Clipsal C-Bus Wiser Review
Submission By: Paul Gordon – Clipsal have recently unleashed the new CBUS Wiser unit which appears to offer a great deal of potential to home automaters with CBUS to expand their CBUS network with logic features and an out-of-the-box touchscreen centric control system.
- Provides an Ethernet interface to CBUS (replacing the previous generation CNI unit)
- A Logic engine for advanced programming (replacing the previous generation PAC unit)
- A standard Ethernet broadband router with 802.1n Wi-Fi, a WAN port, & 4 LAN ports
- A built-in “Wiser” application which provides a CBUS graphical UI to remote clients
For all this functionality, its retail price is actually less than just a current generation CNI unit alone, so no-one could take issue with the value of the overall package.
Hardware – The Wiser unit hardware is comprised of 3 separate components. The Wiser Router itself. This is the main guts of the system, and is, for all intents & purposes a standard broadband router just like the one you probably already have at home, and indeed could actually replace your existing broadband router (in fact it is intended to be installed this way). This unit has been modified by Clipsal though to add on the extra capabilities of the logic engine, and the touchscreen application. I believe that the modified router software is provided under a public license, and source code is available on request.
The second main component is the CNI. This differs considerably from the previous generation CNI; it is styled to match the main Wiser unit (so it isn’t a DIN module like the older one). It has also been re-engineered internally and no longer contains the Lantronix hardware to provide the Ethernet interface, and thus does not require the Lantronix redirector software to access it. This new CNI can be used standalone as “just” a normal CNI if required, so you can use it with the Toolkit software for managing your CBUS network. However, it is designed to be used in conjunction with the Wiser router, which is where the 3rd component comes in.
The third and final part of the package is what Clipsal call the ‘Busbar’ – this is a passive unit which provides a “bridge” between various connectors on the Wiser router and the CNI, in order to link the two together for both power & Ethernet connections. It also adds considerable mechanical stability to the entire assembly.
Assembly – The CNI clips – rather loosely I have to say, – to the bottom of the main Wiser router unit. The busbar then clips to side of that assembly, and its connectors mate with the power receptacles on both units, 1 RJ45 LAN connector on each unit, and with the WAN connector on the router. Only 1 PSU is provided with the package, so the busbar is essential if you want to provide power to both units; the busbar contains a single power receptacle into which the PSU is connected, which it splits to provide power to both active components. The busbar also contains a single RJ45 socket which is passed through to the WAN port on the router. (This will become important to remember later!). 3 Wi-Fi antennae are also in the box, which the documentation states must be fitted to avoid “damage” – even if you intend to turn the Wi-Fi functionality off.
Once assembled, the unit can be wall-mounted using the keyholes on the back surface, or it can be stood on a flat surface using the clip-on ‘foot’ included in the package.
Connections – The CBUS connection is via the CNI; there is a removable plastic shroud beneath which is a standard screw terminal for CBUS+ & CBUS- which accepts bared wires only. There is a very weak clip-on cable clamp, and a small cable exit recess in the shroud. This part feels quite flimsy to my mind, but hopefully once connected won’t be tinkered with, so I don’t think this will be too much of an issue, but I would have found it easier if the CBUS connection was also via RJ45. (Although I can understand why Clipsal may have deliberately chosen to keep them different to avoid possible mis-connection). The CNI has a single power & LAN socket in one end, both of which are filled by the busbar (but which can be used standalone if needed).
The Ethernet connection(s) are made either via the busbar or via the LAN ports on the router. This part can get quite confusing, and the Clipsal documentation could do with a bit of work in this area. Because the Wiser router could be deployed as your main broadband router, or alternatively could just be added as another local device on your internal LAN, there are a number of different ways that the connections need to be made. I, (like most users in my opinion), already have my broadband set up, and already have a router in place that I’m more than happy with. Therefore I had no desire to re-architect my existing network to accommodate this device, and thus just wanted to connect it to my existing LAN, and not use its Ethernet routing capabilities. This is referred to as the “Option B” connection model in the documentation, and requires that you connect it to the existing LAN via any one of the available ports on the router itself – NOT via the one on the busbar – which you will recall I mentioned earlier is passed through to the router WAN port… – the problem is that this point is far from obvious when you are in the exited rush to get everything working! – there is no embossed wording on the busbar that makes it plain that the RJ45 port there is for the WAN only, and the documentation could be clearer (but who here reads the documentation before plugging everything in?). However, once you’ve come to understand that point, the connections are fairly straightforward to make, and you can proceed to the next phase: commissioning the unit, which is where the fun really begins.
