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Advice on Light dimmers, please.


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#1 of 15 Tom Kay

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Posted February 23 2004 - 01:39 AM

Hi All;

I have read as much as I can about various light dimmer systems, typically the X-10 and the Lutron. I'm still as confused as ever, seeing that some call X-10 junk, and others love it.

So, could some of you comment on WHY X-10 might be junk, or why it's wonderful? Same with Lutron, for those who use it.

I am simply trying to create a group of lighting scenes, say 5 or 6 different settings for different situations in my room. Movie viewing, lights off. Movie paused, some lights up 50 percent. Movie finished, lights ramp slowly up to 100 percent, that sort of thing.

My local Home Depot just started carrying X-10, and they warn that you need a surge protector, because X-10 is very easily fried. Anyone have that happen? What did you do to fix it, and ensure it doesn't happen again?
I guess what I am looking for are details here. WHY is something good or bad.

Thanks to all who read and/or reply. Tom.

#2 of 15 Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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Posted February 23 2004 - 05:18 AM

Quote:
So, could some of you comment on WHY X-10 might be junk...
For one thing the buttons on the wall plates for manual use are junk. They will break if they get used too much, so you’d better be using the remote pretty much exclusively.

I don’t know that I’ve actually seen them “fry,” but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. Overall, I’ve found them to be fairly fragile and light-duty stuff. I mean, if a regular 50c toggle light switch will last 25-30 years I certainly expect something that cost as much as that to at least last that long. Is that unreasonable?

Regards,
Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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#3 of 15 JohnnyN

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Posted February 23 2004 - 06:16 AM

ok. I'm one of those people that called the x10 stuff junk, but I admit that's harsh... what i meant to say is that they are not built as well as the lutron dimmers and from personal experience the wireless control part of it is extremely slow... that is I'll push a button to turn the lights off or dim the lights, and the lights won't respond for 1-3 seconds, instead of instantly like the lutron... Having said that, you'll certainly have more control available if you use the bundled x10 pc software... using the x10 software, you can script some macros and create virtually unlimited scenes... the pc based software will perform better than using any x10 remote to control the lights, it's just that I wanted something much simpler and more responsive...

Also, on some of the lamp and duplex modules, there's this really annoying and scary click when you turn the outlet on or off...

if you go here you'll see that x10.com gets a 4.18 out of 10 with 18 reviews... you won't see that kind of disatisfaction from lutron owners.

#4 of 15 Tom Kay

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Posted February 23 2004 - 06:40 AM

Wayne and Johnny

(And anyone else who might still reply) Thanks, this is exactly the meaty info I need to read, before making a decision.

Are Lutron dimmers remote (RFI) controlled from your chair, and are they scene capable? Can they be programmed with a hand-held transmitter to give 5 or 6 separate choices of scenes? I don't think I'd need any more then that many, movie viewing, movie pause, movie off, shagging by the future gas fireplace... oops, can we say that?

Thanks and keep 'em coming !

Tom.

#5 of 15 Jimmy-D

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Posted February 23 2004 - 08:31 AM

hahaha funny funny Posted Image I'm interested in this too.

#6 of 15 MikeTC

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Posted February 23 2004 - 09:09 AM

Tom, what does RFI mean in your book? Mine is Radio Frequency Interference which is not related to lightings. The reason I'm asking is that Lutron does have both RF (RadioRA) and IF (Spacer & GRAFIK Eye) based dimming systems. They are all scenes and remote capable. RF is a lot more costly but easier to implement into existing construction/house. What system are you looking at?
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#7 of 15 MikeWh

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Posted February 23 2004 - 04:00 PM

Tom-- I'm going to add my 2cents on X10, just to make your decision more difficult. Posted Image

Be VERY careful when you read information concerning the term "X10". This term commonly refers to the company (www.x10.com) AND the technology used in the type of devices made by that company AND OTHER COMPANIES.

In my experience the vast majority of people who have had problems with the construction quality of these devices are usually referring to the products produced by the X10 company. I will say that I have a couple X10-made devices, and I am (so far) satisfied with them. Some people advise that if quality is a major concern, then X10's "X10 Pro" product line (www.x10pro.com) is a better way to go.

