So you’re interested in smart home automation. You want to control your home theater, lights, locks, and doorbells from your phone or with just your voice. And you should be! Smart home tech is becoming both more affordable and available. But the beating heart of every smart home is a control hub, and Control4 represents one of the best. But what is Control4, and what can it do? Let’s get into it.
What is Control4?
Based out of Salt Lake City, Control4 has been in the home automation game since the early 2000s. They’re at the top of the food chain, and their systems are part family-room entertainment, part smart-home starter. In other words, it’s a case of Dr. A/V Jekyll and Mr. Home Automation Hyde.
A Control4 system can be configured to control your home entertainment system, lighting, multi-room audio, HVAC systems, security systems, smart locks, and more. In fact, it’s compatible with over 35,000 devices from a huge collection of brands.
Unlike smart hubs you can find at Best Buy or Amazon, Control4 specializes in bespoke systems for homes and businesses. Because of this, the system must be installed by a certified dealer and is more expensive than a DIY control hub like Logitech’s Harmony Elite. But comparing the two is like comparing a box of legos with a box of rocks. With one, you can create something stable, functional, and truly imaginative. The other you just hope doesn’t topple over.
What Can Control4 Do?
The easiest answer is pretty much everything. The Control4 system is an evolving one, constantly adding new features, functions, and compatible products. To keep it simple, let’s boil it down to a few broader topics:
Home Entertainment System
Control4 absolutely excels with regard to multimedia. Streaming audio and video through the system is a delight. Services like Netflix, Prime Video, Spotify, Pandora, locally-stored media, and a whole lot more are easily accessed and controlled within the system.
Let’s say you had a home theater room with an audio receiver, projector and screen setup, a cable box, a blu-ray player, and a streaming media player like Apple TV. Between the serial outputs on the Control4 hub and connection capabilities via its in-house network, you’ll be able to control it all from any system controller.
Control4’s system hardware is seriously high-end as well. For sound quality, the 2.1 system is on-par or better than a comparable Sonos 3.1 system. The in-home network connection provides super easy, fast, and direct access to music and movies stored on local drives. And universal remotes for the system are impressively quick and responsive. In fact, any slowdown you may experience will typically come from waiting for your equipment to warm up or begin streaming.
Like we mentioned earlier, Control4 is compatible with thousands of brands and works with protocols like Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fie, and Bluetooth. What’s more, integrators can program “scenes” for your system, giving you complete control of your home with a simple phrase or action. Here are a few examples of home integrations Control4 is capable of:
- – Integrated your Nest thermostat to adjust the temperature based on whether your home theater is in-use or turned off.
- – Program your receiver to play audio in specific zones around your house or even on your back deck.
- – Integrate your security system so you can control motorized locks and cameras straight from your Control4 device.
- – Set your hub to operate your Lutron lighting system. Program your motorized shades to rise and fall and your Philips Hue lighting bulbs to warm up or cool down whenever your home theater is in use.
- – With the sound of your voice, control your entire home via Control4’s Alexa integration. A simple “Goodnight” command can dim any lights in your home, lock the doors, turn off your home theater system, and draw the shades.
There are limits of course. The lower-end models (like the EA-1) are really designed for a single room of A/V, with some broader home automation thrown in. To do a whole house with multiple zones of audio and video (with the right switching components), you have to step up to the more powerful EA-3 or EA-5 controller.
Our team of integration experts knows how to program any of the examples listed above, as well as many I left out. Be careful though, the convenience may cause every “want to have” to become an irresistible “must-have!”
When Control4 snapped up Neeo in 2019, it cranked the user experience up to 11. All 50 buttons are context-sensitive programmable, which means that they can change functions depending on what activity is taking place. A programmable motion sensor wakes the remote when you pick it up, and a programmable light sensor adjusts the brightness of the OLED screen based on the room’s ambient light level.
It works superbly as the main controller for your TV setup but is also great at adjusting lighting and setting smart home scenes. As a music playback companion, it also excels; with album art, track information, and much more all available at your fingertips.
Another approach to controlling your Control4 system is through a dedicated touchscreen panel. Control4 offers 7-inch and 10-inch models that can either go in-wall or sit on a table. With the launch of the Smart Home OS 3, turning off lights, altering the heating, or streaming multimedia in different rooms is more intuitive than ever.
As opposed to a rigid layout, OS3 allows complete customization as to what is front and center in your display. Users are able to select their favorite operations on the main home screens, and you can prioritize what rooms are most important and swipe through them in the order you want. The OS will also remember previous settings, making it easy to initiate the things you use most often.
Aside from touchscreens, Control4 also offers keypads that wire into your regular light switches. These can be configured to not only turn lights on and off but can also be the triggers for Control4 scenes. Set a “Good Morning” scene that turns on your favorite radio station, turns off the alarm, and puts the kettle on with the press of a button.
As we alluded to earlier, Control4 offers an in-house networking kit called a Pakedge network. While not required by any means, it helps guarantee a seamless system setup. A Pakedge router, combined with a network manager and multiple access points, will provide about as strong of a network you’ll find for a residential home. But one of the biggest benefits to using the in-house network brings up our final perk…
One of the key aspects of your Control4 system is that it can all be monitored and managed remotely by your dealer. If the devices themselves don’t detect and fix any network issues automatically, then your dealer will be alerted and can make fixes without you ever knowing anything is wrong.
What Can’t Control4 Do?
If this one has an easy answer too, it’d be “not much.” Aside from device limitations on the lower-end models, it really is a comprehensive smart hub solution. Not to mention the service is constantly adding new protocols and functionality as technology continues to evolve. That being said, there are certainly some cons to consider when investing in a Control4 solution:
It’s Not Very Flexible
Control4 is anything but plug and play. You’ll have to locate an authorized Control4 dealer and then arrange for them to help create and install your system for you. Not only does the dealer have to install the equipment, but also will need to incorporate any compatible tech you want in the system. This includes any existing smart tech like speakers, smart bulbs, thermostats, televisions, streaming media players, gaming systems, and more.
This includes even very simple changes. Accidently shatter a smart bulb in your kitchen? Configuring a new one through Alexa might only take a few minutes, but integrating it with Conrol4 requires submitting a change request to your dealer. On the plus side, with Invision support Livewire is always at your beck and call to sort out issues and make changes when you need them.
Cost Can Be Prohibitive
We touched on the cost a bit earlier, and ultimately it’s the biggest sticking point in considering a Control4 system. The equipment itself is more expensive than most smart home hubs, and because they have to be installed by an authorized dealer there are additional cost considerations.
You’ll also need to get dedicated drivers installed for non-native tech (i.e. anything Control4 doesn’t directly make itself). Sometimes they come free, other times they require extra “middle-man” devices like a bridge to work properly. Ultimately though, smart home tech very much falls into the “you get what you pay for” category, and the upfront investment in Control4 will prove advantageous in the future (again, think legos vs rocks).
The Verdict on Control4
The Control4 system is pretty much faultless – which can’t be said about most DIY-smart home setups. Even if it does wobble, your dealer can often see this and fix it remotely before you’ve even noticed. It’s the best way to affordably introduce more people to what a real “smart home” with integrated A/V control can truly be and why it’s totally worth the cost.
There is a drawback to the Control4 system, a lingering one you may never get rid of. Once you experience the type of reliable, consistent A/V and home automation control it provides, you’ll never be fully satisfied. There’s an old saying, “I don’t want to own all the land. I just want to own the land next to mine.” You’ll always be looking for the next thing in your home to automate.
After all, you can always buy more legos.