Oh, and also in the box is a 1GB USB stick with the software & documentation on it – rather than a CDROM – could come in handy I suppose…
Commissioning – This is where, for me, – and from what I’ve seen on the CBUS forums – for quite a few other Wiser owners – everything started to unravel. It is important to grasp a few basic but fundamentally important concepts about how the whole unit operates.
- The Wiser main unit and the CNI – although connected together, are NOT a single network device. The Wiser router has its own IP address, and the CNI also has its own separate & unique IP address. These two units communicate via the IP network, and must be on the same subnet.
- The Wiser unit requires IP connectivity to the CNI in order to talk to CBUS – commands are issued from the wiser to the CNI over IP, and the CNI then puts the commands on the CBUS network. Therefore, the Wiser unit must know where to find the CNI (i.e. what IP address it’s on), in order to talk to it
- Out of the box, everything is set to the factory default IP configuration, which almost certainly won’t be appropriate for your existing network, so most users will need to change the IP addressing of the various units.
That sounds like it ought to be a simple & straightforward task to any of us who have even a rudimentary working knowledge of IP networking, but recent experience has shown that this operation has been the cause of an immense amount of frustration even to seasoned & experienced network-savvy users who work in the IT & networking fields day-in day-out. It comes down to this:
- The Wiser ships with the default address: 192.168.2.1
- The CNI ships with the default address: 192.168.2.2
- The Wiser *software* in the router *knows* that the CNI is on 192.168.2.2
So in order to successfully get everything working on a different network, it is necessary to update all 3 of those configuration points… Trouble is, each of them requires an entirely separate configuration tool, and a different method of updating it:
- The Wiser router IP address is configured via a browser & its inbuilt web-based admin UI
- The CNI IP address is configured using the relatively new CBUS IP Utility (part of Toolkit)
- The Wiser software’s pointer to the CNI is configured via a PICED project upload
Users have found that it’s fairly straightforward to complete the first two activities, but then invariably find that it’s absolutely impossible to get PICED to upload a project in order to update the final part of the jigsaw. It seems to be the case that there are a couple of security settings in the wiser software that prohibit PICED from updating any settings, and that the only way to relax those restrictions is via the Wiser touchscreen UI, – which is only accessible when all 3 IP addresses are correct (thus allowing the Wiser software to talk to the CNI) – so you end up in a catch-22.
In my case, and for many other users that I’ve seen posting on the forums, the *only* way out of this situation has been to revert all the units back to their factory default IP address, at which point the Wiser touchscreen UI becomes accessible again via your browser, and permits you to modify those security settings, which then permits PICED to upload your project file.
This of course requires that you connect a PC to the Wiser router directly, and set that PC to be on a 192.168.2.x IP address… – you can use the inbuilt DHCP server in the Wiser router – IF you haven’t already turned it off previously as part of the customisations to reconfigure it for your network.. ☺
You might well think that’s too much hassle, and decide to just connect via the WiFi… and a jolly sensible thought that would be… – I thought of it too… – problem is, out of the box, the WiFi has WPA-PSK security enabled, and as far as I can tell, there is NO mention anywhere in any of the documentation what the network key is, so it’s actually impossible to connect to the WiFi until you’ve first connected via the wired ports to change the WiFi passkey to something you know!
The moral of this tale is – Don’t be tempted to rush ahead and make the changes that you need to make in order to fit the wiser onto your network. You must perform the requisite configuration steps in a very prescriptive fashion if you are to avoid a lot of angst. The order you must follow is:
- Assemble the device & power it up.