Now, as far as the other companies--- Smarthome (www.smarthome.com), PCS (also available at smarthome.com or more info at www.pcslighting.com), and Leviton make X10-compatible devices (in addition to others). I have been very happy with my Smarthome dimmers. My experience is that their construction quality and overall performance are excellent. I should mention that there are many people here, who rave about the PCS switches.

I should note that I previously owned a Lutron Spacer (not Spacer System) dimmer, which I have replaced with a Smarthome dimmer. I have had nothing but a good experience with the Lutron dimmer, but as you'll see below, it had limitations for what I needed once I began remodeling my original HT.

Now to my summary of the pros and cons (IMHO):

Lutron Spacer (not "Spacer System")--
PROS:
EXTREMELY easy and elegant control of a single load from one or more locations.
IR control can be easily learned on a learning/programmable IR remote.
CONS:
Can only control one load, so it's not "scene-capable."
Not expandable.
Unfortunately, it's easily confused with the "Spacer System", because of Lutron's short-sightedness in naming the product lines.

Lutron Spacer System--
PROS:
Very nice system for controlling several lighting loads across varying scenes.
IR control integration (same as above).
CONS:
Can become expensive for people who just want minimal control of a few, simple scenes.
Lighting design must be well planned-- once it's installed, you'll have to rip out drywall and expand the box, if you want to add more controls in the master control box. (NOTE-- This is really just a "given" as with ANY construction design, but it's important to know that X10 scenes may be expanded without ripping out your previous construction).

Lutron GRAFIK Eye--
PROS:
Allows exceptional control of preset scenes.
IR control integration.
CONS:
Expensive.
Same design planning issue as above.

X10-compatible Devices--
PROS:
Can be used to control more than just overhead lighting; e.g., screen, curtains, masking, appliances/components, or other plug-in lights.
Relatively cheap solution for simple scene control ability.
HIGHLY expandable.

CONS:
More control capability usually requires more investment.
Not as easily integrated into an IR-controlled environment. (Solutions ARE READILY available, but it's not as simple as programming a learning IR remote.)
Powerline carrier technology has some problems for some people-- in particular, line noise/interference. (Again, solutions are available).
Requires some device programming. The more complicated your scenes, the more complicated the programming (generally).

#8 of 15 Tom Kay

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Posted February 24 2004 - 01:23 AM

Hi Mike and Mike !

Mike TC;
Yes, I made a mistake by saying RFI, I meant just RF, meaning radio control from the couch. No wires, just a hand-held unit which sends and RF signal to some receiver, then commands the lights to dim, in one of several possible scenes.

Mike WH;
Thanks for your very detailed message. I am sure that I may have confused X-10, the company, with X-10-like products. So far I have been very interested in some of the Switchlinc dimmers that I see on the Smarthome website, but started to shy away from them, thinking that they are X-10 products, and not well built. Was this premature or incorrect thinking? They seem to have the scene-capable features that I want. Cost seems reasonable, but will they last? Do they wear out more quickly if you actually switch them on by hand, and not with the remote?

So, the research continues, but all of this info helps. I'll go and have a look at some of the websites you guys have mentioned.

Cheers and thanks, Tom.

#9 of 15 Ronald.H

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Posted February 24 2004 - 03:50 AM

Personally, I'm using the Lutron Spacers. I have two sets of lights - two wall sconces near the front of the room, and then two wall sconces and a ceiling can near the rear of the room.

One Lutron works the front lights, and the other the rear lights. With the Spacers, I can specify scenes and I've programmed my receiver remote with the IR codes. So, one code tells the front dimmer to one level of dim and the other to be a different level. So when I point the remote at the switches and hit "1," I get the scene I've created for movie watching - nearly off in front, and somewhat dim in the rear (so you can see your popcorn Posted Image )

It works great. The only thing left is to add the master IR receiver at the front of the room so I can point the remote to the front like I do for everything else (my dimmers are at the rear of the room).

#10 of 15 MikeTC

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Posted February 24 2004 - 07:24 AM

Tom, I think you meant IR not RF. Unless you don't have line of sight to the dimmer or want to use the remote in a different room, you don't need RF. As I said earlier, RF is expensive and you cannot use normal remotes that comes with your equipment or most after market remotes.

