Crestron Tag

A Guide to Luxury Control Systems

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

In our ongoing series on the basic components of a luxury home media system, we’ve covered most of the big questions you need to ask and things you need to keep in mind when selecting your video display (TV or projector), sound system (both electronics and speakers), and the source components by which you access your entertainment. There’s one big category we haven’t covered yet, though. How do you plan on actually interacting with all of this gear? 

 

There are, of course, a number of DIY universal remote control solutions on the market, as well as basic smart-home systems you can pick up at your local Home Depot or Best Buy. And while some combination of those devices will give you control of

most of your home’s electronics, they’re not exactly the stuff of luxury (nor reliability).

 

That’s why you’ll want to invest in a professionally installed and programmed control and automation system, not only to provide you with a more reliable and elegant control experience, but also to integrate all of your home’s electronics, lighting, and comfort control into one unified system that works together.

 

What does this mean, exactly? Say, for example, you have a Kaleidescape movie server and you sit down to watch a film. With a good professional control system in place, you won’t have to worry about dimming the lights yourself or adjusting the thermostat to your preferred movie-watching temperature. A single press of a button can start the film, dim the lights, dial your Ecobee or Nest thermostat to 72 degrees, close the shades, and lock the front gate.

 

You’ll see that phrase a lot in any discussion of luxury home control, by the way: “A single press of a button.” The reality is, though, home control these days involves a lot less button-pressing than it used to. Sure, you may have a traditional wand-style hard-button remote on the end table in your home cinema or media room, as well as others of its sort near other TVs throughout the home. For channel-surfing, streaming video, or even pausing your Kaleidescape mid-movie, nothing beats a good hard-button clicker. But they’re not so great when it comes to operating lights, shades, climate control, or any number of other smart systems within the home.

 

For those, you’ll likely want to use a combination of dedicated touchscreens, mobile apps, and even voice control. Each approach—touchscreen, voice, hard-button control via remotes and keypads, and even motion-sensing—has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s great to fire up your AV system or initiate a lighting scene with a simple verbal command, but you wouldn’t want to use it to adjust volume in the home theater or turn on the hallway light on your trip to the fridge for a midnight snack when everyone else is asleep. The best control system is one that blends all of these methods of control to conform to your lifestyle and the way you use your home.

 

The good news is, all of today’s advanced control systems support all of these methods of control and more. Control4

Savant, and Crestron—the three biggest trendsetters in the home control and automation space—all support Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to one degree or another. All also support a more upscale digital voice assistant called Josh.ai, which was designed from the ground up to provide more intuitive voice control for luxury systems. All also offer compatibility with other, more specialized manufacturers in the luxury home control space, such as Lutron for lighting and shade control.

 

As for which of the three main control systems you should opt for, that’s really a discussion for you and your installer/dealer to have, based on your unique needs and preferences. Control4, the most economical of the three, is an easier-to-program, 

one-size-fits-all control solution that supports more third-party devices (especially off-the-shelf smart home devices) than the rest, but also has a lot of Amazon first-party control solutions, including my pick for best intercom/doorbell system on the market.

 

Control4 also offers a nice level of user personalization and customization. But for the most part, any Control4 system is going to look like any other from the standpoint of their user interfaces. In other words, the system uses a pre-made template that automatically adjusts itself depending on what other components it’s programed to control. So if you have your heart set on making your home control touchscreens 

look like exact recreations of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, Control4 might not be the right solution for you.

 

Next up the ladder in terms of price and customization is Savant. While it still very much relies on a template-based interface, Savant offers a little more in terms of personalization, and it’s probably the safest bet if you want to know for certain that your touchscreens will be as pretty as possible. I also think Savant has the best hard-button remote control of any control system, which may be enticing if you do a lot of TV watching. It even has Siri built in, which is a big plus for Apple fans. Savant isn’t quite as easy to retrofit as is Control4, though, making it better suited to new construction.

