Comfort Web InterfACE – Review
You can connect to your home from your place of work, from a hotel room or holiday home and check if the mains failure got sorted out, If the lights are actually switching on while away like they are supposed to, check if someone is in the house, see what time the cleaners left and did they set the system.
ACE can also send emails and have the ACE-TTS module speak anything when any event occurs. Interested? Read on…
WHAT’S INCLUDED? – The Comfort Web InterfACE Kit includes – UCM RS232 Module, Leads and 25-9 pin serial adaptor, CWI software, ZoneAlarm (freeware version) and DynSite. It does NOT include – Webcam32 software (although trial version is on the CD), PC ,TV card, Internet Connection or Microsoft Personal Web Server (free 21 meg download or available on the Windows 98 & 2000 Pro CD ROMs).
HARDWARE – The UCM is the hardware in the kit and replaces the old RSM02 serial interface which is now obsolete. It is also used to program Comfort via the CS-Xpress software although it can’t do both at once. The UCM fixes the old “communications error” where you couldn’t leave the interface connected to your PC when it was switched off. Connecting to the panel is a quick affair using the supplied lead with IDT connectors. This plugs from the UCM onto a connector close to the KA KB blocks on the main board. If your PC is not near your alarm panel then this is the lead you extend, not the lead from UCM to PC. You can use CAT5 if this run is less than 50 metres or with special cable you can have a run of hundreds of metres! A kit is available containing two IDT crimp-on plugs and heat shrink tubing to make up this lead (part ref UCM-TERM). Posts to fix the board inside the Comfort panel are included. If your Comfort panel is already full you can purchase a new small enclose (Comfort UNIBOX) to house the UCM. You then connect the supplied serial lead between the UCM and your PC (there is even a 25-9 pin serial adaptor included). Simple.
PC Requirements Your PC needs to be running Windows 95, 98, NT or 2000 (Windows XP compatibility will be tested soon). Minimum hardware spec is a Pentium 150 with 32 meg. I am running CWI, WebCam32, DynSite, HomeSeer, HomeVision and Dialer 2000 all on an old Pentium 233MMX with 128meg under Windows 2000 Pro, and it is sweet. The only other thing you need is to make sure you have a spare serial port.
SOFTWARE – Comfort Web InterfACE software is the heart of the system. Developed in a joint venture between Comfort Home Controls and Hone Software, CWI uses Hone’s proven “ACE” product to form a link between your browser and the Comfort hardware. I was working from a draft version of the installation manual when I put the system on my server. Everything went smoothly apart from a hic-up with user rights to certain folders on my NTFS formatted hard drive on Windows 2000 Pro. This was sorted out by Dan Hoehnen within a few hours (typical of the level of support enjoyed by users of Comfort and Ace!). By now these extra instructions should be included in the installation manual (available in Adobe Acrobat format from Comforts website). Installation is carried out from an HTML page on the CD that walks you through the installation of each piece of software in order.
Another useful feature worth mentioning is that ACE can be setup to automatically synch the date and time on the PC to Comfort. Several people have reported Comforts clock gradually drifting out over time but with CWI running that problem is a thing of the past. The time can be set to synch every time ACE is started and also every day at midnight.
For maximum system stability, the PC is best running Windows 2000 but as I’ve said, you can still run it on Windows 95 and 98. You install the Microsoft Personal Webserver (PWS), or IIS in the case of Windows 2000 first and then the InterfACE itself. The installation process asks you to point to your .csx file and from that it picks up the zones names and home control menu information and generates the HTML pages for your system. This means that little HTML knowledge is required, whilst maintaining maximum flexibility. As well as CWI, the installation process installs the following components.
UPDATE – There is now a system built into ACW that will FTP your latest IP address to a site of your choice every time it changes. This works well if you have some free web space from your ISP etc as you can always go to the same page and be redirected from it to your CWI machine.
24/7 access has been made feasible for some of us via cable and ADSL. However if your home PC isn’t connected all day (for example if you only have one phone line) then don’t despair. You can phone into your Comfort systems normal voice menu and select the ‘Dial-Up’ option (Home Control Menu 4). Comfort will then force your PC online allowing you to access the system over the web! When you’re finished you can then force your PC off-line by the click of a button. You can also re-boot your PC remotely this way too.