You did not mention your light requirements; how many sets of lights are you planning to control? One set- Spacer dimmer; two sets on up are Spacer System or Grafik Eyes depend on your situation.
Are you replacing existing switches or new install where you can plan your electrical runs? If it is existing switches, are they located in the same electrical box or are they located all over the room?
MikeyTC

#11 of 15 Tom Kay

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Posted February 24 2004 - 08:26 AM

Hi Mike TC

Actually I thought I meant RF, because I wanted a non-line of sight remote control, so I didn't have to point it at the "target" all the time. Just press a button and forget where it's going. Smarthome's part # 4000, non-line-of-sight thingy.

I think the Smarthome product will work for me for that requirement. I'll make sure, though.

For lighting, I am not rock-solid on the final number of circuits I'll have yet, but here goes with the plan so far:
I have a 24 by 14 foot room, all open, but sort of cut in half by the heat duct on the ceiling. So in the front half, I'll have 4 can lights on one circuit in the middle of the ceiling, then 6 can lights located around the inner 4. Those are 2 separate circuits, or at least 2 separate dimmers, like the Switchlinc 2386 dimmer. Then, I want rope lighting mounted in the crown molding to sort of add a glow to the room, and it will be dimmable as well, so that's the 3rd dimmer. I might even add a few sconces, not sure yet, dimmable, of course. My wife thinks I'm mister overkill.

Then the back half of the room will be a games/wet bar area and I'll have one or two more separate circuits with dimmers there. All of the lights except the rope lights, will be 4" insulated boxes with 50 watt swiveled halogen lights, that I get at Home Depot. I think that will be oodles of light. All are NEW circuits, as I gutted the basement, so I have certain luxuries right now, in terms of what I can do. New boxes, new wire runs etc.
So that's what I'm aiming at, and the Smarthome stuff is probably front runner right now. It won't be soon that I buy the products, say in a couple months, but I like to research early. I still have to finish the wire runs and drywall etc, plus all the electronic related wire for a future front projector, speaker wire, etc.

I'm pleased with the progress and advice so far, just wish my progress were faster! Thanks again, Tom.

#12 of 15 MikeTC

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Posted February 24 2004 - 08:52 AM

Don't have much experience with the RF X10 stuff so I can't help you there. I have one X10 receiver and one transmitter at home to identify when my primary sump pump fails and they work pretty well.

I don't know how well the RF X10 will work in your situation so keep us posted.

Good luck.
MikeyTC

#13 of 15 MikeWh

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Posted February 24 2004 - 12:41 PM

Tom--
Quote:
So far I have been very interested in some of the Switchlinc dimmers that I see on the Smarthome website
I'm currently using a 2380 and am planning on adding a 6-button switch, like the 12073W--
http://www.smarthome.com/2380.html
http://www.smarthome.com/12073w.html
The 2380 is capable of sending a scene command when pressed, which the 2386 can't do. If you are planning on initiating a scene from an RF remote/base combination (like the 4000), you [EDIT] can use the 2380s or 2386s[/EDIT].

Quote:
They seem to have the scene-capable features that I want.
you are correct

[/quote]Cost seems reasonable, but will they last? Do they wear out more quickly if you actually switch them on by hand, and not with the remote?[/quote]
I am very happy (so far) with the quality of the 2380. I have no idea about the mechanical wear vs. the longevity under remote operation. So far it's working great.... no complaints.
Quote:
Actually I thought I meant RF, because I wanted a non-line of sight remote control, so I didn't have to point it at the "target" all the time. Just press a button and forget where it's going. Smarthome's part # 4000, non-line-of-sight thingy.
As you've noted, line-of-sight is a problem for Spacers and other IR-based devices, although you can always use IR repeaters/extenders to solve most of these kinds of problems. The RF base is really what you need-- the 4005X.
http://www.smarthome.com/4005.html
You can choose a remote/base combo, based on how many other functions you need. I really like the 4003 for controlling just two scenes--
http://www.smarthome.com/4003.html

If you need more scenes, there are other RF/X10 remotes available. Be forewarned-- many (most??) X10 users don't like using RF remotes, because it just adds yet another remote to their collection. There ARE RF/X10 remotes that can also do IR for your various components, including learning IR (http://www.smarthome.com/4006.html), but depending on what IR-based equipment you have, you may not be able to successfully control everything with the one remote. You can also buy starter kits, that include some of these things as a package (http://www.smarthome.com/4009.html).
As an alternative, many people prefer to use an IR-to-X10 converter (like the IR-543), so they can continue to use a single high-end, IR-based HT remote.
ttp://www.smarthome.com/4040.HTML

Also, I should say that the RF base is the thing that JohnnyN was referring to re: the "1-3 second response" problem. There IS a small lag when using the 4005X, but if you send a single scene command to a 2380, the 2380 responds with an entire scene simultaneously. The lag is about a 0.5-1 second between pressing the RF remote and the 2380 responding (to the 4005X in between).

