Smart Buttons – The Ultimate User Interface?

Smart Buttons – The Ultimate User Interface?
– By David Alexander, Senior Technical Support Engineer
Thursday 29th September 2016

The IOT marketplace is becoming ever more populated with useful devices that can achieve various things each with their own app and often able to share some information with each other. What they all share in common is a reliance on a smart phone or pad as the primary User Interface. This, however, is changing with the use of Smart Buttons.

Most IOT device Apps are designed with convenience in mind through the ability to remotely control devices or apply schedules for example. Immediate tasks such as changing light levels are inconvenienced however because instead of using a switch or dimmer on the wall you have to embark on a ‘smart mission’ to find, make ready and use a smart phone or pad.

Smart Buttons essentially offer a shortcut to a task making it immediately available and with house guests in mind very simple to explain.

There are a few Smart Buttons in the marketplace such as Flic, Logitech Pop and Fibaro The-Button. All of these offerings allow you to do more than just one thing, Flic and Logitech allow you to define what happens with a click, double-click or a hold which is a perfect balance between flexibility and simplicity. I chose Flic smart buttons for my own home because they are the smallest form factor and talk directly to an iPhone or iPad running the Flic App using Bluetooth 4.0, no hubs or gateways needed!


The Flic App offers a wide range of integration including popular products LiFX, Philips Hue, Sonos, as well integration with other Smart Home applications like Logitech Harmony Hub, IFTTT and basic HTTP commands. It also offers integration with native Apple apps like Music and Maps. You can even mount a Flic on the handle bars of your bike and use it to send an automatic email to the Mayor of London each time you find yourself endangered in traffic! It really is flexible with new integration being added all of the time.

I have configured the buttons in my home to integrate with my Savant system providing an easy way to turn off all of my lights and AV equipment in the lounge from each doorway. Using the buttons, I can also turn the lights on to a certain level and even turn the TV on and leave it on the EPG ready to browse. My car has also gained a Flic working with my phone so whilst using GPS and Apple Music the button allows me to skip next song, play/pause without touching the phone or interrupting the navigation. The hold function will start Apple Maps and direct you to a predefined destination, home in my case.


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Can your car be Smart?

Can your car be Smart?…
– By Jim Brown, Savant Europe’s Pre-sales Technical Support
Tuesday 26th July 2016

…And no, I’m not talking about turning your 4×4 into a little city run-around.

GPS is by no means a new thing, but have you tried using the latest versions of “social” sat-nav? The Waze app is a great example of how you can get more out of your phone. Not only is it a great sat-nav app with a clear and modern design but it has an extra trick up its sleeve – everyone who’s using the app has their driving speed fed back to the cloud servers meaning that your sat-nav has truly live traffic updates from everyone else who’s actively using the app. It really is very impressive how it can shave time off your journey by re-routing you live as traffic builds up around you.

You can even take it a step further and use the app to report traffic jams, roadworks, broken down vehicles… the list goes on and they all automatically help everyone else avoid the problem areas.

But that’s not really making your car smart. Here’s where OBD can come to the rescue.

Have you ever noticed the socket in your dashboard where your mechanic can plug in his laptop to get all the on-board diagnostics (OBD) direct from the sensors in your car? It’s normally under the steering wheel, and you can now get very affordable dongles that plug straight in there. (For Android devices you can use a Bluetooth model, for iOS you’ll need the Wi-Fi variant).

So, what does this get you? Access to all the information about everything your car’s doing! Next time that pesky Engine Management warning light comes on (you know, that one that could mean literally anything) you can now use an app to find out what the problem is without having to go to the garage. There are many apps out there that can collect this OBD info to create custom dashboards and all kinds of boy-racer style toys, but I personally use Piston as it’s quick and clear and can translate all those error messages into plain English.

Another great app that can use OBD dongles is Dash. It can help you monitor your fuel consumption and (next time you leave your car down a side street at lunch time) it can automatically remind you where you parked. But the best bit is its integration with IFTTT.

