Fibaro Z-Wave Home Center 2 Mega Review

The fine folks at Fibaro and Vesternet were kind enough to lend us a sizeable home automation system based around Fibaro’s premium Home Center 2 controller, plus a bunch of their Z-Wave modules too.

Ant Skelton has had the system on test for a few months and has given it a damned good seeing to. Without further ado, let’s meet the cast.

Fibaro Home Center 2

Home Center 2 : European Shop £497.00

The Home Center 2 is Fibaro’s flagship product. It’s an ethernet attached ZWave controller based on a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom, 1GB of RAM and a 2GB solid state disk. The Home Center 2 is housed in a custom milled aluminium enclosure which is both aesthetically pleasing and thermally conducting, which is handy because this puppy runs hot.

After prolonged use, the case is hot to the touch (in my stuffy, non-ventilated node 0, that is) so you probably don’t want to go piling other gear on top of it.  On the plus side, the passive heat sink means no fans, so the Home Center 2 is entirely slient in operation..

The HC2 has the obligatory blue LEDs, and plenty of them. They are, from left to right: SW update in progress, SW update available, Recovery, Learn Mode, ZWave connection, Internet connection, LAN activity, and Power. They all have unhelpfully cryptic little icons, and you soon forget what they all mean. Suffice to say that if the one on the left is blinking, a software update is available.

Round the back is the ZWave antenna, and a couple of buttons, one for power on/off and one to enable the HC2’s ZWave pairing function (to add or remove devices). The latter can also be used to enable recovery mode or to force the HC2 to adopt a static IP address in case of network issues.

On the side of the device is a panel which requires a screwdriver to remove, giving access to the power and network connections. The idea is to thread the cables through the rear slot in the case and plug ‘em in from the side, before replacing the side panel to tidy them all away. There’s no strain relief however, so I left the panel off and secured the wires to the case with a cable tie.

My HC2 came with an alarmingly large 4 amp power supply, but I’ve confirmed that it draws less than an amp in operation.

You may also notice that there’s a USB memory stick in here that houses the HC2’s recovery image, a spare USB slot, an audio out connection, and a mysterious blanking plate. You’re probably wondering the same thing I did. The answer is, it hides some VGA and DVI video connectors.

In answer to your next question, yes you can plug a monitor and a keyboard in there, but no there isn’t much of interest being displayed, although you can watch the box boot.  As you can see this is a Debian 6 embedded Linux system, but you won’t gain access by guessing the root password.

The recovery disk is a simple 2GB USB thumb drive containing a linux boot image that the HC2 uses in case of catastrophic failure – which I’ve never had to use. I did have a poke around its filing system though.

A bit of investigation reveals an apache2 web server, a MySQL database, a raft of heavily obfuscated PHP scripts, a couple of custom processes that appear to be responsible for shunting info between the ZWave network and the database, and a GPIO process to run the buttons and LEDs.

All in all, a pretty solid foundation. There’s much cunningness going on in the networking department: once your HC2 is setup and configured, it phones home and sets up an autossh reverse proxy to the Fibaro mothership – this means that when you’re away from home and connecting to the Fibaro remote service, it looks exactly like your home setup because it is your home setup – a nicely engineered solution.

System setup

Once you’ve got your connections squared away, you can find the HC2 on your network at its static IP address, which you can obtain from your router’s diagnostics, or by using the HC2 Finder apps that are downloadable from Fibaro’s site. You can reconfigure the HC2 for DHCP, and then get on with configuring the device.

The HC2 needs to know where it is, both to provide weather information and to assist in its geofencing capability, which we’ll cover shortly. (Unless otherwise noted, layout issues in the screenshots are from early development versions of the software which have subsequently been fixed).

The Fibaro access panel controls which remote devices (iPhones, iPads etc – sorry Android fans!) receive push notifications (via Apple’s notification service), and also lets you set up remote access accounts. One particularly nice feature is that you can put the device in Hotel Mode and set up a remote access account that has limited access to the controllable devices – so you can let guests have control over their room lighting etc without monkeying about with the rest of your system. You can also set up extremely fine-grained permissions to control precisely which cameras, devices, scenes and configuration screens are available to individual users, as well as specifying whether they’re eligible to receive notifications or not, and whether they get to play with the location tracking stuff.

The notifications panel lets you set up canned messages to be delivered by email, SMS, or Push notification. These can be triggered on a per-device basis.

