Savant is First of the Home Automation ‘Majors’ to Go DIY with $499 Savant Remote
With $90M in venture capital, Savant has migrated from high-end custom home automation to DIY with the $499 voice-controllable Savant Remote and hub to be sold through Best Buy – where Control4, Crestron and Elan dare not go.
Julie Jacobson · October 13, 2015
When venture capitalist KKR plowed $90 million into the home automation manufacturer Savant Systems exactly one year ago, we all knew where it was going: away from the ultra high-end smart-home systems that put Savant on the map, and towards a kinder, gentler business that embraces the mainstream market and now, for the first time, DIY.
This week at CEDIA Expo 2015, Savant will unveil its new Savant Remote, the company’s first product to be sold direct-to-consumer, rather than through a handful of authorized Savant integrators who typically charge thousands of dollars to install and program any given system.
The new product will be sold through BestBuy.com -- where rivals Control4, Crestron, Elan, RTI and URC Total Control have never gone -- for $499.
But it also could be the starting point for many of Savant’s 850 specialty dealers who want to tap a broader market. Savant already has helped dealers along that path over the past couple of years with an increasingly affordable line of products culminating in last year’s Smart Host, which starts at $999 retail for the hub and app alone. No remote control. Professional installation required.
The new Savant Remote features a really slick handheld wand with touchscreen and hard buttons. It sits on a charging base that has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi inside, and IR blasters all around for controlling A/V gear. The base pairs with the new Savant Host, a hub that communicates with the charging base via Wi-Fi. The hub has no hardwired connections besides a power. Remote Bluetooth-to-IR blasters (called Blasters) are available for $69. Additional remotes cost $399.
Savant hasn’t even made a remote in years. The last one was the 2010 Touch Remote with an embedded iPod touch. The company pretty much gave up on dedicated touchscreens and later handheld remotes in 2010 in favor off off-the-shelf smart phones and tablets. [Correction: Savant also released the Savant Universal Remote in 2013.]
But now they’re back with this beauty, co-developed with vaunted designer Robert Brunner and his studio Ammunition. In addition to the handheld remote, Savant offers free apps for both iOS and Android.
What Can it Control?
At launch, the Remote and Host will control virtually any IR component in an entertainment center, as well as two IP-controllable devices: a new Savant Wi-Fi lamp module ($99) and Sonos.
Yes, Savant finally has an app for Sonos, and it works with the Savant Remote. Also supported -- via IR -- are Apple TV, Roku and cable boxes.
That all comes in handy when users want to control their system by speaking into the mic on the remote. When consumers set up the product, they are asked to enter their TV service provider and zip code. The Savant host then maps the channel numbers to the appropriate stations, allowing users to simply say, “Turn on CNN.”
Asking the Tough Questions
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see the new Remote during the press briefings in New York last week, but my colleague Tom Leblanc at Commercial Integrator made the trip and provides a great overview here.
Even so, I was able to speak with George Katsiris, director of product management, with several follow-up questions. Here’s what I gleaned from our conversation.
IP Control Katsiris says, “We totally believe in IP and we’ll continue to develop heavily in IP discovery and control.”
It’s just that IP control won’t be available for anything at launch except for the lamp module and Sonos.
Naturally, Savant has the IP communications protocols for scores of devices in multiple product categories, such as motorized shades, lighting control systems, thermostats and audio/video gear, but they haven’t been integrated into the new platform.
Katsiris says they will start with the IP integration of A/V devices such as receivers.
“We really want to nail the entertainment experiences first,” he says. “It will be a very curated process.”
Interesting Things About the Remote Katsiris gushes about the industrial design of the remote, but he also truly believes that it’s the best universal remote software, like, maybe ever.
There is one especially interesting feature that to my knowledge (and Katsiris’s) is unique – that is, the ability to capture and set scenes from the remote control device itself.
Users can set the lights just so, the TV to a preferred station or the music to a favorite playlist, and then capture the scene with the press of a button on the remote. They simply label the scene from there and can recall it via the touchscreen or by voice.
Other home-control vendors offer similar features through their dedicated touchscreens or apps, but not from the remote control itself (correct me if I’m wrong).
“We want people to love their remote,” Katsiris says.
A Remote for Pros? Currently, Savant does not offer dedicated remotes for its professional installed control systems. Katsiris says dealers are invited to carry and sell the new DIY product, but it is not compatible with subsystems in the traditional pro line (keypads, thermostats, third-party IP solutions).
He does say that Savant will in the future come out with a Pro version of the Remote.
“It will only be available to professional integrators and it does more in terms of scale and services,” Katsiris says.
About that Best Buy Thing Katsiris says the Savant Remote will launch through BestBuy.com on day one, and later will be sold at Best Buy Magnolia stores. It will also be sold direct-to-consumer through Savant.com, as well as direct-to-dealer through Savant’s dealer portal.
Today, Savant is not a preferred vendor through Best Buy’s mainstream Magnolia Home Theater stores, but it is available through select higher-end Magnolia Design Centers.
When asked if Geek Squad would be installing the new Savant Remote, Katsiris said he did not have all the information on that.
He also would not speak to any consumer marketing plans that Best Buy might have.
Consumer Marketing Katsiris also would not speak much about Savant’s own consumer-marketing plans, other than to say that the company will work to “raise awareness” to drive consumer leads to its authorized dealers.
Speech Recognition After a laboratory shoot-out for speaker-independent voice control platforms, Savant selected the Sphinx open-source speech recognition engine from Carnegie Mellon.
“It’s very reliable,” Katsiris says, noting that the speech-recognition needs for the remote are quite specific and limited.
Users can select scenes, switch sources, call up a playlist, dim or brighten lights, control the volume, and ask for specific channels, but of course they must be near the remote to do so.
The software is not linked to TV electronic programming guides, so users cannot turn directly to the Patriots game, for example. View images of the Savant Remote, accessories and app below
So What are the Savant Lines Now? In order of system richness (and price), high to low:
Savant Pro* is basically an Apple computer, with the power to give consumers any level of customization they want. It supports Savant’s original custom-centric app called TrueControl, but that app limits the ability for users to personalize their own systems, for example, creating their own scenes, schedules and UIs. (The Pro hub also can run the newer Savant app, which does allow for user personalization.)
Smart Host is the newest iteration of Savant automation, with a very capable hub packed with inputs and outputs. It works with a Savant app called … Savant App, kind of a revolution in higher-end custom-installation market. Launched last year, the app puts the user in control of many functions that used to require the intervention of a professional programmer. Users can set scenes and schedules, snap images for their UIs, set up text alerts and more, all by their little ol’ selves.
A hub starts at $999 but may go up from there, depending on the number of users, subsystems, etc. The product integrates two-way (serial and IP) with a large range of products and categories. Savant also offers Wi-Fi switches, dimmers and keypads that work with the Host.
Savant Host -- the subject of this story -- is the latest offering and the only one sold direct to consumers. It comes with the Savant Remote, communicates today mostly with IR devices, but will eventually be able to integrate with a variety of IP devices. The hub and remote retail for $499.
Timing The only thing we know is that the Savant Remote, Savant Host, Blaster and lamp controller are expected to ship in December 2015. No word on when a pro version of the remote might become available.
* Updated 10/14 to to correct and clarify the Savant Pro Host. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - JULIE JACOBSON
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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 email@example.com
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