Using Dash and IFTTT combined you can create a trigger that automatically logs your mileage and fuel expenses in a Google Spreadsheet. No need to track your mileage ever again, simply tag the journey as “work” and share the document with your accounts department.

No matter whether your driving a Mercedes or a Mini you can now have; live traffic updates with automatic re-routing, comprehensive diagnostics and translation of all those mystery lights on your dashboard, and the car will even do your expenses for you. All for the cost of a £5 dongle? That’s my idea of smart.

Jim Blog

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For the love of music…

For the love of music…
– By Steven Jones, RGB’s Technical Support Engineer: Commercial AV
Friday 22nd July 2016

Every few years it seems that a new audio format is released. For many years that meant an increase in audio quality as well as formats becoming easier to use and more durable; from Vinyl to CD to Blu-ray. However, in recent years with the invention of the iPod and booming popularity of streaming music has become much easier to access- at a cost.

Storage limitations and bandwidth have all meant that the music that most people listen to today is of a much lower quality than it was 10 or even 20 years ago. For example, CD quality is 1411 kbps compared to the 128 kbps that is common in MP3, a 10th of the size! Therefore, consumers since the birth of MP3 players and streaming, have always had to pick between a huge music variety or its quality, but this is no longer the case…

Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) is a new audio technology that provides studio quality sound without compromising storage space. This means that consumers will be able to stream music at low bandwidth whilst getting a quality that the artist gets in the studio- quality music without sacrificing your music library. Having heard MQA myself I can tell you that the difference is outstanding. It is not subtle. Timing becomes far more precise and I noticed intricacies in playing that I have never heard before. In a few words, the music comes alive. I recommend hearing it yourself, so I don’t to appear too pretentious.

This technology is backward compatible and is embedded in the standard streaming services that consumers already use, such as Tidal. All that is needed is an MQA enabled product to hear the higher quality, and if you don’t have this you hear the standard stream. My hope is that MQA rekindles an appreciation and love for the sound of music and Hi-Fi, resulting in less music being played through those tinny in-built phone speakers! Being hugely passionate about music I am so happy to have this uncompromised solution- the best quality sound, with all the artists I love, streamed to my PC.

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A week out the office…

EI South 2016.jpgA week out the office…
– Monday 18th July 2016
By Matthew Baxter, RGB’s Product Marketing Executive

This year, as always it seems to be the case at Essential Install Live South, the sun was shining and the going was good in the beautiful setting of Sandown Racecourse in Esher. Aside from the long traffic jam on the way to the show, EI Live South went well for RGB and Savant Europe and we hope it was as worthwhile for anyone who visited.

EI South is never going to be as busy as some of the other trade shows such as ISE, but we found that because of this, we got to spend longer with the dealers we knew, as well as ones we didn’t.

ISE can feel like a hectic 5 furlong sprint, but taking dealers around our champagne bar area at EI felt but more a long steeplechase. Rather than having to rush and try to talk to multiple groups at a time, at EI south we could take dealers around our booth in a relaxed fashion, spending more quality time with them.

The relaxed nature of the show meant that we got to tell the RGB story and show how all of our products and brands fit together. It was great to see the enthusiasm from the visitors regarding our newest brands, especially with Nest and Atlona, as well as for the new products from our well established brands, such as the Savant Pro Remote and Lutron Connect Bridge. At RGB, we strive to offer the very best products to our dealers. We are proud to distribute the brands that we do so it was a great pleasure to be able to show them all to the dealers who were present.

If you didn’t get to see us at EI Live South, then please give us a call on 0844 8800 765. We would love to come and show you our latest products and help you jump over any technical hurdles you may have (sorry, I couldn’t resist one more pun).

