What is Z-Wave? – Submission by Len Marten – Z-Wave is networking protocol developed by Zensys. It’s not, as some might think, a tangible product, but a networking protocol developed specifically with Home Automation in mind. The idea is, that manufacturers will use Z-Wave technology so that their devices and modules can communicate with each other.
Ordering and Delivery – If anyone has been following the discussions on the Automated Home Forums will soon realise the difficulties I’ve had getting hold of some Z-Wave kit. The requirements were simple; to remotely control and dim my newly installed garden lights.
Through the Forum I discovered Automated Outlet and the very helpful Martin Custer had some UK modules. After placing the order on their website at 11.30am on the 6th July, I received an e-mail at 7.50pm on the same day saying that the order had completed successfully. I ordered two lamp modules and a remote, shipping for this order was a snip at $6.90. Shipping was by US Postal Service (USPS) Air Mail Letter Post. Sure enough, on the afternoon of the 12th July – some six days later, the first part of my order arrives – one lamp module and a remote control.
Nearly a month on from the original order, the second lamp module still hasn’t arrived, but as Automated Outlet actually seem to be able to get these modules from ACT I can wait.
The USPS don’t offer order tracking on what is essentially Air Mail, so if this is important, you may want to discuss upgrading the shipping. I found Martin at Automated Outlet very helpful, getting prompt reassuring responses to e-mails. I’ll have no issues ordering from these guys again.
First Impressions – No glossy packaging here! Simple white box with the labels of the contents, arriving in a perfectly adequate padded envelope.
I ordered a ZTH100 (Remote) and a ZDP100 (Lamp Module) but specified that I wanted the UK versions. Which actually became a ZTH200 (Remote) and a ZDP210 (Lamp Module). Both boxes indicate a frequency of 868.42Mhz, I’d assumed that the US remote wouldn’t operate the UK modules, I then had this confirmed when I eaves dropped in on a discussion at the Homeseer Site that stated that 868.42Mhz is the European frequency for low powered units and the US is operating at 908Mhz.
There were no instructions with either the Lamp Module or the Remote, which when they arrived was a little frustrating because I had the units delivered to work, I had nothing to read up on before having a play. There was a temptation to hook the lamp module up to a colleagues rack mount server he was testing and “dim it” to see what would happen – but thought against it. There didn’t appear to be much to read, the units seemed to be self-explanatory. The Lamp Unit, has a single button on the front (unlike X10, there are no dials or dip switches to set the Home or Device ID). All the intelligence and configuration is held in the Remote.
The Remote – The packaging corrects us and reminds us that this is not a remote but a “Homepro ZTH200, Radio Frequency Wireless Controller”. The very first thing you notice about the remote is its size. About the same size as a Palm/iPAQ 4150 but around 2cm thick! As mentioned, the remote didn’t come with a manual, but after a quick Google on the web, I found this very useful site, which has the manual in PDF form.
When you first insert the batteries in the remote (supplied) it prompts you to enter the time, which was a straightforward affair using the left, right and OK buttons.
Pressing the “Menu” button brings up the menu, pressing “OK” selects a menu option, whilst selecting “C” cancels or moves back through the menu. The full menu map for the remote can be found at ACT-Solutions. So here’s a summary of what each menu allows you to do.
Groups – Every Unit has to be assigned to a Group, and the remote can support up to 64 units for each of it’s 64 groups. Potentially that’s a total of 4,096 units! In reality though I can’t see the point of having 64 units all doing exactly the same thing – unless you’ve got some multi-kilowatt lighting system and you’re having to spread the load across multiple lamp units. So I believe for the average home automation enthusiast, you’ll be looking at 64 units – each in it’s own nameable group. The first six groups can be accessed quickly with the numbered buttons on the remote.
Scenes – This is where you can add a series of units, and set the level of those units. Unlike the Groups, here I can see the point of assigning several units to one scene. You can have up to 32 scenes with 64 units assigned to each. So you could create a scene and call it “GARDEN PARTY”, where the Lamp Unit controlling the Fence Lights is set to Dim and the Lamp Unit controlling the Patio lights is set a little brighter. To can access all of your Scenes by pressing the heart button on the remote. Locate your scene using the left and right buttons. You can’t assign Groups to Scenes, to create a Scene you have to manually press the button on the unit, and then use the button on the unit to set your lighting level. Once I got use to this, configuration was straightforward.