- Connect a PC via a WIRED connection directly to one of its LAN ports – do whatever is necessary to make that PC work on the Wisers default network address of 192.168.2.x
- Point your browser at the Wisers UI on http://192.168.2.1 and navigate to the Wiser interface.
- In the Wiser interface, open the settings item and ENABLE all 3 options that appear. This will relax the security settings enough to allow a subsequent project upload through PICED.
- Connect to the device with PICED and perform a firmware update – the latest version of PICED includes the latest available firmware image, and it seems to be quite a few releases newer than the version installed in my device when it left the factory.
- Whilst there, it’s possibly a good idea to upload your PICED project at this point, – you’re going to have to do that at some point in the process… – you need to have planned what IP’s you are going to change the devices to, since the CNI address needs to be specified in that project file…
- Only now should you think about changing the IP addresses of the two units & integrating it into your existing network/
If you stick to this order of doing things, then you *should* have a relatively smooth time of it.
In Use – Once you’ve commissioned the device on your network, what can you actually do with it? In a nutshell you use the PICED software to create a “project” which you upload into the unit. PAC users will be familiar with this process, although some things have changed a little to accommodate the differences between a Wiser & a PAC. There is still an option to use a simulated screen in the PICED development environment to model the connected CBUS network & devices, so you can write & test logic code much as before. One of the first differences you’ll notice is the new “Widget Manager” which automatically launches the first time you run PICED to configure a new Wiser project. This is where you tell the wiser what CBUS items will be displayed on the touchscreen interface. The process is fairly intuitive; on the first tab you add locations which represent the rooms in your house, then proceed to the 2nd tab where you can add “function groups” – these are categories of device such as “lighting” and so on. Finally on the last tab you add the actual CBUS groups & scenes etc that you wish to have appear on your screens, by picking them from your existing CBUS toolkit project. That’s pretty much all there is to getting a basic functional CBUS touchscreen up & running which will operate the devices you added as described above.
Widget Manager with some locations added
Adding a few functional groups
Pick the CBUS groups & scenes etc. from your existing Toolkit project.
As a result of the above, the Wiser automatically builds a web page containing all the items you added. The locations appear as a strip along the top, and the functional groups appear as a column down the left. The icons are the ones I chose from the default set available in PICED when I added those functional groups, although you can of course get it to use pretty much any graphics you want.
Note that it builds you an interface which can be viewed as either a device-centric or a location-centric layout, and you can easily switch between these views, or even combine them.
Note that although it’s touted as a touchscreen interface, it doesn’t *have* to be used on a touchscreen, and a wide range of clients are supported. One which was particularly of interest to me was the iPhone/iPod touch app, – having recently become a newly converted Apple fan after receiving an iPod touch 64GB from SWMBO for Christmas. The Wiser iPhone app is totally free and available now in the app store. The only configuration required on the app side is the IP address of the wiser router to which it connects. Once configured, the iPod displays the same device or room centric view of the CBUS groups you added via the PICED project, with a button in the top-right corner switching between these two views:
Lists of items that are too long to appear on one screen will scroll up & down using the usual touch gestures. You can use the sliders to set specific dim levels, or you can just tap on the bulb icon to toggle on/off. Obviously devices that you added as a relay type rather than a dimmer just appear in the interface with an on/off button.
Note that absolutely no configuration, placement, design, or effort of any kind was required on my part to get this functioning UI onto my iPod, – other than simply adding the items into PICED as I described earlier.
That’s just a quick sample of what this unit can do, – I haven’t even explored the logic programming aspects of it yet, – let’s not forget that it also contains a fully functional logic engine just like a PAC so if you already have a PAC, or were thinking of getting one, a Wiser would seem to make a lot more sense – Provided you don’t require the 2 programmable RS232 ports that the original PAC features, because this unit doesn’t offer those, which is, as far as I can tell, pretty much the only aspect where the original PAC unit betters this one.