EI Logo



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Paving the way through Europe

Paving the way through Europe
Tuesday 5th July 2016
– By Mark Perrins, European Sales Manager at Savant Europe

The more I travel through Europe, meeting and discussing local home automation requirement and usage, the more I can see how each region differs in what they see as a priority. For some it’s hugely important to have good media distribution through zones, for others lighting is the priority. For others simple a/v control or high-end audio automation are the key factors. Some systems incorporate HVAC and security, while others simply want to remove a collection of remote controls and replace them with a simple, elegant solution. Each region brings new challenges, new learning, but there are some key factors which remain consistent. You find the same words, phrases, and fundamental customer needs which surpass the applicational specifications, and those are of clarity, simplicity, and an overwhelming desire to move away from the technical approach to a simpler, more accessible system offering an intuitive user interface and reliability. For many the way a system becomes second nature with ease, the way it almost disappears from conscious operation, and the way it evolves as a part of the everyday life of the user is a key measure of its success.

Demonstrating Savant for the first time to an army of loyal installers, all believing that their existing system is at least very good, if not perfect, is a joy. It tends not to be the history of the system, although it’s generally accepted that the Apple platform does offer excellent stability. It’s not the army of supporting hardware, although many integrators had no idea that Savant offered such a range of controllers, extenders, matrices and other useful interfaces with which to control from the smallest to the largest systems. This all helps to pave the way, but once I demonstrate the app, once the new Pro remote is in their hands, and then seeing and appreciating the simplicity of the configuration software, understanding the huge reduction in time and ease with which systems can be configured, that’s really when I am able to win over new customers. That’s when they start to investigate training, accreditation and ultimately look to start specifying Savant. Whatever the local market, integrators realise what a huge difference the system can make and how it can be used locally.

There’s no doubt that Savant has a vast and loyal customer base in the US, but now the base is really growing in mainland Europe. Savant is being specified for residential systems, yachts and commercial systems. The interest in Savant grows on a daily basis, and the number of enquiries grows through word of mouth. I am travelling regularly to all regions of Europe and finding new customers weekly, all keen to offer something new, something different, ultimately something better. There is a real trend away from complex and technical to something user based, where the customer is able to create their own scenes, use their own imagery, and feel that they are a part of how the system has evolved. And evolve is exactly what it does, seamlessly into the daily life of a home with very users who, just like a standard light switch, use it intuitively, instinctively, and experience something very satisfying indeed.

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Home Automation Has Evolved!

Home Automation Has Evolved!
Monday 23rd May 2016
– By David Alexander, Senior Technical Support Engineer

Home automation is always evolving with the arrival of new technologies and products. The ‘stuff’ that happens under the hood is one of continual progression in working with new protocols, integration and computing efficiency. The most obvious changes are always closest to the user with their interface. This year is certainly an important one as Savant have provided the next major evolutionary step with 8.0 featuring the Pro 8 App and the Pro Remote user interfaces.

In the last decade of supporting home automation products, I have always been able to benefit from having a system to use in my own home. Whilst my humble abode may only have the requirement for a one-room-solution to control all the products you might find in any average home today, an automation solution will always improve and simplify the experience of my home entertainment system.

In 2007, before the availability of Savant in the UK when I was supporting a legacy product line, the first system I installed was a rather cumbersome box which was the brains, with control ports for serial and IR devices and a wired touch panel. Put simply, the system offered pre-programmed macros to turn products on in the right order, perform audio video switching and control the volume – but to do this required an enormous amount of coding. It also didn’t look aesthetically pleasing in terms of both the product hardware and the visual display but worst of all you had to get up each time to use it. A wireless solution was out of the question as a decade ago wireless touch panels cost the same as the average car!

April 2010 was the last major evolutionary step with Apple releasing the iPad – and in February 2011 along came Savant! The first all-Apple system, leveraging the reliability of the Mac Mini as a platform for the Savant Host with the affordability of an iPad; and gone are the days of coding thanks to Savant’s RacePoint Blueprint configuration software. This was certainly a game changer at home, giving wireless control of the home entertainment system using my own iPad or iPhone and adding new features such as metadata control of my personal iTunes collection proved to be a major boost to the experience. Summer nights of sitting in the garden, controlling the system and choosing music was too easy.