 

At the top of the home control food chain is Crestron—by far the most expensive home-automation solution, but also the most customizable. Honestly, you’re only limited by the imagination and programming skills of your installer. You want that bridge of the Enterprise aesthetic? Totally doable, as long as you don’t mind paying for the custom programming. Have a palatial estate with 100 rooms or more? Crestron will thrive there, where Control4 and Savant might start to choke. 

 

Ultimately, though, no matter which control and automation solution you gravitate toward, the skill of your installer will make all the difference in terms of functionality, personalization, and reliability. So, it may be wise to ask if they have a show home or other demo space where you can see their work in action.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

What Makes a Good Control System?

What Makes a Good Control System?

A good control system is the backbone of any high-end home entertainment system, whether that system resides in a dedicated home theater space or in a multipurpose media room. No matter how great the picture quality, how immersive the audio, how effective the lighting control, the experience falls apart if the control system falls short. If people don’t enjoy operating the system, they won’t enjoy using the system.

 

But what makes a good control system? I pondered this question recently as I reviewed a pair of universal remote controls sold directly through retail channels. Both remotes shared a common goal: Simplicity. There was simplicity in the design of the remotes themselves. Both had a minimalist layout, stripping out a lot of the buttons found on your typical universal remote to produce a clean, unintimidating look. And there was simplicity in the setup process, making it as easy and clear as possible for the average consumer to program the remote to switch between activities and control a variety of components.

 

Simplicity seems like a good goal, but in the world of system control, it’s definitely possible to make something too simple. While I found both remotes easy to set up and pleasant to use, neither could perform all of the advanced functions or accommodate all the use cases I needed. They were great for controlling my basic living-room system, which consists of a 

TV, streaming media player, gaming console, and soundbar. But when asked to handle my more advanced home theater setup, built around an AV receiver and usually including some lighting control, they were just too simplistic to get the whole job done.

 

The trick in system control is finding the sweet spot between simplicity and functionality. You need a system robust enough to handle anything and everything you might want to do, but also simple enough that anyone and everyone in the house can use it. And that sweet spot is different for each person, which is exactly why universal remotes have an inherent disadvantage compared with control platforms like Control4 or Crestron. A universal remote locks you in to someone else’s idea of what’s

What Makes a Good Control System?

Logitech Harmony Elite universal remote, with hub and app

intuitive, both in the setup process (which has to be simple and scaled down enough that anyone can do it) and in the remote design. Sure, you can reassign buttons here and there, maybe choose some specific functions to show on the small touchscreen at the top of some remotes, but for the most part you have to work within a one-size-fits-all grid.

 

The Harmony remote brand revolutionized the direct-to-consumer universal remote by making it so much easier for the average person to program complex macros and present them as simple activities anyone would understand. But how many times have you programmed a Harmony remote to work exactly the way you want it to, sat back all pleased with yourself, and then watched a family member pick up the remote and stare at it blankly, uncertain what to do next? It has happened to me a lot.

 

And that’s just AV control. If you want to add elements like complex lighting scenes, shade adjustment, and temperature control, a universal remote simply isn’t built to handle that load.

What Makes a Good Control System?

In the world of luxury home cinema, you don’t need universal control. You need personalized control. That’s really what you’re paying for when you choose to step up to Crestron or Savant or Control4. You’re getting a team that’s been trained to perform all that complex, behind-the-scenes programming so you don’t have to, and you’re getting a system that’s flexible enough to accommodate your idea of what’s intuitive.

 

You can get the handheld remote with a preset button layout, but you can also get the touchscreen controller, 

with fully customizable screens in which the page layouts and button names make sense to you. You can add customized in-wall keypads to quick-launch lighting/room scenes right when you walk in the door. It’s all about putting the right control options in the right place for you and your household—and you should absolutely include the whole family in the discussions with your custom installer.

 

Of course, just like in the world of DIY control, an advanced control system is only as good as the people who set it up, so don’t treat this step like an afterthought. Do some research on your local installers and what control systems they’re trained to program. Check references. Ask questions. Be involved. After all, what’s the point in paying more for personalized control if you don’t take the time to truly personalize it?

  —Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.