Timer – The remote control can have up to 8 timers. This feature alone should effectively do away with the need for a PC controller based home automation setup. Only when the requirements start to creep into the realms of complicated scripts and logic flows can I see the need of using the likes of the USB interface with something like HomeSeer. I did have some problems setting up a timer, with it repeatedly saying that it had created the timer, but when I went to go back in and edit it – the remote continued to show it as “Free”. I ended up having to “Reset Remote to Factory Default” (See Setup) and this fixed the problem. After performing the reset I had to go round and setup my Groups and Scenes again – this obviously didn’t prove to be too much of a problem with the one module! My suggestion here is to check all the features of the remote BEFORE you start adding units and creating multiple scenes – otherwise, like me, you’ll have to go back in a set them all up again.
Child Protection – This sets the units to a state where to operate them you have to press the button on the units a couple of times. I can see they’ve added this feature for those units that are down at “little darlin’ level”, where curious fingers want to know what that solitary button on the front of the unit does. In Z-Wave’s case, that button switches the unit on and off, and it’s used for configuration. By switching Child Protection on it prevents your siblings from trying to reconfigure your Z-Wave setup or switching the lights on and off.
Burglar Deterrent – Between a set of times, this turns units on and off randomly, giving the impression that somebody is in. Handy I suppose, but I don’t think it would deter any burglars in my area. If you really want to deter burglars, save your money and invest in some CCTV and a Rottweiler. But seriously, if you are thinking of incorporating your burglar system into Z-Wave then you might be a little disappointed, X10 has a multitude of Burglar deterrents, alarms, lights and sirens that integrate into your X10 system. However, Z-Wave doesn’t, so don’t spend too long looking for that Z-Wave Alarm, or Z-Wave Security Light – because at time of writing, they don’t exist – yet.
Setup – Allows you to Set Time, Set the remote screen’s Contrast, Include and Exclude Units for the All On/Off buttons, Copy your Remote Control to another, Reset Unit and to Reset Remote Control. I found that all these functions worked well (didn’t test the Copy Remote functions), be aware that the “Factory Reset” still retains the time – so I’m not entirely sure how much of a reset this actually does. I found that the “Factory Default Reset” solved my Timer problem, but would recommend removing the batteries as well if a problem persists.
The Lamp Module – Again, the packaging informs us that we haven’t got a Lamp Module at all but a “HomePro ZDP210, Radio Frequency Controlled, 300W 230VAC. Plug-In Lamp Module (UK).” The chaps at HomePro/ZenSys, almost to rub in the fact that this kit most definitely doesn’t send any communications over the mains (aka X10), enforce the fact by labelling everything with “Radio Frequency…”, and rightfully so.
Like the remote it didn’t come with any instructions, but after my previous snoop I found the Manual – not that there was much to read.
The module appears to be well built and light with a single button on the front of the unit. This button is used for both configuration and control. The button, without using the remote, can be used to switch the attached lamp on/off and dim (by holding it in). To add the Lamp Module to the Remote Control you have to use either the Group or Scene menu and when prompted, press the little button on the Module.
The module does emit a very slight buzz when it’s plugged in, as this unit is plugged into my workshop this didn’t pose any problems. If you were putting this unit into somewhere small and quite (the loo?) then it could be a little irritating, but it really is hardly noticeable.
X10 versus Z-Wave – So, if you’ve got X10 and you’re reading this why would you convert to Z-Wave? Or if, like me, you’re new to Home Automation and you’re a little bewildered over the choice, where would you start? Let’s compare the two and you can make your own mind up.
- Very Mature, it’s been out for years!
- It’s relatively cheap, especially for large installations
- X10 is available everywhere!
- Can be a little fiddly setting up
- Reports of intermittent signal issues
- No module acknowledgement (so you don’t know if the unit got the instruction or not)
- Very new, so long term reliability can’t be proven
- It’s very simple to set up
- Very well featured “out of the box”
- All units act as repeaters, improving house coverage and signal the more you get
- Module acknowledgement, so there’s no more checking to see if your lights really are off or not
- It’s more expensive than X10 (even when you consider you don’t need a Transceiver for the smallest of installations)
- Availability is severely constrained in the UK (thanks to Automated Outlet in the US for supplying mine!)
My recommendation is that if you want a fully featured, large home automation system right now, go for X10. If you’re just starting out, or if you’ve got quite a basic home automation setup consider moving to Z-Wave. Especially if you’ve experienced some of the signal reception problems associated with X10. It’s apparent that ZenSys have put together the Z-Wave standard with X10 in mind, addressing some of it’s key issues by using some very clever RF communications and module acknowledgment as standard (X10 does have module acknowledgement but it’s more specialist and not as “plug and play” as Z-Wave). It will be very interesting to see what the amateur Home Automation market will look like in a year or two.