Many people, however, would argue that an iPad or iPhone is not always the best primary home automation user interface for reasons such as having to keep it charged, or having to unlock the device, type in the pin-code and then open the App. With this in mind, the perfect accompaniment to a Home Automation system is an all-in-one remote, which Savant delivered in the form of the Universal Remote in September 2013. Features such as a 1.5” colour screen for service selection and metadata feedback, and an array of hard buttons designed to handle almost any service type made it very useable.

The Universal Remote was certainly an eye opener, because from the box the deployment process is as simple as attaching the remote to your home WiFi, selecting your Savant Host running a configuration, choosing the location of the remote, and you have control; no additional programming required. This concept inspired the creation of the Savant App released in November 2014 with 7.0. Known today as the Pro 7 App, it raised the user experience bar yet again; being a true App and not a touch panel crammed into an App. It offers users the ability to personalise the App at any time, by adding their own room images taken with the very same device or from a photo library, adding TV & Radio favourite channels and creating scenes from scratch or capturing the current moment – so that the system can work harmoniously with their lifestyle. 7.0 even made remote access easier with the cloud based service Savant Plus negating the need for any advanced network setup on the home router.

This month saw the arrival of 8.0, the Pro 8 App and the Pro Remote at home. The Savant Pro Remote breaks the mould, as it was designed from the ground up employing the expertise of Ammunition Group; a design house founded by Robert Brunner, previously Apple designer from 1989 to 1996. It features a 2.95” curved colour touch screen and a polycarbonate case for added strength and reduced weight. The remote is perfectly ergonomic, being comfortable, light, balanced and placing everything within easy reach. For communication, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is used to talk to the charging base, which in turn connects to the home WiFi. This enables a fantastic battery life as a WiFi connection uses the majority of energy in battery powered devices and as a consequence they have to be put into a deep sleep to preserve battery life when not in use. The Pro remote is a real turnkey solution as the setup couldn’t be simpler; just connect to the charging base’s adhoc WiFi to provide your home WiFi details and in RacePoint Blueprint place the remote in the zone the it will be used in and then provide a unique identification number.

The 8.0 user experience is unrivalled, with the ability to activate scenes and recall favourites created within the Pro 8 App; as well as introducing control through short voice commands. A feature of the Savant Pro 8 App now shared with the Pro Remote is the ability to customise by adding product specific commands to the services, such as Sky’s Box Office command.

Savant is even solving my horticultural issues as last year a basic off-the shelf water timer wasn’t flexible enough to cope with the unpredictable British weather. Using a Savant relay service to control an electronic water valve, I can turn the irrigation on and off from the Pro 8 App and manage it using scenes and schedules. Savant Plus remote access means that no matter where I am with WiFi or mobile signal I can check the weather at home and enable the right scene.

Whilst the improvements to the Pro App are certainly marked, the Pro Remote has completed a decade of waiting for the perfect user interface in the form of a luxury product making for a solid user experience.

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Lamp projection becoming old hat?

Is lamp projection becoming old hat?
Wednesday 11th May 2016
– By George Wrightson, RGB’s Projection Sales Specialist

Is lamp projection becoming old hat?… According to a recent video interview between Neil Hartigan at NEC and Feltech, the market share of laser projection in 2014 was at 1.4% and they have forecasted significant growth to 68% market share by 2019! …So, yes it certainly looks that way to me.

But why? I hear you ask. With the laser going through the phosphor wheel causing constant colour reproduction, the image will look the same as day 1 even after 20000 hours of use, if a little less bright. On top of that, the colour gamut of laser projectors is wider than those in lamp based projectors, so if the fact the colours last longer wasn’t enough you also get more of them!

It’s not just the quality that is attractive about laser, I personally think that laser projectors are a much better solution for people (like me) who like the easy life. Let me explain –

Of course, no one likes having replace lightbulbs in their house when they blow because it’s a hassle. You need to get a step ladder or chair to reach and then faff about with screwing the old one out and the new one in. That’s why people are opting for LED light bulbs because they last a lot longer. The same goes for laser projectors. No more lamps to have to replace relatively frequently. Completely maintenance free so just install it, forget about it and enjoy the beautifully crisp image.

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