When it comes to designing touch screens and home controls solutions, they have plenty of industry experience. IES has developed innovative touch solutions for companies such as GE Security, DSC, Leviton, HAI, and Russound. Their latest foray into the home control market is a touch screen controller designed to harness the power of Smarthome’s INSTEON technology. This device is a full color touch screen, INSTEON controller, and IR receiver all rolled into a diminutive package that is intended to mount inside a two-gang electrical box. Additionally, IES offers this unit in an elegant tabletop version. At the time of writing, it’s the only INSTEON touch screen controller of its kind.
The IES INSTEON Touch Screen feels like a solid, well constructed piece of hardware. It’s a solid-state device, so no moving parts to worry about. It includes its own battery backup, so device settings, schedules, scenes, etc. are safe in the event of power loss.
The touch screen installs inside a two-gang electrical box and then connects to an INSTEON PowerLinc Modem (PLM) using standard Cat5 cable. This provides a lot of installation flexibility since you only have to run one cable for both power and communications.
IES describes the screen as an active matrix wide viewing angle LCD display with exceptional brightness and high contrast. We would agree with this assessment and were immediately impressed by the clarity and brightness of the unit. It’s easy to view from virtually any angle. A white metal trim plate, attached by magnets, easily removes to provide access to the unit’s mini-USB port and reset switch. In custom installations, the trim plate could easily be painted to match a homes decor.
The IES Touch Screen includes an active matrix 3.6″ touch screen with 320 x 240 lines of resolution and backlighting is provided by long lasting LED. The graphics engine is capable of displaying 24 Bit RGB, that’s 16,384,000 colors. Built-in IR Receiver for controlling scenes using an IR remote. Its power requirements are 10-28 VDC input voltage and its power consumption is approximately 170 ma @ 12VDC. Dimensions are: 4 1/4″ H x 4 1/2″ W x 3 1/2″ D. The Processor is a speedy 400MHZ / 800MMACs processor. Memory is 16 Mb RAM and up to 16 Mb Flash, enough memory for future upgrades and larger INSTEON installations.
Setup and configuration of the touch screen was extremely easy for a device of this nature. Simply plug the Cat5 cable into the PLM and then connect the cable to the touch screen. Plug the PLM into an outlet and the controller/screen powers up to its default homepage. This page has several options including: Scenes, Manual, and Scheduled Events. Additionally, the Date and Time is displayed along with a Scheduled Events indicator.
This device is intended to control INSTEON devices exclusively so no additional Ethernet or RS232 ports are included for interfacing with other automation controllers or devices.
IES includes a user friendly Windows based configuration utility with each touch screen display. The touch screen controller is configured by connecting the supplied USB cable to the mini USB jack located on the top of the unit and then to a computer or laptop. Setting up our INSTEON network, roughly 40 devices, took about 10 minutes and that’s before we even opened the User Guide. That gives you an idea of how easy this software is to use. In fact, it’s one of the best INSTEON configuration packages we’ve used to date. From within the software, you can define INSTEON group functions, set dim levels and ramp rates, label touch screen buttons, define schedules and check system activity reports. Most functions within the software are simple drag-and-drop operations.
Programming and configuration of the touch panel is broken up into five basic sections, including Modules (INSTEON devices), Scenes, Schedules, Location and Reports. Here is a quick breakdown of each section’s functionality:
The Modules section allows you to assign names and INSTEON addresses to each individual device as well as define whether the device is a dimmer or relay. Users have the option of entering the INSTEON device address manually or tap-adding each device using the Discovery mode.
The Scenes section allows you to create and assign scene names by simply dragging and dropping selected devices from the defined device list into the scene. Setting up scenes is a simple and painless process.
The Schedules section allows you to create and assign names to schedules by dragging and dropping either individual INSTEON devices or entire scenes. The scheduler contains several useful time delineations, including dawn and dusk triggers as well as daily, weekday, and weekend settings. Multiple schedules can be downloaded and enabled individually via the Touch Screen. A feature we found to be extremely useful.
Location simply allows you to define your home’s time zone using a list of cities or latitude and longitude measurements. This aids in calculating dawn and dusk settings for scheduled events.
Finally, the Report function allows the user to print reports of the defined INSTEON Modules, Scenes and Schedules stored in the touch screen’s memory.
It’s important to note that while the IES touch screen does support scheduled events it does not support conditionals or rules (if - then logic). An example of a conditional would be: if a user presses button A on a KeypadLinc and it’s between 5 - 10 PM, turn on Lights A & B. If it’s any other time then turn on lights C& D.
We were highly impressed with the overall performance of the IES touch screen. It’s one of the fastest and most responsive touch screens we’ve had the pleasure of using. INSTEON device control was quick as well without any discernible delay from the time a user pressed ON/OFF/DIM to the device reacting to the command.
Our test unit included a small 4-button IR remote, which allows users to control scenes from the comfort of their couch. Many INSTEON users have anxiously awaited IR support and this controller has it built in. Pressing the 4 buttons on the remote caused the controller to carry out its tasks exactly as described.
The touch screen has a built in timer that turns the screen off after a preset time. Bringing the display out of sleep mode happens by simply tapping the screen. Unlike bringing a PC out of sleep mode, which generally takes seconds, this touch screen turns on instantly.
We found navigating through the user interface intuitive. Some buttons could have been a little larger for our liking but overall it was straight forward and easy to use. Even for a first time user, the UI is simple enough to allow basic control of INSTEON devices.
One small area of concern centered on the touch screens graphical user interface (UI). The graphics are comprised of very basic shapes and images that look more like generic clip-art then a professional user interface. Rather surprising for a device in this price range, a more polished interface would be a welcome addition. After spending some time on the phone with the very helpful folks at IES, we learned that a new UI was being developed and should be released shortly. We also learned that IES is working on an application that would allow end users/integrators to develop their own custom graphics for the interface. This would be very powerful and we look forward to learning more as its development progresses.
IES has done a commendable job of making this unit user serviceable from a software perspective as well. When new updates become available, both firmware and scenes, users will have the ability to simply download and install these enhancements. The last thing you want to do is send a device of this nature back to the manufacture for a simple firmware or UI update. So providing a simple utility for the end user to accomplish these tasks is a real plus.
We found ourselves using the touch screen on a daily basis for a variety of tasks. Our test unit arrived inside a two-gang electrical box with the Cat5 cable already attached. So we found ourselves carrying the unit around the house based on the activity we were performing. So the tabletop version would have come in real handy. When it was Movie Time we would just set the unit on the coffee table and plug it in. Hit the Movie Time or Intermission scene and the lights throughout the home would dim accordingly.
Overall, IES has done an excellent job building a highly usable INSTEON touch screen controller. Its configuration software is well engineered and the touch screens performance is truly impressive. If you are looking for an elegant way to control your INSTEON devices, you owe it to yourself to audition this unit.
Note: INSTEON PLM and Cat5 cable must be purchased separately.
RATING: 4 out of 5 (Highly Recommended)