There are few people who do not find the Apple® iPad® and iPhone® very attractive products. After all, they offer a refined user interface that is intuitive and easy to navigate. As a result, companies have been leveraging from these well developed devices and are taking advantage of the platform to control other products. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense and saves on the hardware development costs associated with a custom controller. RTI (Remote Technologies Incorporated) is one of many companies that have recently made this move with the highly anticipated announcement of their new RTiPanel. The new RTiPanel features are fully integrated into the latest version of RTI's Integration Designer (Version 8.2) software. Installers can now provide their customers with the ability to use their favorite Apple® iPad®, iPhone®, or iPod Touch® devices with
new or existing RTI control systems utilizing any one of the new XP-3, XP-6, or XP-8 control processors. Those familiar with programming existing RTI devices will feel right at home with the new Integration Designer® software. RTiPanel allows for fully customized user interfaces - the same as other RTI controller products. The iPad®, iPhone®, or iPod Touch® devices can be used as the main control interface or in conjunction with RTI handheld and in-wall controllers. Both portrait and landscape modes are supported and are fully customizable. RTiPanel supports full two-way feedback, including cover art, graphics, text, and dynamic scrolling lists.
The RTI control application is available through Apple's App store. Users will need to purchase a license online from the RTI website to enable communication with their XP Control Processor. The RTiPanel iPhone/iPad license allows a single connection to an RTI XP Control Processor. This connection can originate from a local network (LAN) or from the Internet (WAN) using port forwarding in the associated router. With an Internet connection, you can communicate with RTI XP Control Processors from anywhere in the world.
Purchasing and Activating
Installers simply supply the purchased License Code with the MAC address from their XP processor along with an email address and RTI will send them the license file needed to authorize an iPad and/or iPhone. The license file is then selected with the System Properties pull-down menu in the Integration Designer® software under the iOS/Virtual Panel tab. The license information will then be displayed in the Licenses window.
This review was focused on using our 1st generation iPad, iPhone 4, XP6 Control Processor and several consumer products that supported either two-way and one way communications via ethernet or RS232 interfaces. RTI offers quite an extensive list of two-way drivers for their XP-series control processors. This list includes Amplifiers, A/V Receivers, Climate Control, Disc Changer, Display, DSP, DVR, Lighting Control, Matrix Switch, Media Server & iPod® Dock, Multi-Room A/V, Power Management, Security, Teleconferencing, Tuner, Utility, and Video Projector. Our system focused on the receiver, projector, HVAC and lighting. However, several other components can be controlled by conventional IR flashers connected to the XP6.
(aka JVC DLA-HD950)
Vip 922 Sling HD DVR
Home Theater PC
Our system took full advantage of the two-way capabilities built into the XP-6 Control Processor using the latest RTI drivers. The two-way RS232 ports on the XP6 were used to communicate with an Aprilaire 8800 thermostat and an OPPO Blu-ray player. RTI's latest driver provided two-way communication with our Denon AVR-5308CI receiver through an ethernet connection. We used the CM232 adapters plugged into the MPIO ports to control one-way RS232 components. For now, this includes our Anthem projector. Several other components in our system used standard IR flashers for command and control. A list of devices integrated into our test system are shown in the table.
The XP-6 is the middle of the line of three models offered in the XP series. The unit is designed to automate and enhance the operation of A/V, security, lighting, HVAC, and a number of other devices in a commercial or residential installation. This XP-6 became the central interface for all of our components. The design is packed with features and interfaces to facilitate the integration of third-party components into one seamless and cohesive system. The XP-6 processor features built-in support for the RTI 433-MHz receivers for one-way RF communication. Alternatively, powerful ZigBee® 2.4-GHz transceivers can be incorporated for more sophisticated bidirectional communication between the RTI controller and central processor and supported devices. The latest generation of RTI ZigBee® 2.4-GHz remotes allow for full two-way links providing telemetry such as station information, temperature, and other important data from compatible components.
The XP-6 has the same footprint as other RTI processors measuring 10.25" x 5.25" x 1.5" (LxWxH). It is perfectly balanced between performance and price offering two dedicated RS232 ports, IP, relay, and routable IR or one-way RS232 using the six MPIO (Multi-purpose I/I) ports. The MPIO (Multi-purpose I/O) jacks can be used for IR, RS232, video or voltage sense, and the power status of connected devices. Each adjustable IR output can drive up to four emitters directly.
More than four emitters on a single port requires an amplified connecting block. The XP-6 has a built-in astronomical clock allowing for scheduled time-based events to automate all aspects of the installed environment, including climate, lighting, music, and much more. If more interfaces are required for the system, users can step up to the even more powerful XP-8.