The SMS panel lets you set-up trusted telephone numbers from the which the HC2 will accept commands via text message. In addition, you can buy notification credits so that the Fibaro service will notify you when interesting events happen on your HC2. Unfortunately the SMS service doesn’t work yet in the UK as Fibaro are still trialling different network partners.

Another useful screen is the Events panel, which lets you examine the system log, in which you can see events on the ZWave network, filtered by time and date.

There are various other panels, mostly to do with configuring linked devices, which are composite ‘devices’ composed of multiple real ZWave devices, for example to provide Alarm, HVAC, and Sprinkler functionality.

One interesting example of a Linked Device is the Video Gate. This lets you bind together a camera device, a button to open the gate, and a button to act as a doorbell push. This composite device will then appear on the main screen as a single Video Gate device.

Configuring sections and rooms

The next step in the process of setting up an HC2 is to divide your abode into Sections, each of which contains a number of rooms.

You can see that I’ve split my gaff into UpstairsDownstairs, and Outbuildings (stables, orangery, servants’ quarters, etc) and assigned rooms accordingly. There seems to be ample space for rooms and sections: the web page suggests that you can have 30 or so sections and about 50 rooms.

Adding devices

Once you’ve got your rooms set up, it’s time to start plugging in or wiring in ZWave devices and adding them to the network. Generally this involves putting the HC2 into joining mode, either by pressing the button or using the web page controls and then performing some sort of commissioning action on the device in question. For some devices (typically Fibaro’s own) this is usually well thought out and involves pressing a recessed button on the module if you have access to it, or toggling an attached switch three times if you don’t. Other vendors’ commissioning procedures range from the inconvenient to the astonishingly brain-dead.

My advice is to configure all your devices on the desk near your HC2 before you install them in their final resting place; this may involve building a little setup rig or the sort of cable that gives Health and Safety officers nightmares, but it will save you a lot of swearing up a step-ladder. Not that I’m condoning this sort of thing.

It’s not just the funny commissioning procedures that can make device installation annoying: shortcomings in the ZWave protocol itself can make this absolutely infuriating. This is because ZWave uses what’s known as a Low Power Join procedure – when the HC2 is in joining mode, its ZWave radio operates at a much lower power than it would normally, so the device you want to pair it with must be much closer to the controller. The rational for this approach is that it prevents you accidentally adding your neighbours’ ZWave devices, in the unlikely event that your entire neighbourhood is commissioning their ZWave networks at the same time.

In Fibaro’s defence, they have included a “this device is far away” option, which presumably runs the radio at a higher or maximum power during the joining process. However, if the device you’re trying to add is still outside the direct range of the HC2, you won’t be able to add it, even if you have intermediate nodes forming a mesh between the HC2 and your intended location. I didn’t know this before I started, which left me up a step ladder down the far end of the garage, rootling about in the rafters with a screwdriver and a torch whilst trying to use an iPad to control the HC2, cursing the 13-year old ZWave protocol. Don’t think you can simply unplug the HC2 and move it into the garage temporarily either, you need a LAN connection for joining to work (I don’t know why, and can’t see any good reason for it, but my HC2 wouldn’t set up the ZWave network without first acquiring a LAN connection). It turns out this is a well known ZWave-ism, and is the reason that some controllers can operate from batteries.

Having said all that, I concede that my target demographic probably have multiple gigabit connections to their garages, so feel free to disregard the above.

Configuring devices

Once you’ve got your ZWave gubbins all linked up, the real fun begins. Each device you added will be listed as “Unassigned”, and you get to assign them to rooms and sections, give them names, and generally tweak any of the other parameters on offer.

Each sensor’s settings are available by clicking on its wrench icon, either on the main page or in the list of sensors down the left-hand side. Device configuration is split into two tabs, one for the basics like the sensor’s name, location, and icon, and an “Advanced” tab that controls notifications, associations, and configuration parameters.

You can see that the Fibaro is able to inspect the class of your ZWave device and give it a suitable icon. A less obvious benefit of this capability is that the HC2 will provide much more descriptive labels for the various configuration options, so rather then getting “Parameter 3: ON/OFF” it will tell you that this controls the device’s power saving mode, and what the available values actually mean. Impressively, the HC2 will do this for a wide array of ZWave modules, and not just Fibaro’s own. Sometimes the icons it comes up with look uncannily like the actual device. (Fibaro’s graphic designer is anxious for me to point out that these are renders from 3D models they made, and not photographs!)

Speaking of icons, there’s a large pool of extremely high quality icons for the various room types and device types that you might want to use, but if you can’t find anything suitable you are at liberty to add your own.

