Wink vs. Hue: Part 1

Being the Home Automation buff that I am, I bought starter kits to the Wink and the Hue.


Each of the starter kits come with a hub and a series of lamps, at a discounted price, targeting those curious about automation. Both hubs support a variety of protocols and can be used to control lamps and appliances around the house. Both of them are compatible with Alexa devices.(Alexa will be covered in a separate post.

The Wink hub I have is the old one. I have not had an opportunity to test the new one yet. The hub can handle several protocols including blutooth, zigbee and zee wave. It can be configured and controlled through an iphone or android. I also found this site for those who want to control their wink devices devices through any browser.

One big plus point with Wink was the excellent customer service it provides. There was a time when a faulty  software  upgrade they provided damaged some of the wink hubs.  When I realized that my hub was one of those affected, I called immediately but the customer service person guided me through the process of sending it to them and having it repaired. The whole process took less than a week and I had my hub back and functioning as new.

The hub has its limitations though. One is that in my experience, it has lost connectivity with some appliances, and I have had to go through the painful process of reconfiguring my devices.

The second is that the device did not allow for local control around this time last year. This means that if you loose your internet connection, you cannot control your devices on your home network.

While using it with Openhab, one could eliminate this limitation by rooting the hub, a complex process that could void your warranty and brick your Wink if things went awry. Openhab does not have official support for Wink as of this writing

My Home assistant system, on the otehr hand had no problems detecting it and could control all the lamps and the wemo switch attached to it.  My wink hub is integrated with my Nest fire alarm which enables me to look.

The wink hub supports MyQ, a wireless protocol for controlling devices like a garage door opener. Chamberlain and Liftmaster are both compatible with MyQ. Unfortunately, though Liftmaster brand is not compatible with Wink. Through Wink, you can check if your Liftmaster door is open or closed.  You cannot open it. In an earlier post, I have covered how I was able to control my liftmaster opener using home assistant.

 

 

 

 

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My own PBX(phone system)

While a phone system is not part of my home automation system. it is an immensely useful utility that is part of my house. However, you can monitor activity on your phone system from your home automation system. As of this writing, only Openhab has an add-in component that can directly interface with Asterisk. Home Assistant does not have any official support for interfacing with Asterisk, but I am optimistic about future releases ,as Asterisk support is a requested feature.

Think about it! You can build an entire private branch exchange in your home with an old computer and some used phones you can pick up on Ebay for about $20 a pop. If you live in the United states you can add a Google Voice trunk and make free calls within the US and Canada.  I dedicated one (now discontinued) HP stream mini, a mini (good looking) PC as my PBX server. There are many free PBX linux distros like Asterisk, Free PBX and Incredible PBX.

Asterisk, the original PBX is an open source framework that allows building of VOIP. Free PBX and Incredible PBX and several others are both built on Asterisk. I chose Incredible PBX as it has excellent documentation and a vibrant forum. Ward Mundy, its lead developer has a very informative and active blog.

My home phone system is a mix of Nortel, Polycom and Avaya phones(soon), and is incredibly convenient to call into meetings when I work from home.

Based on Ward’s recommendation I purchased a $5 account on the Simonics gateway  for Google Voice.  After this I was able to setup Incredible PBX through the gateway to Google voice and since then, the PBX has been 100% reliable.

There were challenges in connecting my older Nortel phones with PBX as these were not SIP phones but used a Nortel specific protocol called Unistim.

Connecting with PBX phones also proved a challenge but this link helped facilitate the task. Ward Mundy does recommend using Avaya phones. I will post an update when I attempt to integrate these phones with my PBX.

 

iFrames in Home Assistant

Home assistant provides two ways to interface with other web pages on websites or on other servers. One is by the use of typical HTML link that most of us are familiar with. The other is by the use of iFrames that allows the embedding of a page inside another.

Sometimes a small feature may be one of the deciding factors in choosing a tool. A year ago, there was no easy way to link to an external site or page from OpenHab.(I am unsure if they have added the feature now.) The ability of adding an iFrame displaying another web page within a page is a big win for me. I have several iFrames in my setup.

As an AEM Architect with experience in building large content management systems and web sites I would not recommend using iFrames in commercial applications. Having said that, they work well with Home Assistant.

In my earlier post I described the MPD server. When Home Assistant is started, it detects all MPD players on the home network. It also provides a small widget to easilycontrol the player and displays status information for the player as shown below.