Webcam – iVista is the default webcam software and it supports both audio and video feeds. Webcam32 is also supported. These applications use something called “Server Push” to send out the moving pictures. To view the video feed you just need to edit the CWI pages containing video (there are four of them) with your IP address (or DNS name if you are using DynDNS). The latest unregistered version of WebCam32 is included on the CD although it times out after 1 hour of operation (registration cost from Surveyor Corp). I am using the Hauppauge WinTV-Go as my capture card. It was inexpensive (£35.00) and it’s well supported. Hauppauge have a good website with constantly updated drivers (including Win2000/NT) and utilities.
USING THE SYSTEM – The first thing you must do is log in and there are two levels of security. Initially you are asked for a username and password (case sensitive). You can setup multiple users with different security levels. Level 0 is a “view only” type and good for “Guest” access, up to level 16 which has rights for everything. In the configuration screen you can specify the access level required to read each screen. After you have passed this screen you are asked for a PIN. Any of the numbers from your current .csx file will let you progress. Anyone trying to login with an invalid username or password will be allowed 6 attempts (configurable) before being locked out from being able to re-try for 5 minutes (also configurable). The next time the main authorised user logs in, that is the one that has level 16 rights, they will be told of the attempts at un-authorised login. The system also records the date, time, IP address, username and passwords for these attempts. These are all available to view on a screen within CWI as is the ability to clear these alerts (if you don’t clear them you will be shown them on each subsequent login). All authorised logins are also detailed on this screen although the legitimate passwords are not shown for obvious reasons. Dan has now added the ability to include your username, password and PIN in the URL. This is useful if you want to access CWI quickly in a secure environment like at your home on your own intranet. However this is not recommended for external locations for obvious reasons.
Main After login you are presented with the “Main” page. This gives an overview of your system on one screen. This includes the “Activity Monitor” which shows the last 20 zones activated along with alarm type. This is very useful for following movement around your home. It’s fun being able to ring your wife at home and tell her which room she’s in! At the bottom of this page is a Door Bell Log where you can see the date and time of the last few times your Door Bell was pushed. You can also view and change the status of the alarm – arm to any mode, Away, Night, Holiday, Day, Off. It is possible monitor all zones and their 4 states, (active, healthy (OK), shorted, tampered). You can also bypass and un-bypass any zone and disconnect from the web or re-boot the PC. The Main page can be customised from the Config page using Comforts own page building system. This means you can add pretty much anything you want to the Main page without have to know anything about HTML.
Security The Security screen gives access to you complete list of zones. Zone names are picked up from the .csx file so you see meaningful titles like “Hall PIR” rather than generic “Zone 1”.
Control The Control page is a web version of Comforts keypad menus. As well as allowing you to use your Home Control menu from a PC, there is another interesting aspect of giving ACE access to Comfort. For example, as ACE has built-in support for Winamp, with a little setting up you could use your Comfort keypads around the house to control your MP3 Jukebox functions like Play, Stop, Pause etc! You could also have a menu that would link to HomeVision and (for example) fire off some of its macros. CWI will also be very useful for people that haven’t got a keypad in their study.
Video One of the most impressive features of CWI is the Video section. Llive pictures from around your home are delivered to your desktop anywhere in the world. Although I have only one camera at present the system is set up to switch between 8 camera using Comforts own relays boards (part ref RLY01). Cameras can be switched manually by clicking on buttons on the web page or you can have comfort intelligently switch which camera to view based on movement. The image update isn’t bad. I’m getting around 1 frame every two seconds between work and home (ISDN connection at both ends and on the same ISP) and around 2 frames a second over my LAN.
Status This page is similar to HomeSeer’s web interface. It allows you to view any or all of the following on one screen – Inputs, Outputs, Security (Home, Away etc) and X10. These categories can be further subdivided into “Groups” so, for example, you could view the X10 lights only on the First Floor.
Events This page lists the events from the Comfort log file. This is a rolling list with the newest events over-writing the oldest (254 events long). At present this log must be refreshed manually.
Scenes Scenes are actually ACE Scripts that are executed through the web interface. ACE uses the same scripting engine as HomeSeer so those already familiar with its syntax will feel at home. Because the actions in scripts don’t have to be any of the pre-programmed responses the Comfort standard capacity of 255 responses becomes virtually unlimited!