This is just a quick example I knocked up from an image pilfered from the internet – the image noise is my fault, not the HC2’s. When it comes to adding a custom icon for an on/off device, the HC2 will prompt you for two images, one for each of the states, and for a dimmable device it wants 10. I built a little 3D animation in blender of my garage door opening and imported that, and it looks fabulous.

Adding cameras

If you have any network cameras knocking about the place, you can incorporate them into your HC2 setup using the “add camera” dialogue. This lets you give the HC2 username and password credentials to access the camera and lets you specify the camera’s URLs for grabbing stills, MJPEGs, driving the pan tilt zoom etc.

The camera functionality is a bit limited, the HC2 doesn’t do any motion detection or recording, which is a pity. Being a Linux system, I am hopeful that some of the excellent open-source stuff that’s out there (eg Ken Lavrsen’s excellent Motion library) can be incorporated in the future to beef-up camera support. In the meantime, you’re limited to using a PIR to detect movement, which can trigger a Scene to email photos to an off-site email address.

Strangely, camera images are not available on the main HC2 page, you have to click through to the camera’s settings page to get a tiny thumbnail (and the PT and snapshot controls) which you then click again to get the full size image. This is due to change in a forthcoming software release.

Adding virtual devices

Actual physical devices are not the only game in town: the HC2 lets you add virtual devices.

A virtual device is a device control which appears on your main HC2, but rather than communicating with ZWave hardware, it interfaces to some other system via TCP. You can add buttons and sliders to your virtual device and program each with a canned response, which can include the level of the relevant button or slider, before sending it off to an IP address and port that you specify.

In essence, this means that you can control any other HA devices with web interfaces from the HC2 main page. It’s a pity that you’re limited to TCP, the option to send UDP packets would be nice (for example to talk to a LightWaveRF system), however the next release (1.037) will be limited to just sending HTTP.

Surveying the state of the nation

When the tinkering phase is over, you can load up the main Fibaro screen and take stock of your domain. The main page provides an overview of the devices in your system, with each gadget displaying basic status and control information (except, as discussed, cameras). Battery powered devices report their battery levels, and every gadget has a little wrench icon to access its settings.

Down the left-hand side is a set of filters that let you filter per-device or per-room, and these are cumulative, so you can view just the sensors in the living room, for example. The speech bubble at the top is a kind of ZWave status area, you’ll see notifications happen in here when interesting things happen on the ZWave network (like devices joining). On the right of the screen is an annoying floating toolbox that duplicates the functionality of the main tabs, but it does also have a ‘logout’ button, and also what has come to be known in our house as the Blue Welder’s Helmet. When the Welder’s Helmet turns blue, the HC2 wants you to save your config by clicking on the helmet. It’s quite discrete and non-intrusive: I much prefer their helmet-based approach to the constant nagging of modal dialogue boxes you see on other systems.

If you interact with a device, not only does its icon change to reflect its new state, but a little “transfer OK” message lets you know that the message was sent successfully (or not, as the case may be). Occasionally you’ll see a gadget change its status to “polling device” as the HC2 checks that the state of the world matches its internal representation.

In the gadget to the left, you can click the ON/OFF buttons, drag the slider, click on the slider track, or click on the little bar graph to jump to a discrete level. The icon changes state to reflect the current status of the device. This is the same for all devices; door switches show an open or closed door, PIR sensors show a fleeing man etc.

The web design is extremely elegant, in my opinion. The gadgets are well thought out, and the graphics superbly rendered. My only gripe is the fixed width layout: I’m endlessly paging up and down to find the device I want because they all occupy a narrow central band that only uses the middle third of my monitor, whereas an elastic layout would make more efficient use of screen real estate. No doubt some folks would prefer a lighter theme too, although personally I quite like the dark look.

Dead nodes

Inevitably with an RF based system, you will eventually encounter the dreaded dead node. Sometimes this can indicate a faulty unit, but mostly it indicates some sort of interference or range problem.

This node is a persistent offender in my set-up, it routinely shows up like this, despite being about 3 metres from the HC2, and having at least two other hops it could take to route data. I can accept these sorts of unpredictable RF behaviour, but what really puzzles me is this: if I click on that wake up dead nodes link, or the big X icon on the gadget, this node is reanimated for a few minutes, during which time it behaves perfectly well, then after a while it will drop off the network again. What I don’t get is, if the HC2 knows this node is “dead”, yet it has the means to communicate with it, why doesn’t it do so automatically, without all the “wake up dead nodes” rigmarole? (Fibaro tell me that this will change in the verion 2 software).

