Inside New TiO Home Automation System: Nothing Like vNet
TiO employs some old Colorado vNet automation tricks but really innovates with in-wall wireless audio, Android platform and all-IP backbone.
Julie Jacobson · June 10, 2013
The new Android-powered TiO home automation system from Automated Control Technology Partners, Inc. (ACTP)—on display at Infocomm 2013—borrows little from its predecessor Colorado vNet. In fact, TiO’s brand new multizone wireless audio system is now the star of the show, ZigBee has been replaced by an all-IP communications infrastructure for lighting and thermostat control, and Android now rules the system.
We visited with ACTP founder and CEO Mike Anderson last month to get the first look at the new product, which pretty much sheds the legacy of the original Colorado vNet, its successor Colorado vNet by Russound, and the third-time’s-not a charm 3vNet which Anderson established when he bought the assets of vNet in April 2012.
He retired the vNet brand and business one year later, launching ACTP in its place.
Like the original vNet, the TiO system is entirely distributed, centering around one little hub, the Master Coordinator (MC1, $500 MSRP), which doubles as a “smart” 802.11n wireless access point. No, it’s not just a router, says VP sales and marketing Matt Curtin: “The MC1 has software on board that identifies all the TiO elements automatically and serves them up to the TiOHome app. It also does a periodic system back up and also give the user secure access for remote (offsite) control features.”
You only need one MC1 regardless of what kinds of home automation and entertainment goodies you attach to it.
Currently, the only things you can attach to it are TiO’s own lights, thermostats and wireless multiroom audio system, but the company promises to release more devices in the future, as well as drivers for third-party security, surveillance, entertainment and other subsystems.
Nice Wireless Audio System
What really stands out about TiO is its wireless (or wired) digital audio system, which puts all of the smarts into each zone. There is no risk of overbuilding an audio system; simply add individual zones as needed. This architecture is true to the original vNet in which each audio zone had its own in-wall amp.
With TiO, each zone is anchored by a little StealthStream 1 zone player (AZSS1, $600), featuring a 100-watt amplifier (2x50), built-in streamer and Bluetooth receiver.
The streamers include an optical input and analog audio outputs with sensing and auto-switch capabilities.
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The tiny thing, including its WiFi radio, is small enough to install behind a wall in a single-gang wallplate.
It can be powered via PoE or 16/4 speaker wire.
“We see it as a volume control replacement,” says Anderson.
The unit itself has no embedded controls; it is controlled via the TiOHome mobile app.
Alternatively, there are versions of the amps with 4- and 7-inch dedicated Android-enabled touchscreens affixed to them – the TouchStream 4 (AZTS4, $800) and TouchStream 7 (AZTS7, $900)—which can be used for audio control as well as whole-house control of other supported subsystems.
Lights and Thermostats
The only thing about TiO that really resembles the old Colorado vNet, aside from the distributed architecture, is the capacitive keypads for lighting controls. They look like the self-labeled versions of yore, but the similarity ends there.
Dealers can configure and label these new TouchLite 4 (TL4, $250) Universal Switch-Dimmers as one, two- or four-button controllers.
The buttons can be used to dim loads or control virtually any function of the TiO system, launching scenes, setting back the thermostat, jumping audio tracks ….
The universal controllers “sense the load type to control any type of light,” says Andrson.
All major lighting types including incandescent, MLV, ELV, LED and fluorescent bulbs.
“It’s all just one SKU, no matter how you use the buttons,” Anderson says.
The biggest difference between these switches and their vNet counterparts is that the new ones communicate via WiFi, not ZigBee.
“We do not use any ZigBee anymore,” Anderson says. “It’s all WiFi.”
As for thermostats, they are essentially dedicated Android-enabled touchscreens with temperature sensors built in. The ThermaTouch 1 (TT1, $300) provides full energy management controls, as well as local weather information.
Commissioning and programming a TiO system seems painless. Turn on the devices and they automatically populate the TiO library. Select a device through the configuration app, the device flashes, and then you name it.
Scenes can be set up by the homeowner. Physically set your temperature, lights and audio to preferred states and “capture” the settings as a “mood.” Group the moods together to create a whole-house “experience.”
TiO naturally offers remote management and control via computer or smart device. The company does charge an annual fee for its cloud-enabled programming and control services but it is quite modest.
I’ve talked to many reps and dealers who won’t touch ACTP or its TiO automation system because of its inglorious heritage.
Then again, ACTP has managed to keep some really good reps who believe in the company.
You can’t look at TiO as Colorado vNet 4.0. It’s totally different. You need to judge it as a new product and a new company run by people with a solid record in the industry.
If you’re going to dismiss it right away, do so because you don’t need another home-control line, you don’t like the product, or you don’t as a rule invest in start-up home automation companies.
The wireless audio distribution system, with its handy in-wall amps/controllers is a great place to begin. I mean … who wouldn’t want to replace old volume controls with these gems?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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