” Hoffman says. “It takes up less room than 1.0, freeing up memory to let everything run faster. I didn’t think speed was an issue until I got a faster system.”
Instead of a one- or two-second delay from button-press to response, the system “reacts right away,” Hoffman says. We saw this quick response time in a demo with URC reps in Southern Calif., Krista Haughey and Jason Gibson.
Improved stability, troubleshooting
Another thing URC did in its coding is isolate various services within one application framework (TCL, or Tool Command Language).
Previously, all applications were thrown into one big pot, so if one of them soured, the whole system could be compromised.
That’s the peril of home-automation systems like URC’s, which must integrate multiple devices from a wide range of vendors.
“We have to worry about third-party protocols,” Hoffman says. “If they change, we don’t always know. … One bad module [driver] could slow down every module.”
Compartmentalizing the two-way modules means they now run independently of each other, increasing the overall speed and stability of the system, according to Hoffman: “If a Philips Hue Bridge goes offline, Lutron and Nest are not affected.”
Furthermore, any such issues are simpler to diagnose with the new software scheme. On top of that, URC has implemented a new troubleshooting tool that provides more detailed logs of activity system-wide, including issues stemming from connected devices.
New User Interface, Customer Experience
We already know the new UI runs faster than 1.0, and we haven’t even touched on the enhancements to graphics and overall capabilities of the software.
Graphics can now be added for rooms, scenes and backgrounds. Additionally, while URC provides thousands of standard images for incorporating into the UI, dealers can customize each project with photos of their clients’ spaces, faces or other personal pics.
The biggest change to the UI is the addition of room views. As mentioned above, each room of the house can now be represented as an image – something generic like a bed or more personalized like a photo of an actual bedroom.
Previously, the room views were nothing more than text. In the new visuals, the images are overlaid with icons representing the technology in any given room. Without “drilling down,” users can quickly mute the music or turn on the lights by touching the device icons on the room graphic.
Tap on the room itself to reveal up to 100 customized scenes for that room. Each scene can have its own image – perhaps a Netflix icon for a macro that turns on the TV and gets the system straight to the movie app. Or a cup of coffee to represent a wake up scene.
These scene views could appear as URC’s main screen if the user desires – a design that could be “popular for commercial applications, where you don’t want to give access to everything in the system,” Hoffman suggests.
Background images for any given view are now customizable, which can help users better understand where they are in the navigation.
For example, the background for a home-theater view might be red velvet curtains, so whenever someone is controlling that room from a remote location, they’ll recognize right away which room they’re controlling.
Effects & Interactivity
For the first time, URC allows dual-state images – one for on, one for off. An image of the kitchen with all lights on could be one state, which then switches to an image of a dark kitchen after the button is pressed.
URC incorporates other graphical effects in the new UI, for example, blurring the background when an icon is pressed, allowing the user to focus on the task at hand.
Programming with Accelerator 2.0
At the same time that URC is adding new features for the end user, the company is making it simpler for integrators to program these new capabilities in Accelerator 2.0.
The new programming environment offers several improvements over 1.0.
Images now can be imported in one size, and then scaled automatically for each application (room views, scenes, etc.) and each device (mobile phones, touchscreens, remote controls, etc.).
Previously, integrators had to import images in multiple sizes, drop them into multiple files and hope they worked for any given interface. Now, says Hoffman, “Just make an image in one size and it auto-scales to any interface.”
The auto-scaling feature works nicely for URC’s new screen-layout options. Users can select the view that’s right for them and their devices – for example, a ribbon view for larger touchscreens and a grid view for mobile phones.
Complex macros are much easier to program in 2.0, thanks in part to advanced polling capabilities. Integrators can create events based on the state of various two-way devices – not just on and off as in the past, but things like whether the thermostat is in heating or cooling mode.
Related to this new capability, URC is making it much simpler for integrators to use conditional logic in their programming … with multiple “ifs” and “thens.”
For example, if the front door is unlocked and it’s after sunset and no one is home, then turn on lights in the hall.
“It can analyze what’s happening in the surroundings,” Hoffman says, “so it can make smarter decisions based on power state, time, date, etc.”
“Before, you could do all the logic, but you really had to work at it,” says URC’s SoCal sales manager Krista Haughey, adding that 2.0 makes the programs “much easier to save and re-use on other projects.”
The status/polling function directly benefits the end user, as well. For example, they can see what’s playing on their favorites channels, or what streaming device is active in any given room at any given time.
Migrating to 2.0
Dealers don’t have to move their customers to 2.0, but once they do the upgrade there’s not going back.
URC is making the upgrade path fairly painless. For example, the program will automatically replace room labels in the old program with generic images. For example, "bedroom" might be replaced with an image of a bed.
Associated programming remains intact.
“You don’t have to start from scratch,” Hoffman says.
It can be scary to roll out a major new software update, but URC says it has tested 2.0 like never before.
“It’s been tested non-stop,” says Haughey, adding that a slew of alpha testers have been using the new software for months. “It’s something that Mr. Park [CEO Chang K. Park] has been adamant about.”
Beta testing begins shortly and the product is expected to ship before CEDIA in September.
Also shipping soon is URC’s new 7-inch touchscreens, available in tabletop (TDC-7100) and wall-mounted (TKP-7600) models, at very competitive retail price points starting at $600. There's the new 5-inch TKP-5600, as well. The devices include a camera and speaker for use with URC’s embedded intercom system, allowing interfaces to call each other via audio/video or use it as a surveillance camera.
Plus, New and Improved URC 2.0
Total Control 2.0 isn’t the only thing new coming out of URC. The company is rolling out a whole new organization, according to marketing and communications director Anne Gattoni.
“It’s really important that URC elevates the whole organization as Total Control is elevated,” she says. “The entire support structure for consumers, dealers and partners is elevated as well.”
Earlier this year, URC pulled Total Control out of U.S. distribution.
“As of this month, we are 100-percent factory-direct,” says URC general manager Doug Cole. “We’ve built a very strong sales team over the past two years, so we can really support dealers from the design phase all the way to project completion – from the field as well as remotely.”
Cole says URC is working on a new dealer portal that includes product information, customer support and an e-commerce engine, “basically taking the best of Control Room [current dealer portal] and making it very easy to navigate, with a single touchpoint wherever dealers need it.”
Meanwhile, URC is going back to “very hands-on training,” Cole says, with multi-day education as in the earlier days of Total Control.
Nixing distribution helps URC focus on its most committed dealers. For her part, Haughey says she’s being “very selective” approving new dealers in her territory. All of them have to go to three-day URC training.
Learn more about new features of Total Control and Accelerator 2.0, including geo-fencing and NFC, voice control
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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