Now, by using an iFrame I can provide the detailed Rompr interface within Home Assistant for more fine-grained control.

Rompr.png

This gives my home automation system the best of both worlds. While some purists may not agree with my configuration, I see my home automation system as one holistic system that uses the best of all tools. It helps me to search and integrate the best tools available into my system.

Media Players 1: MPD

MPD or Music Player daemon is one of the oldest open source music player servers. It can be installed on Windows, OSX or Linux. Once installed, it can be controlled by a client to play music  on the server using a client that interfaces with the server.

Numerous clients are available for MPD ranging from phone or comptuer apps on a variety of platforms. A few years ago, I transformed an old router into an internet radio that used mpd to play music from internet radio stations.

Today, there are many music player distros that one may install on the raspberry pi or an old PC such as Volumio and Runeplayer. These  run an MPD server under the covers and present very user friendly screens for music playing on the front end or when accessed by their web interface.

Today, I have an MPD daemon that runs on the same computer that runs my home automation system in my study. It is connected to Audioengine A2+ White (Pr.) 2-way Powered Speaker System. The same computer also runs an Apache server with Rompr, my favorite MPD client.

I also have a Rune player on my Raspberry Pi 3 Model B in my garage that also doubles as my home gym.

Dabbling with X10

X10 is one of the earliest home automation protocols. It is relatively light-weight and setting it up with lights or small home appliances is relatively simple. Several years ago, I used MisterHouse to add X10 light and device controllers to control lighting and a few fans around my house.

I then found mochad, a small program that can be used to control X10 devices. Mochad also allows integration of X10 devices with Home Assistant and OpenHab.

Over the years, X10 has been pushed to the curb with newer technologies like Zigbee and Z-Wave. Further, the availability of cheap RF controllers has made them a more effective and economical alternative to X10. I will cover interfacing RF lights with X10 in a later post.

My big problem with X10 was that these devices seemed to give me a physical headache each time I turned them on. Investigation of this symptom has led me to believe that this is caused by interefence of other household signals with X10. While there are devices that can mitigate the effects of this interference, I realized that resolving them was neither an effective or economical option given that there are newer technologies available.

I will however, discuss using Mochad with HomeAssistant in a future post.

Controlling my garage door

The house I live in has a Liftmaster garage door opener. One of my early goals was to automate it. Some research revealed that, if I needed to bring it online quickly, it had to be MyQ compliant. MyQ(not to be confused with MQTT, a lightweight protocol) is a proprietary protocol used typically by lift door  openers like Liftmaster or Chamberlain.

I will not detail the steps I took with additional instructions on how to get it working with your home automation system.

I decided to invest in a MyQ Internet Gateway. This device would enable you to communicate with your Liftmaster garage door opener. If you need to ensure compatibility with your garage opener, please ensure that you have the MyQ logo on your garage door opener.

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This device should first be confgured with your garage door. Next create an account for yourself at MyLifymaster.com. Now you will be able to login to the myliftmaster site either from a browser or an app on your android device or iphone.

Integrating with Home Assistant was not straightforward. For one thing, there is no official MyQ component as of this writing. Unfortunately the Wink Connected Home Hub I own does not support Liftmaster (as I discovered on the Wink forum).

After much investigation, I found a node program that provides command to open or close a MyQ garage opener and also provide the current status of the opener. I then integrated this program with a few changes into my HomeAssistant setup. The steps for this are outlined here.

Home Assistant: My ‘master’ system

At this stage and for the perceivable future, Home Assistant is the heart of my home automation system. One of the main reasons I choose Home Assistant is the ease with which I could have it up and running.

As I brought up the Home Assistant server, it was able to quickly detect several devices around my house without my having to do any coding configuration. These include:

  1. My Kodi media player running on a HP Stream mini computer. I will cover Kodi in a separate post.
  2. My chromecast tv streaming device.
  3. My Roku stick.
  4. My wink and hue  hubs. I was able to use Home Assistant to control the lights around my house, right away.
  5. My daphile audio player. This will also be covered in future posts.
  6. My MPD player running on the same computer as home assistant.
  7. My rune player running on my raspberry pi
  8. My two sonos one speakers.

That’s a lot of functionality right out-of-the box! To repeat a point I made earlier, there is no single system that will give you all the functionality you want. If you want one, you need to build one either from scratch or by integrating several system together.  I have chosen the latter approach,