First of all, the two best options (if you're on a budget and want to do it all yourself) for home automation are: z-wave and x10. (For others, there are systems you can have installed by professionals and they include control 4, crestron, knx, etc. but they are beyond the scope of this guide)
Z-wave is all wireless rf, more reliable, more secure and has 2-way communication, but it is a little pricier (each lamp module costs about $35).
X10 is the cheapest system by far, each lamp module costs about $7. It is a combo of rf and power-line signals. Most of the lamp/appliance modules receive power-line signals and they sell transceiver modules that receive the rf from remotes and convert it to power-line signals. Most modules are one way, meaning you cannot poll them, and if the module happens to not receive the command (due to noise in the power line) the software may think the light is on, but in fact it will be off.
With that said, I decided to go with X10 just to try it out. I didn't want to spend a ton of money upfront.
Here is what I purchased:
1) $49.99 - Complete software package + USB device (CM15A)
[INDENT]This came with the USB device that plugs into the computer and the powerline. It is the main controller and can send and receive both rf and plc signals. It also came with Activehome Pro and all of its main plugins including ActivePhone (which was essential for eventghost interaction)[/INDENT]
2) $6 each - Dimming/Soft-Start lamp modules (LM465)
[INDENT]You plug the lamp into the module and plug the module into the wall. You set the house code and unit code on the device. Pretty simple. (Works only for incandescent bulbs, not halogen, not fluorescent and not energy saving because they are not compatible with the dimming function. For those you have to get an appliance module that does not dim)[/INDENT]
3) $11 - Transceiver/appliance module (RR501)
[INDENT]This device converts rf signals to plc and also has a built-in appliance module for basic on/off. I plugged my halogen lamp into this. (This is not required as the CM15A usb device also acts as a transceiver, but I put this in a another room to increase rf range and I also needed an appliance module)[/INDENT]
4) $5 - Stick-on-wall light switch (SS13A)
[INDENT]This is a very thin remote that can control three devices and you can stick it on a wall and it looks just like a regular light switch. You can also carry it around and use it as a remote.[/INDENT]
ActiveHome Pro software is pretty capable with macros and all. It was very easy to figure out. ActivePhone plugin lets you use it through any cell phone with a browser and also introduces an http api that eventghost can send commands to.
How it all comes together:
1) XBMC needs to broadcast events
[INDENT]Cinema Experience took care of it. Details right here[/INDENT]
2) You need to receive these events
[INDENT]Latest eventghost comes with the xbmc event receiver plugin. Details here[/INDENT]
3) Eventghost needs to send commands through http
[INDENT]A python script takes care of that. When you add a macro, select "Python script" under "Eventghost" and enter the following code:[/INDENT]
[INDENT]The url is the command to turn on device at house code C unit number 2 through the powerline using ActivePhone. For more info on commands, click here[/INDENT]
My current macros include:
1) When Cinema Experience (CE) trivia starts, turn lights on and off three times and remain on.
2) When CE trailers start, dim the lights to 30%
3) When CE movie starts, turn the lights on and off three times and remain off. (To let my wife know that the movie is starting, she's usually in the kitchen making popcorn or salsa at this point)
4) When paused, turn lights on
5) When resumed, turn lights off
6) When movie is over, turn lights on
My near future automation additions:
1) $149 - X10 security system. 19-piece, includes security panel, door/window sensors, motion sensors, palmpad remote and keychain remotes
2) $5 - X10 Motion sensors (MS14A). So hallway and bathroom lights automatically turn on when I get up to go to the bathroom at night
3) $87 - Add-A-Motor blind and drapery controller. Plug this into an X10 appliance module and you can control your curtains with a remote or have them open and close at preset times.
Plugin: The ActivePhone plugin normally sells for $10, although I got it bundled with the Activehome on a special sale. If you don't want to spend $10 on that, you can check out X10 Commander. The server side of it is free and has an http api through ActiveHome SDK. Find out about its commands right here
Software: Instead of ActiveHome Pro, you can also use Homeseer with the built-in CM15A plugin and the free ActiveHome SDK. This software plugin adds the http api. The only downside is that Homeseer Pro software sells for about $600. But it is compatible with Z-wave as well, so you would be able to mix and match X10 and Z-wave devices. I am considering doing this in the near future, when I will start switching to Z-wave modules one by one. But I think I will keep using X10 for a security alarm since it is much cheaper and easier than Z-wave alarms.
Hardware: If you want to go with a hardware controller, I have read really good reviews about Mi Casa Verde's Vera 2. It's pretty much a tiny linux box with automation software preloaded that sells for under $250. Compatible with Z-wave (out of the box) and X10 (X10 usb device not included)
I decided to go with a software only solution on windows because the same windows server also runs sab/couchpotato/sickbeard. I use an old laptop that runs xp pro for this since it is energy efficient and win 7's security features kinda piss me off. (Certain software such as eventghost need to be run as administrator and it was a major pain to have it start automatically on system startup) I have the laptop in a closet and access it through remote dektop when I need to.
There are up and coming linux software but most of them are not ready for prime time yet. The main problem with X10 is that the usb device CM15A is still being reverse engineered and the linux drivers are not yet complete. Hopefully when they are more mature, I will get rid of the windows server altogether, and move sab/couchpotato/sickbeard and the automation setup to the unraid media server.
I hope this helps anyone who is interested in getting started in home automation.
I have been using this setup for several months now and here are my observations:
X10's wireless range has been pretty bad in my experience. The wireless switches (or remotes) work in the same room, but through walls, the reliability goes down significantly. The X10 security system turned out to be complete garbage due to wireless issues. Read my rant and comparison here. I replaced it with a Vista 20p and couldn't be happier.
Although wireless is bad, I have not had any problems with their powerline signal transmission. They have been 100% reliable. I also moved during this time and it worked perfectly fine in both of the houses. (The xbmc controlled lights work through powerline transmission, so that part still works really well)
The next step for me will be to transition into zwave. I am planning to completely deck out my new place with zwave switches for all the lights, zwave locks for the front and back doors and integrate the alarm system with it for remote control as well. But it will have to wait a little, as moving turned out to be pretty expensive.
To do all that I will be using Mi Casa Verde's Vera 2 (or maybe 3 if it's out by then). It is very cost effective and there is a ton of support and plugins being written for it (including a very nice plugin for control of Vista 20p, my security system). Not to mention it is pretty much Vera's custom software running on a wireless router with a usb port, so it uses very little power and doesn't need a computer to be on 24/7.