Responses This page gives you access to all 254 responses at the click of a mouse button. This is useful as it’s very unlikely that you will have every response programmed into your system available from a control menu.
CID Caller ID is supported in ACE. If a CID capable modem is added, you can monitor calls on the home line and display this on the CID screen (I haven’t tested this).
Config The Configuration screen lets you choose a refresh rate for CWI. As the status of many zones change very often this defaults to one second. This gives you accurate up-to-date information. However you are free to reduce this interval if you can do with less frequent refreshes. The “refresh” isn’t the usual annoying refresh of the whole page – Dan has found a clever way to refresh the values without affecting the pages themselves. A note that may be useful to others – on my machine every time the browser refreshed it resulted in a very annoying “Tick” sound. This is a .wav file associated with a browser refresh and can be turned off by going to Control Panel, Sounds then under the heading of “Windows Explorer” set the “Start Navigation” option to “None”.
Editing / Adding your Own Pages Of course you may like to add your own pages to the system or edit the existing ones. In fact unless you have a completely standard system you’ll want to customise the pages.
The HTML is configurable on the pages The video and main screens which have camera control capability and light switching, may have all their hyperlinks edited manually for providing any variation. A hyper link may even run action codes and X10 commands irrespective of whether they are resident on Comfort’s responses. Here are some examples of the simple HTML lines require to perform various tasks…
href=”main2.asp?api=aces:cx:A,5,5″> = X10 Command – A5 ON
href=”main2.asp?api=aces:cx:A,5,7″> = X10 Command – A5 OFF
href=”security.asp?api=aces:cdr:1 “> = Do Response 1
href=”security.asp?api=aces:cda:71,1”> = Arm to away mode
Taking the first line above as an example the “business” end of this line is this part – aces:cx:A,5,5 aces means there’s an ACE Server commanding coming. cx tells the system that it is a “C”omfort “X”10 command, the A,5 is simply the X10 address and finally the last 5 means ON (7 is OFF as in the example on the next line down). There are on-line html help files with the system to aid with the construction of this custom HTML.
There is a ‘Chat’ message screen for included in the setup for live communication with family member who may be at home using the keyboard and also a programming screen so the installer can support the system remotely, and its password protected. Also any user can request a chat, which causes a popup window to be displayed on all browsers and a sound file to be played on all browsers informing the users of a chat request. Each user can then accept or decline the chat request.
Through the development process over the last few months, there have been many upgrades as suggested new features become a reality. Dan has now changed the structure of the active server pages so that they are built from .ini files. This means that upgrades to the software should no longer require you to re-construct any custom pages from scratch. Minor upgrades to the software will be free for the foreseeable future.
CONCLUSION – I have tried to give a flavour in this review of the sort of things that are possible with CWI. New features are being added think and fast and so it probably won’t be long until this review is out of date!
Very shortly we’re all going to have our homes permanently connected to the Net. Whether it be via ADSL/Cable modem or by some other means, cheap high-bandwidth access is almost a reality. This will make the decision to upgrade to CWI for existing Comfort users a “No Brainer”. It will also surely be the last feature needed to convince those waiting in the wings to buy into this world beating system. The continually enhanced Comfort Alarm (although to call it just an alarm does it a great injustice) has a few other surprises in the pipeline too. These include new keypads that will have the ability to receive IR allowing the alarm to be operated from the Philips Pronto remote for example.
So then, if you already have Comfort then stop what you’re doing, pickup the phone and order CWI now. If you don’t already have Comfort then stop what you’re doing, pickup the phone…..
APPROXIMATE PRICING (Inc VAT)
UCM & CWI – £243.23 (UCMCWI)
Includes UCM, leads, CW InterfACE software with web pages. Comfort’s Web InterfACE provide browser-based home control over the internet or intranet, via UCM01/A and ACE software. CD Has trial software and resources, eg Comfigurator, Zone Alarm, Dialler 2000, Dreamweaver4, Inetcam iVista, AceTTS, Microsoft PWS95 and 98
CWI software £116.33 (CWI-SFT)
Outside Firmware £45.12 (not required if Outside firmware already fitted)
ACE TTS (text to speech) is £10 extra
All Price Quoted INCLUDE VAT