Hawking Technology’s HomeRemote Pro Starter Kit is a good, very basic introduction to home control and home monitoring. But you should be prepared for a significant investment of time and money if, after getting your feet wet, you decide to take the plunge and rig your entire house.
The kit consists of just three components, the most important of which is the HomeRemote Pro Internet Gateway. This plugs into your router and enables you to monitor and control most aspects of the system over the Internet. There’s also one Z-Wave lamp module (plug a lamp into it and you can use a PC to turn the light on and off) and one door/window sensor (mount it to a door or window and you’ll know if the door is open or closed from anywhere you have Internet access).
The system’s sensors and lighting control elements are based on Z-Wave technology. Z-Wave devices operate on what’s known as a low-power mesh network. Unlike an 802.11b/g/n data network, which uses relatively high-powered radio signals to zip data from a host to a client, a Z-Wave network uses low-power, short-range radio signals to send very basic command and control messages from one device to another.
In order to reach a specific device, such as a light switch, the HomeRemote Pro Internet Gateway broadcasts a message addressed to that switch to every device in range. As each device receives the command, it either performs the action (if it is the intended target) or it passes the command to every other device in its range. The message thus cascades throughout the entire network until it reaches the targeted node and the command is executed. Some devices are also capable of triggering other devices based on events. The door/window sensor, for instance, can be programmed to turn on a nearby Z-Wave-enabled light switch when the door or window it’s monitoring is opened.
This is one situation in which limited wireless range is a design goal, not a shortcoming. The idea is to prevent the Z-Wave signals from propagating throughout a neighborhood, unintentionally wreaking havoc as people lose the ability to manage their lighting control and other systems.
Hawking’s product does not require any software to be installed on your home computer. Instead, you establish an account on the company’s servers and then use your web browser to access a customized website where you can manage your entire home-control system. From here, you can monitor the status of every room in your home (which doors and windows are open, which lights are on or off, and so on) and control any of the Z-Wave devices you’ve deployed. The system can be expanded with a plethora of add-on Z-Wave devices from any manufacturer (the list of products includes garage-door openers, thermostats, motion detectors, in-wall switches and dimmers, in-wall scene controllers… even motorized window shades).
Maximizing the system entails sprinkling these devices throughout your home, installing a few of Hawking’s motion-sensing wireless IP (Internet Protocol) cameras, and buying a subscription to Hawking’s Pro-Level service ($9.99 per month or $109.89 per year). Hawking sells two models of IP camera, one of which is equipped with night vision; they sent one of these cameras (model HRPC1, which sells for $180) along with the starter kit for this review. You can configure the cameras so that motion triggers a video- and audio-recording session that can be stored locally (on USB flash memory), on a network share, transferred via ftp (file transfer protocol) to a remote server, or even emailed to you. Add the subscription service and you can monitor any of the cameras from your custom website or from your smartphone.
The one drawback to Z-Wave’s limited-range design is that a device must be in relatively close proximity to the Internet Gateway—five feet, in this case—in order to be detected. If you have more than a few Z-Wave devices in your home, the only workable solution is to add them all to a handheld remote control first, and then transfer them en masse from the handheld controller to the gateway. But if you already have an elaborate Z-Wave network in place, you probably already one of these controllers.
Building out an entire home-control ecosystem can get expensive fast. Plug-in lamp modules, which are the easiest lighting-control devices to deploy, sell for $37 each; in-wall dimmers and switches look much better, but they cost about twice as much and might require a professional electrician to install. Window/door sensors also sell for about $37 each. Assuming you can do everything yourself, on the other hand, you’ll save tens of thousands of dollars over what a professional installer would charge—and you’ll own all your equipment.
- No software to install
- Monitor and control your home over the Internet
- Optional subscription adds smartphone control
- Sensors and controls use standard Z-Wave technology
- Plug-in lamp modules are ugly
- Door/window sensors are conspicuous
- Subscription required for video monitoring and smartphone control