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DIY System Provides Web-Based Home-System Monitoring, Control

8/04/2003 02:00:00 AM Eastern

A do-it-yourself (DIY) home automation system, available Aug. 1 from Smarthome, will give consumers the ability to use any browser-equipped PC or mobile device to remotely control and monitor home systems and view live security-camera video.

No other available system, intended either for the custom-installation or DIY market, offers all of the system's capabilities, president Joe Dada contended. Those capabilities include remote PC control of home systems, automatic transmission of e-mail alerts when a motion sensor is triggered, viewing live video from security cameras and archiving videocamera images on a PC's hard drive.

A similarly priced DIY system from New York-based Xanboo delivers all of these features except for remote HVAC control and video archiving on the hard drive, although a second-generation system in development will offer both, Xanboo said.

A similar but more expensive system and service from BeAtHome, now owned by Echelon, is no longer marketed, although existing subscribers continue to be serviced, Echelon said.

Other systems with many of these capabilities are part of professionally installed custom home systems, Dada added.

A basic five-room Smarthome system consisting of X-10-equipped motion sensors, videocameras and light controls would cost from $500 to $700, with an additional $60 for each additional temperature sensor and another $249 for an X-10 HVAC controller, said Dada. Other home systems and appliances plugged into X-10 electrical outlets or bridges can also be monitored and controlled, including sprinkler systems and pool pumps. In one application, a user can remotely set a PVR or VCR to record a program.

Although a home's existing power lines are used to carry X-10 commands, videocamera video is sent to a PC either via connection to a home's wired Ethernet system or via composite video cables from the camera to a PC-connected USB gateway.

Monthly Smarthome Live service costs $9.99. A $7.99/month option includes all Web-based options except for remote security-camera viewing.

In Smarthome's system, a home PC with dial-up or broadband modem operates as a Web-page server that supplies information to Smarthome's central server, which subscribers access through a PC's Web browser, or the HTML browsers of wireless PDA-phones. Smarthome's server is needed, Dada said, to enhance security against hackers, alert subscribers if their home PC malfunctions and provide remote access despite continual changes in a PC's IP address by a broadband provider, Dada said.

Smarthome is an online retailer of home automation and distributed-A/V products, some sold under its own Smarthome Design brand. The company also sells custom-installed products on-line to dealers.

Xanboo's current system requires a broadband modem and home PC and uses Xanboo-brand battery-operated sensors that transmit information over 418MHz wireless RF. Its videocameras also transmit video over wireless. They can be plugged into an electrical outlet for power or plugged into battery-operated docking modules for temporary power.

In another announcement, Smarthome said its branded Smarthome Design products will be available through CompUSA, which started last year to market custom-installation service to home builders and to consumers. CompUSA sets up a showroom at subdivision sites to promote the products and services to homebuyers, and it displays the products in custom showrooms in select stores. CompUSA installs PC networks, lighting systems and distributed-audio systems.

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