I have another node (front-door magnetic sensor) that appears perfectly on the network, yet its status is never shown on the HC2 – it’s permanently fixed at open. I know it’s correctly sensing door events because I can see the light flash on the unit itself, but the HC2 isn’t interested. It’s physically quite close to my other misbehaving device, so I chalk this up to me having some sort of miniature ZWave Bermuda Triangle in my house, somewhere between the hall and the living room (the device works fine if I move it somewhere else). It’s worth noting that I’ve only seen issues like these with third party ZWave modules.

These are the sorts of RF peculiarities that you might expect a mesh network to route around, but it seems ZWave does not cope well with these sorts of problems. It seems to regard any given link in the network as good so long as it can hear some sort of traffic, even if that traffic is largely corrupted.

Having said this, a couple of dodgy nodes in a network of 20 or so is not bad going, and I could probably resolve these issues if I spent more time repositioning devices slightly. Fibaro tell me that future versions of the software will have support for diagnosing ZWave network problems.

Adding scenes

The HomeCenter2 lets you set up custom ‘scripts’ using its Scenes functionality. Scenes are a bit peculiar, as they use a visual programming metaphor, presumably in a noble attempt to bring programming to the masses.  But if you’ve done any sort of coding before you might find them a bit unusual, as the interface is quite quirky and not well documented anywhere, as far as I can tell.

I’ll do my best to shed some light on the matter, although my take on it is largely derived from trial and error so don’t take it as gospel.

The first thing to understand is that a scene is basically an IF condition(s) THEN action(s) conditional command, or a predicate in other words. The condition can be an input device changing state, a timed event, a periodic event, a user defined variable, a weather condition, or a GPS event. The latter is triggered by one of your registered users (accompanied by their iOS device) approaching or leaving a pre-defined point that you’ve set up in the Locations panel.

You can combine conditions using and and or conditions. The actions you can perform are setting a variable, triggering a scene, sending a command to a ZWave device, sending a camera snapshot to a registered user, or triggering a virtual device. You can chain actions together using the and operator.

You can also apply a delay to an action: it’s the red box on the rightmost edge. Despite appearing after the action in the scene graphic, the delay is applied before the action is executed, which takes some getting used to. For example, if your scene is…

IF every-minute THEN lamp1 = ON delay 10 s AND lamp2 = ON 

…then when it executes lamp2 will turn on immediately, and lamp1 will turn on 10 seconds later.

The other great mystery with Scenes is what do the RUN and STOP buttons do, and what does that active scene tickbox mean exactly? My take on this is that an active scene is continuously running in the background waiting for some sort of active system event that matches its if clause, and when that happens it executes the corresponding action, if appropriate. If you disable the active scene tick box, then this scene is no longer continuously monitoring events.

The RUN button bypasses all the conditional parts of the scene and runs the action part regardless, so its a way of forcing actions to execute without any of their preconditions being met. I’ve no idea what the STOP button does, it doesn’t seem to have any effect at all. Using my above example, clicking the STOP button after lamp2 comes on doesn’t prevent lamp1 coming on 10 seconds later.

The visual programming widget is a lot of fun, but the user interface has quite a few quirks. For example, you add clauses using the big + and – buttons, but these are always present regardless of whether it actually makes sense to add or remove a clause at that juncture, so they do nothing.

The menu that pops up when you want to add new stuff is the same for both conditions and actions, even though only half the top level menu items apply in either case. The rest are empty, so it would be nice if it were context-sensitive and they weren’t shown at all. The then operator has a dropdown to change it to and or or, but immediately changes itself back to then again. The comparison operators include less than, greater than, equal to… but no “is not equal to”, which is a bizarre omission. Also some of the comparisons can be mildly amusing: what does weather condition GREATER THAN fog actually mean?

These are all minor user interface quirks that you quickly adapt to. The one more serious omission that I’ve noticed is that there’s no way to randomise time intervals: you can trigger scenes at particular times, or at fixed intervals from sunrise or sunset, but I’ve not discovered any way to add a random offset, or a random action delay, which means that it’s not possible to write scenes to simulate occupancy very convincingly while you’re away. I’ve mentioned this, and it’s being looked in to.

