Just finished building my new house (January, 2013) with a full-blown home automation system. With this system, I can control lighting, HVAC, garage doors, security system, video surveillance, TV, audio, etc. all from my iPad or iPhone, anywhere in the world.

Components include:

Crestron MC-3 Processor – This is the command center for the entire system, and communicates with each sub-system
Crestron Thermostats – HVAC, humidity, radiant heat
Crestron AV controls – AV receiver, TV, cable, game, audio, etc.
Lutron RadioRA2 Lighting Control – dimmers for all lights around the house
ICRealtime Video Surveillance – 16 port system with video cameras inside and around the house and night vision
OnQ Intercom – The only intercom system that runs on CAT 5 wiring
LiftMaster – MyQ system allows status reporting and open/close action via the Internet

I will review each sub-system separately, but first I need to let out some frustration with Crestron.

I did a lot of research on available home automation systems. I looked at Crestron, Control4, Savant, OnQ Legrand, and a few DIY systems. It appears the general trend in home automation is IP based controls… of course giving the popularity of the Internet, this is to be expected. I personally preferred Control 4, but at the strong recommendation of my general contractor and their sub-contractor, I went with Crestron. I relied on Crestron’s reputation in the home automation industry, and figured how bad could they be? It turns out I gave Crestron too much credit.

After using it for a month and lots of back-and-forth with the installer, I regret choosing Crestron. This beast is clearly a carry-over from the old days, and requires TONS of programming to get it to work. At a rate of $90 per hour, it took a lot of hours of command-line coding (so I’m told) to get even the simple functions to work. Although Crestron advertise it supports iPhone and iPad, they don’t tell you each device requires separate programming, at between $500-$700 per device type. Want to add Crestron’s own touch-panel? More programming. This thing is so closed and user-unfriendly, I would not recommend it to anyone.

I learned that the interface for each Crestron system is different because it’s programmed for each customer, so how well your system performs largely depends on the programming skills, and more importantly, the artistic design of the installer. I think my installer is good with programming, but terrible with artistic design, and the interface is full of rectangular buttons with white background, giving it a clunky look.

Did I mention to run Crestron using iPad and iPhone, you need to buy TWO copies of the app, each at $99? Crestron Mobile Pro for iPhone and Crestron Mobile Pro G for iPad. This is CRAZY!!! Crestron is milking you coming and going… first with expensive hardware, then with programming fees, and then nickels and dimes you with app pricing. I think the only reason installers still hype up Crestron is because of the way the eco-system is set up – it allows the installers to make the most amount of money from each customer.

Because of Crestron’s ugly interface and the fact I have to keep paying to make ANY changes, I’ve given up on it and started using each sub-system’s app for access, and that proved to be much easier and cleaner. It ended up that Crestron is only used to control my thermostats. And even that turned out to be a problem yesterday. All my thermostats reported “net fault” and my iPad showed the rooms were at normal temperature so heat was not running. Each thermostat showed a different, much lower temperature, and resetting the MC-3 didn’t help, so the installer had to came in this morning to fix it (no charge).

A cold house on the coldest night of the winter so far. What a waste of money.

Conclusion:
In the pre-iPad days, I could see how Crestron would help the home owner by offering one integrated interface for accessing different components. However, if you’re already using an iPhone and iPad, and know how to download apps to your device, you’re better off NOT using Crestron. This is because Crestron is a common-denominator platform, meaning it needs to be compatible with ALL devices in each sub-category, limiting its ability to take advantage of any one system to the fullest. Jack of all trades, master of none. You’d be better off getting the app for each component so you can access ALL the features. You have to go back to the Crestron home screen in order to control a different component anyway, which is no different than going back to the iPad home screen and choose a different app.