Programming the iPad and iPhone 4 screens is simple using RTI's latest version of Integration Designer software. This Windows
application is a key element in the development of any RTI system. Creating an appealing user interface is part art and part technical. Lacking either one of these will result in a system that can never achieve the ultimate in user control. Integration Designer is a lot of fun to use and pushes the creative side of programming these controllers. I found myself spending hours perfecting the screens to my liking and still finding ways to improve the user experience once I put them to use. The boundaries seem endless and RTI has built an amazing development platform for their product line. Portrait and landscape screens on the iPad and iPhone are completely customizable and it is easy to bounce back and forth between the two formats during development with a simple "Control-Q" on the keyboard.
Defining macros with Integration Designer is simple and can pull from all different types of libraries including RS232, Drivers, and IR libraries. Users can select from the library tabs (IR, RS232, Drivers, Objects, and Bitmaps) depending on what they want to do. Even inserting delays is simple and the user can define the delay time desired before dragging it into the macro window. The RS232 and IR commands can be sent to specific MPIO ports or RS232 ports on the control processor. Simply drag and drop the various commands into the macro window and you will visually see the items defined for the macro in sequential order. Editing existing macros is just as easy. The ability to create your own RS232 or IR library is a feature that is built into the software, so when new products hit the market you will not have to wait for a driver update. We created our own library since certain commands did not exist and it was easy to set up. The Integration Designer software keeps track of any changes made to the baseline configuration and indicates whether an update is needed on the control processor.
The control system programming is stored on the Apple device and reconfigures
automatically when the control processor gets an update.The Integration Designer software automatically keeps track of the current state of the devices and will determine if any updates are necessary. Updating can be performed through the USB interface or directly over the ethernet connection. If ethernet is used for updating, the device and MAC address show up in the device window making it easy to perform incremental changes. This can be particularly useful when many controllers are installed in various locations. Update times vary depending on the amount of data to be transferred. In virtually all cases, data is transferred in a matter of 10-20 seconds.
Aprilaire 8800 Communicating Thermostat
One of the two-way devices we integrated with the RTI system was the Aprilaire Model 8800 Communicating Thermostat. This large touch screen with integrated backlighting is an ideal choice for HVAC control. The unit can be easily removed from the wall for easy programming. Like most thermostats, the 8800 supports 7-day, weekday, and weekend programming. The installation required an Aprilaire 8811 Protocol Adapter to translate RS232 into RS-485/422. We used this adapter to connect directly with the XP-6 controller through one of the two dedicated RS232 ports. The 8800 accepts an (optional) outdoor temperature sensor that we used to monitor the outdoor temperature. There is also a built-in temperature and humidity sensor in the 8800. The latest RTI two-way driver for the XP controllers is designed to support the 8800, which is built on the popular 8870 Thermostat. While Aprilaire Model 8800 Communicating Thermostats can be individually operated, they work best in a system such as RTI's, allowing you to control the system from virtually anywhere in the world.
While our focus was mainly on the iPad, we could not pass up the opportunity to try out the (Verizon) iPhone 4 user interface using RTI's latest RTiPanel. The iPhone 4 is similar to the iPad with the exception of a much smaller screen area to work with. Nonetheless, RTI has templates available as part of the latest Integration Designer software to get developers up and running in short time. These templates look fantastic and provide a great start in the design and development of the iPhone screens. Users will have to get used to smaller buttons, controls, graphics, and text, but it is still very usable with the responsiveness iPhone users have come to enjoy. Once the screens and functions are designed with Integration Designer, the user simply loads the RTI app and launches it. The feel of the controls is similar to the iPad with full two-way control of compatible components. The response time to commands and feedback data is great. We hope to see an Android-based app in the future to support another large group of smartphone users.
The RTiPanel application gives installers and ultimately customers a familiar user interface with the benefits of the iPad, iPhone or iTouch. For many, including myself, the new RTiPanel has been a much anticipated product launch and with its release came a level of excitement only RTI developers can appreciate. There is very little to learn, particularly for those who are already familiar with the Integration Designer software. The XP-6 was at the heart of the system. We used two-way ethernet and RS232 drivers, one-way RS232 commands, and IR commands with great success. RTI even provided some beta drivers for our Denon AVR-5308CI within 24-hours of our request. We certainly appreciate that and it allowed us to get our system up and running in short time.
In summary, there was little that we did not find impressive when using this system. The software is stable and getting something up and running using the predefined templates saves a lot of time. Few products have provided the level of excitement I experience with the new RTiPanel and the bar has certainly been raised with its release. RTI offers some of the best value in custom controls, giving installers a powerful set of tools and state-of-the-art products.
"Thanks" to Pete Baker (RTI), Paul Key (RTI), Jason Lindvall (RTI), Santino Piazza (Aprilaire) and
Veronica Esbona (InGear Public Relations) for providing support on this review.