Seasoned code-monkeys will be glad to hear that there’s a beta version of the software kicking about that lets you program scenes using the Lua scripting language rather than the visual interface. I was planning on switching to beta once I’d finished the bulk of this review to give you a preview, but unfortunately the beta trial option is currently not available, however expect this functionality to appear shortly. You can get a feel for the sorts of things it will be capable of by perusing the docs at Fibaro’s documentation site (Polish only, so Google Translate is your friend here. English docs will follow shortly).

Remote Access

If you enable remote access in your HC2’s settings, you can create an account on their Remote Gateway service at home.fibaro.com.

 

 

Once in, you get a choice of different web interfaces optimised for whatever your mobile poison is, or you can go for the full-fat interface, which looks exactly like your home HC2 interface for all the good reasons discussed above.

iPhone app

Fibaro provide an iPhone application which you can download from the App Store. This gives you local or remote access to most of the functionality of the HC2, with the deliberate exception of the more sensitive stuff like adding or removing network devices, setting up scenes etc.

I found the setup procedure to be mildly perplexing; make sure you’ve enabled remote access and set up an account at home.fibaro.com. If you get a dialogue like the above, what it’s trying to tell you is that it wants you to go to the iPhone’s system settings app, and put the relevant credentials in the Fibaro section.

Once you’re in, you can use the various icons to access device functionlity, swipe screens left and right, and swipe the navigation bar at the top left and right to access more options.

One intriguing option on the iPhone app is Lili – like Siri, but for home automation. The idea is that you can set up voice commands in your main HC2 device settings, and then bellow them into your iPhone, whereupon Lili will do your bidding.

The only drawback with Lili is that she doesn’t seem to work at all, not even once, just a little bit. Possibly she’s optimised for Polish speech, but she wasn’t able to fathom my attempts at Polish either, although it did provide considerable amusement for the rest of the household.

The iPhone app can also use location services to monitor your position, which you can use with the HC2’s scenes functionality to provide geofencing-like behaviours, ie you can tell it to turn the heating on when you leave work, and turn the lights on whenever you reach home etc. You can configure how often the location data is reported from the HC2’s Access Control Panel on a per-user basis, from 1 minute to 1 hour. Obviously, for maximum accuracy you want to report as often as possible, but be warned that this level of location reporting absolutely spanks the iPhone’s battery and you’ll be lucky to make it to the end of the day (which, ironically, is probably when you need the location sensing).

It would be nice if there was a facility to only enable location tracking at certain times of day; for example in broad one hour slots that I could program to roughly cover my likely arrival and departure times. I’ve mentioned this to Fibaro and they are in agreement, so hopefully something will appear in a future release of the software.

Firmware updates

Fibaro are continually improving the HC2 software: I think I’ve had about 8 software updates in the space of about 4 months, one of which seemed to be targetted at me directly as its changelist was basically a cut and paste job from my most recent email to Fibaro support.

When a new image is available, a discrete sentinel appears on the HC2’s main web page prompting you to upgrade. It’s a relatively painless affair that takes about five minutes or so, and the HC2 persists your settings across each upgrade.

I’ve never had a software upgrade fail, but if it did you could hold down the recovery button and boot to the factory firmware that’s on the supplied USB thumb drive. It’s worth mentioning that you can also use the HC2’s Configuration tab to make backups of your current settings to the recovery disk, and also restore them.

Fibaro Universal Dimmer, 500W, FGD 211

PDF instructions : European Shop £48.00

The Fibaro dimmer module is a 500W leading-edge unit capable of dimming mains halogens, LV+transformer halogens, dimmable LEDs, and incandescents.  It can also act as a switch for compact flourescents, flourescent tubes, and non-dimmable LEDs too. It has a minimum load requirement of 25W, but a dimmer bypass (FGB001) is available if you need to control lower power loads. It can be installed with or without a neutral connection, and features two physical switch inputs, although it can operate from a single switch. In addition, it can use both momentary and regular latching switches, although you lose the ability to control the dimming level from the switch with the latter.  The dimmer module is an extremely diminutive 15x42x36mm, and fits easily in my shallower backboxes.

The module features a surprisingly sturdy screw-down terminal block for making connections and a vast number of configuration options which are accessible from the device settings page in the HC2.  For example: percentage change per dim step, time to switch between min/max dimming level (manual), time to switch between min/max dimming level (remote), max. dimming level, min. dimming level, wallswitch type, double click behaviour, stair switch mode, synchronised dimming level. In addition it has two association groups (one for each switch) of up to 16 devices, and group settings for All-On/All-Off and Alarm memberships. This is an extremely well thought out and superbly engineered module that is an absolute joy to work with.