Computer-controlled macros are another alternative for scene control (using yet another X10-based device, like the CM11A interface). I bought one to program all my X10 devices as part of a package, and it also included a couple remotes and other devices-- http://www.smarthome.com/1142.html

In order to program X10 devices, you'll need a maxicontroller (http://www.smarthome.com/4020.html) or one of the PC-based interfaces, like the CM11A, in addition to some software. I REALLY prefer PC-based programming of the devices.

#14 of 15 Tom Kay

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Posted February 25 2004 - 01:47 AM

Hi Mike;

As always, I appreciate the input, but I have to admit that I'm a tad more confused now. Just because I was fairly sure that 5 or 6 of the 2386 switches, plus the 4000 series base would do the job.

So let me take a step back and state the obvious. When we talk of scenes, we're not talking of separate lighting circuits, but how those circuits act under X-10 control. For example, scene #1 could be all lights ramp down to zero, so I can watch a movie in the total darkness. Scene #2 could be, when I press pause (I'd have an MX-500 remote programmed to do a macro, such as pause my dvd player, AND control the lights at the same time, assuming I have bought an IR to RF converted) so that all of the lights come up to half brightness. Then scene #3 could be one press of a button, and suddenly all of the lights ramp up all the way when the movie's done.

If this is the correct interpretation of the scene idea, then I thought that the 4000 base plus several of the swichlinc 2386 dimmers would do the trick. Aren't these 2386's programmable through the 4000 base to recall several different scenes? And aren't these scenes do-able with one touch of the 4000 base remote control (or say, the MX_500 if you have the ir-rf converter?)

Those are the actual products I was ready to buy, so if I am wrong, again, it's great to know. I should add, that as my first venture into remote controlled lighting, I do NOT want to incorporate any computer control, not yet. Just the hand-held remote and the 4000 base, if it's the right beast.
Thanks Mike, Tom.

#15 of 15 MikeWh

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Posted February 25 2004 - 12:12 PM

Just to start-- the 2380s are currently on sale for $5 less than the 2386s.

As for the scene control-- I'm sorry. You are correct. The 4000 can transmit the different scene codes to all programmed 2386s (or 2380s or any other scene-capable switch). You are absolutely correct. And your understanding of how the scene functions work is also correct. {I've also edited my previous post}

I happen to initiate one of my scenes by having the 2380 transmit that scene by pressing it, when I walk into the theater.... so, I missed the fact that you were wanting to do ALL your scene initiation from the remote. That being said, you could use either dimmer. One note-- if you don't buy all 2380s, since they're cheaper, you still might want to buy at least one 2380 for use near the entrance to your HT (of course, that depends on your room layout).... but this might be very useful for when you and guests first enter the HT.

re: the computer-- The computer can serve two purposes: (1)to control the actual devices or (2) to program the devices. To program scenes, you need to be able to send individual device codes, without being followed with the ON or OFF commands. The MaxiController and the computer interfaces are the typical choices for this programming. Unfortunately, the Smarthome site isn't very explicit about this, but it's explained well in the user's manuals for the scene-capable SwitchLincs. The remote with the 4000 will not be able to program the switches, because it sends the device+ON command, with a single press.

Since you'll need one of these devices to program the scenes, I HIGHLY recommend a computer interfaces, in conjunction with one of the nicer automation programs. Many of the better programs understand the concept of "scene membership", so it's extremely easy to program all the various scenes with a fairly straightforward user interface. The computer solution costs more than the MaxiController, but gives you some very nice control over the scene programming.

I played around with the Trial Version of the Home Control Assistant, which gave me plenty of time to program my first set of devices, before the license ran out (I think it was 90 days). Additionally, there are many other packages available, including some freeware.


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