Panasonic Home Automation
Panasonic may not make plasma TVs anymore, forgive us for not being over that, but it still hurts. But they have jumped into the Home Automation game with a system they’re calling thePanasonic Home Network System. We got a chance to check out two of the bundles they have available to get you up and running quickly, the Home Monitoring & Control Kit (Buy Now $249.95) and the Home Surveillance System (Buy now $299.95).
We chose to setup the Home Monitoring & Control Kit first. The kit includes the control Hub, a smart plug, two window/door sensors, a motion sensor and a digital cordless phone. Setup is pretty easy, especially for the included devices. It takes a bit of time, but it isn’t complicated. Once you have the hub connected to the app on your mobile phone, each device has its own installation guide to help get that device installed and configured.
Adding the included devices is very simple. If you already have them installed when you plug in and setup the hub, the initial installation wizard will add them to your system automatically. If not, or if you decide to add additional devices to your system, it’s as easy as using the app to tell the hub to look for the device and pressing the ‘add device’ button on the smart device itself. Discounting the time it takes to connect a sensor to a wall, windows or door, adding new devices takes seconds.
Like plasma TV, Panasonic has also been in the telephone business for a long time. They have a solid history with both corded and cordless phones and business phone systems. Leveraging that expertise, the hub and the compatible home automation devices actually use radio waves to communicate. They use DECT 6.0 (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) that runs in the 1.92-1.93 GHz band. The same thing your cordless phone may use.
The Russell house where we tested the gear no longer has a landline at all, so we weren’t able to test any potential interaction issues between existing cordless phones and the Panasonic Home Network System. And we also weren’t able to test the system’s use of the home phone line for additional automation functionality. While you don’t need a landline, it if you want the system to call you when the alarm is tripped, you’ll need one.
For maximum coverage and noise-free communications, Panasonic recommends you place your hub at a convenient, high and central location with no obstructions between the devices and the hub in an indoor environment, which obviously isn’t practical. It should also be placed away from electronic appliances such as TVs, radios, personal computers, wireless devices or other phones. The wireless range of each device in the system is approximately 160 feet or 50 meters indoors.
As far as range and installation goes, we would periodically see delay between when we clicked a button in the app and the action fired, like a light turning on or off. We never had a delay for automatic actions like turning on a light due to a motion sensor or camera. It feels like the issues could have been more smartphone or app related, or maybe even WiFi to hub to DECT conversion related, but we couldn’t tell for sure. But it didn’t feel like we had any issues with commands due to the range of the devices from the hub or the placement of the hub during testing.
Once you have all your devices installed and added to the hub, you can begin to automate them. Automation is all done through the smartphone app. It is very easy to do, but also quite rudimentary. Of course you can manually turn lights on or off, or you can set a scheduled (time-based) on/off trigger, a sensor based trigger or both, but only one of each. So the lights can automatically turn on at a set time, off at a set time, and/or on based on a sensor (door opens when you get home), but that’s it.
You cannot setup activity groups in the smartphone app currently. Each device gets its own Smart Control settings and has to be configured independently. You can set multiple devices to trigger on the same event, so it feels like you have them grouped, but there isn’t a notion of groups or scenes for devices. There is an all on and all off button for the lights, and you can configure what happens when you arm the system for Stay or Away.
The system includes high level actions to Arm or Disarm the entire system, much like a security system, but Panasonic is careful to point out that their equipment isn’t designed for security, but for surveillance. When armed, the windows and door sensors are put in an alert mode, armed for Stay the motion sensor is ignored, armed for Away the motion sensor is also put into alert mode. If triggered, the hub will play an alarm tone. It isn’t very loud, but you can hear it if you’re in the same room or closeby.
Without a landline we couldn’t get the system to remotely notify us of any activity. You should be able to get alerts on your phone if you’re connected to the local Wifi, but we couldn’t get that to happen. When connecting remotely, the app will automatically disconnect if you aren’t using it, probably to conserve battery life. But if you don’t have an active connection to the hub, we don’t imagine you could get alerts on your phone – even if you had it working with a steady connection via local wifi.
Home Surveillance System
The Home Surveillance System includes a hub and two cameras, one for indoor and one for outdoor. Of course you can use the outdoor camera inside if you want to, but not vice versa. The outdoor camera is waterproof; both have night vision capabilities to allow you to see things in very low light conditions. Once added to your system, the cameras can also function as motion detectors to enable or disable other actions in the system.
Camera quality is quite good. We couldn’t see a difference in the quality or lag between being connected to the hub on the local Wifi or connecting to it over the Internet. We even tried over 3G and it still worked great. While viewing the camera you get picture and sound. You can press a button to speak through the camera to communicate with whoever is on the other end, which is pretty cool. The low light feature actually works quite well. We were able to monitor rooms at night that were otherwise pitch black.
Using the Panasonic system is super easy. It isn’t wildly configurable, so use is limited, which makes it really easy. As with anything in life, the more you can do with it, the more complicated it must be to support that functionality. If you limit functionality, you can keep things very simple. The hub can be accessed remotely, which is awesome. Ours worked for remote access out of the box, no special configuration required. If it doesn’t work for you, there are advanced settings like port forwarding to get it working. Only one device can be connected to it at a time, either locally or remotely.
Let’s say you want to turn a light on, and leave it on for 5 minutes, when you open the front door. Totally doable. Let’s say you only want to do that at certain times of the day, because turning the lights on in full daylight is silly, not doable. Let’s say you want to turn your landscaping lights outside on at a set time in the evening and have them turn off a couple hours later. Totally doable. Let’s say you want to do it automatically at dusk, not doable. Or you want to do it in the morning and at night, also not doable. Simple tasks are very easy, but this ease limits how customizable the system is.
While the Panasonic system is easy, it is limited both in automation capabilities and devices. Because they don’t use an industry standard automation protocol like Z-Wave, you have to buy Panasonic devices. That wouldn’t be a huge deal if they had all the devices you need, but they are pretty limited right now. The most obvious missing device from what they have and what they’ve announced or are contemplating is a wall switch. So if you have any built-in lighting, like porch lights, can lights, track lights, a chandelier or a ceiling fan, you can’t automate those. LED bulbs could help there, but without the ability to group devices, that could get quite cumbersome.
And dimmers. Gotta have dimmers for the home theater.
Panasonic has announced a few accessories that will be available later this year:
- Water Leak Sensor – June
- Glass Break Sensor – June
- Indoor Siren – due 2nd half of 2015
- Battery Box – due 2nd half of 2015
- Key Pad – due 2nd half of 2015
- Key Fob – due 2nd half of 2015
And here are a few more that they are considering:
- Outdoor LED Light
- Outdoor Weather Sensor
- Garage Door Opener
- Smoke/CO Sensor
- LED Bulb
We’d love to see Panasonic work on some bridging technology to allow their system to communicate with other systems like those that support Insteon, Z-Wave or ZigBee. This would allow those of us with existing automation equipment to use the Panasonic gear without having to maintain two independent systems. It would also get past the hurdle of the missing automated wall switch.
If you haven’t started automating yet, the Panasonic is really easy. Basic, but really easy.