Fibaro Single Channel 3kW Relay / Switch, FGS 211

PDF instructions : European Shop £48.00

This module is the same size as the dimmer, but features on/off switching of a single 3kW maximum load. A neutral connection is required, and the switching inputs are line level, but the switched load can be a different voltage if necessary (eg switching a low voltage load). It too has a plethora of configuration options, including an auto-off timer. A nice feature of this module is that it has a secondary switch input, which you can use as an independent switch input on the HC2 main page.

Fibaro Dual Channel 1.5kW Relay / Switch, FGS 221

PDF instructions : European Shop £48.00

This module is a two channel version of the above dimmer, except now you get two channels of 1.5kW switching, each controlled by its own physical switch.

In the HC2 web page, this device always appears as two separate switchable devices, which can be irritating if they’re both controlling the same thing. For example, I attempted to automate my garage door opener with a single Dual Relay module, using one channel for “up” and the second for “down”, but this is how the HC2 represents this setup whereas what I was really after was a single “garage door” widget with “up” and “down” buttons on it. Fibaro acknowledge that this would be a useful feature, and it’s on their to-do list. In the meantime, I solved the problem (sort of) with the cunning application of a roller/shutter module.

Fibaro Roller / Shutter Module, FGR 221

PDF instructions : European Shop £48.00

The Fibaro Roller / Shutter module is designed for controlling mains voltage shutter and blind motors, or indeed any sort of motorised device which has a live feed that makes it spin in one direction, and another feed to make it spin in the opposite direction. It can handle a load of up to 1kW at 230V. The module has two switch inputs and two switched outputs and a common ground which connects to the motor.

The module also incorporates position sensing, where it is able to estimate the position of the shutter based on how long it’s been driving the motor for and in which direction. It takes a couple of full open/close cycles for it to build a picture of what’s going on, and if you have some other external means of controlling your shutter, you’re probably going to confuse it mightily. The documentation mentions that this only works for shutter drivers that have mechanical limit switches, which suggests that the module is looking for a sudden absence of current to detect that motion has finished, and that it can’t detect the increased stall current of the motor (caused by it not being able to turn any further). Alternatively, you can just turn the position sensing off entirely, which is what I’ve done here.

(A version of the roller/shutter module with electronic limit sensing is due 2013Q1.)

The roller/shutter modules does have the “up/down” user interface that I wanted for my garage door, so I set about interfacing my (low voltage) garage door opener interface to the (mains voltage) roller/shutter module, using a couple of mains voltage relays mounted in an enclosure, as seen above.  This finally gives me the interface I was after:

accompanied by a lot of satisfyingly SteamPunk clanking and flashing from the relays. I agree it’s not the most elegant solution, but it will do until they fix the dual-relay problem. Unfortunately it’s not an ideal solution either, as the iPhone interface seems to have issues with roller/shutter modules:

For some reason there are no “up” and “down” buttons. Also the slider doesn’t work, and neither does tapping on the icon. This means that if I want to open the garage from my phone, I have to exit the Fibaro application and use a browser to access the web interface instead, which is hardly ideal. I’ve pointed this out to Fibaro, so hopefully it will be remedied in a future version of the iPhone app.

Fibaro Universal Sensor, FGBS 001

PDF Instructions : European Shop £36.00

The Universal Sensor module is a svelte 14.5×27.3x12mm bare PCB with some pig tail wires poking out. It’s coated in some sort of thick clear polymer, so it’s reasonably robust. The Universal Sensor is intended to act as a ZWave “T-piece” into any existing alarm wiring you might have.  For example you might install a Universal Sensor in the wiring between an existing PIR sensor and an existing alarm panel, so that the HC2 can monitor the state of the PIR without disrupting your old alarm’s functionality. To this end it has two low-voltage inputs (which can attach to a single alarm sensor with tamper detection, or to two parametric alarm sensors), and a pair of output relays which connect towards the alarm panel and whose output state mirrors the corresponding input. Its tiny size and thick coating means that it can be easily tucked inside an existing enclosure.

One nice added bonus of the Universal Sensor is that it includes a one-wire interface, to which up to four Dallas DS18B20 temperature sensors may be connected. In the second photo above, you can see the Universal Sensor mounted on a paper clip at the bottom, with four DS18B20s above it (the row of 4 black blobs). The corresponding HC2 main page gadget is also shown above.

It’s unfortunate that you can’t control the relays independently from the HC2 web interface, as this would have made this module a generic ZWave low-voltage I/O unit, for which I can think of plenty of useful applications. Hopefully this will be addressed with a future firmware upgrade, or maybe a separate module.

Upgrade path

As I’ve already mentioned, Fibaro innovate at a fairly rapid rate and are extremely receptive to suggestions and improvements sent either via their support email or the Fibaro forums. You can glean some likely future software features from the beta documentation site, but the headline items are likely to be scripting scenes using Lua scripts instead of the graphical blocks, and the new VOIP support panel. There’s also some talk of an API, although it’s not clear whether this is what you and I might mean by an API (eg a RESTful HTTP interface that other applications can use to control the HC2) or whether they’re just talking about the new Lua scripts.

From the device settings, it is apparent that energy monitoring is likely to make an appearance fairly soon and I’d like to see them beef up the camera support a bit, and sort out an SMS partner for the UK. The flashy video on their website makes mention of an interesting in-car module so the HC2 can detect your arrival/departure, and it would be nice to see a universal IO module, along the lines of the Universal Sensor, because that would open up all sorts of interesting possibilities.

On the long term roadmap, it looks like Fibaro have apirations in the PVR/media player/whole house audio markets, alongside integrated shopping services and “find me a plumber because my flood sensor says the basement is underwater” type services.

Conclusion

The Fibaro system occupies the middle ground of home automation; it’s not a cheap system, but neither is it in the silly money price range. If you want the features that the cheaper RF systems can’t offer, like mesh networking and status reporting, then ZWave is pretty much your only option currently. The Fibaro Home Center 2 handles your ZWave needs with aplomb, and folds a lot of extra functionality in to the mix, along with its attractive interface and housing, remote access, iPhone app. etc. I can’t stress enough that the Fibaro hardware and software is absolutely bomb-proof – I haven’t experienced a single crash or lockup and the few minor glitches or usability improvements I’ve reported have been very swiftly dealt with.

The real stars of the show though are Fibaro’s modules. They’re tiny, super reliable, and have a wealth of hardware and software configurability options that make them flexible enough to be used in a wide variety of scenarios. They are an order of magnitude better than many of the other manufacturers’ ZWave devices I’ve tried, so Fibaro are going to have their work cut out producing more types of modules so that I can replace them (door window sensors and PIRs please Mr Fibaro, if you’re reading).

[UPDATE] As we were going to press, so to speak, I managed to catch up with Fibaro’s sales director to get a feel for the sorts of things they’re going to be up to in the future:

  • Custom iPad application coming in 6-8 weeks’ time.
  • SMS integration – they’re still doing trials with partners, but should be “any time soon”.
  • Full API is on the cards, possibly very soon indeed, including information push to eg ifttt.com, Facebook etc.
  • Door window sensors, battery powered universal sensors, and (EU only) plugin modules in October.
  • Universal IO module soon.
  • After that they have a battery of sensors planned going in to next year: gas sensor, smoke sensor, propane/butane sensor, chlorophorm sensor, PIR and “multisensor”.
  • There are no plans to release an in-car product.
  • Beta software release will make a return in a couple of weeks.

[UPDATE 2]Fibaro have just released version 1.037 software, which includes the HTTP API for control and monitoring from external systems. The API lets you monitor the system (returning a comprehensive XML overview), or control relays, dimmers, roller/shutter modules, thermostats, virtual devices, and scenes. You can also take snapshots from cameras. There are two versions of the API – currently supported is the unauthenticated API, and an authenticated API which respects configured user permissions will follow shortly. Documentation for the API has been added to the Fibaro docs site.

3 Modules FREE (first 20 readers only)

The guys at Vesternet have kindly put together a great offer, exclusively for Automated Home.   The first 20 readers to purchase a Fibaro Starter Kit (HC2 & any 4 modules),  will get an extra 3-pack of modules completely FREE - worth up to £144!

Simply add an HC2 to your basket here,  then add your choice of 7 Fibaro modules or sensors - any combination is fine.  Add this discount code at checkout and 3 modules will be FREE (code only works for first 20 readers):  XJ92PSG29833MA
(This offer is valid for Free delivery to any address in Europe.)

Fibaro   :   Vesternet   :   More Z-Wave Articles

Alt SkeltonAnt Skelton has spent the last 20 years writing embedded software in various startups around Cambridge, UK, specialising in wireless networking and server-side technologies. A keen home-brew electronics enthusiast and prodigious bass guitarist, Ant has been dabbling with Home Automation since 1998. He is most likely to be heard saying “How much?! I’ll build my own!” as the hundreds of half-finished projects in his garage will testify.

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20 Responses to “Fibaro Z-Wave Home Center 2 Mega Review”

  1. Thanks for the very detailed review.

    I installed a few Fibaro micro-modules at the weekend, and they’re great.

    Oh, and I can see several uses for the Universal Sensor now…thanks for the info.

    Great review!

  2. Just to let everyone know Vesternet is down along with millions of other sites due to the Godaddy hack: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2012/sep/10/godaddy-hacked-domain-registrar-anonymous

    The special offer is still available when back online, but this is out of our control.

  3. Is there a US version or any plans for it?

  4. I’m deeply envious of your orange backdrop.

  5. Thanks for a really great review! I will definitely use Fibaro / Z-Wave when I build my new house next year!

  6. Any recommendations for nice rocker (momentary) switches for dimming?

  7. Mk grid switch. They do a momentary switch that says press on it. Lots of different face plates. I have stainless ones

  8. Thanks for the good reveiw. I’d like to see comparison Fibaro HC2 and Vera or VeraLite. Cause so far Vera is the best option for budget DIY Z_Wave automation.

  9. Your review is great in terms of describing functionality, and, I have to give them credit for creating something that is radically different from any other offering, in terms of the user interface, and hardware platform/components. However, I feel I should add a bit of balance as you make no mention of support. At this price point, support is important *and* expected.

    Fibaro is a small Polish company, focused on its Polish domestic market. There is little in the way of support, and communication with the company is very hit and miss. Examples of this include; the lack of documentation in any other language apart from Polish, indeed, most communication by the company is to its Polish forum users, leaving the rest of us to translate the forum and glean information. There is no list of ‘supported devices’, no detailed instructions, no Trouble Shooting guides, no roadmap, no mechanism for reporting bugs, etc. You’re effectively on your own. The company has no international aspirations, otherwise it would fix these issues, whilst making the functional enhancements. But don’t let me influence your buying decision. Visit forum.fibaro.com and make your own assessment, both in the Polish forum and the International one.

    Don’t get me wrong. Most of us are willing them to succeed, but they shouldn’t ignore their International (read non-polish) customers, because each and everyone one of us could become an ‘advocate’, which would mean more sales, improved branding, free marketing, etc. Hopefully, Fibaro would then hire more staff, develop faster, build more, etc. We’d all benefit.

  10. I’ve installed Fibaro System in aprox. 50 houses since 2010. I WILL NEVER RECOMMEND FIBARO AGAIN. Here’s why:

    - around 10% of Fibaro modules die without a reason in 6 months time. Sometimes they just hang up (need to cut the power off), but mostly they become dead forever.

    - modules loose their associations (need to cut the power off to bring associations again).

    - scenes don’t work properly – scene variables don’t work at all, sometimes scenes can hang up the entire interface.

    - remote access is highly unreliable – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    - new modules (1.6 and higher) are incompatible with vera OR HC1.

    - whole system is incomplete. No 1-wire temp. readings on smartphone interfaces, inactive icons (“function not ready yet”), no dedicated ipad app (“in two weeks tops” since 2010).

    - sometimes roller shuter module opens the rollers for absolutely no reason in random time.

    - fluorescent lights with older starters (with or without condensers) can burn any module in no time. Theoretically it’s cosϕ of 0.5, but two tubes (around 60W) kills 3kW Fibaro module. With sparks and smoke.

    - fibaro dimmer is hot all the time. You can feel the warm switches.

    There are many, many more glithes and errors. Essentially whole system is in early alpha stage, but is marketed as complete solution and tested on end users. If you care for your clients – just don’t.

  11. @Fibaro Retailer

    Thanks for that feedback…

    What system (which box and which devices) do you propose to your clients now?

  12. Retailer Fibaro dealer probably is micasaverde I have a system consisting of 50 items and there is no problem with the fibaro

  13. stanley.beltran March 1, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    What Fibaro retailer said was true. Check the fibaro forum if you are not convince.

  14. surely Fibaro Retailer would have stopped installing on the 10th house and 2 years ago :)

  15. NYT Subscription April 16, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    When is fibaro launching in the US?

  16. Hello, I’m from Brazil and would like to know if you suggest somewhere to buy that I delivered in Brazil.

    Can help me?

    Thank you!

  17. hi,i have one problem,,
    on opening door..sensor triggering 2 lights to switch onfor 5 sec..its working..
    but if light is already on.it switched off the lights.why its happening.please help me ..

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