If you read my blog on taking a major lightning strike, you might have been wondering just what I decided to do about all the damaged gear. Audio Advice had recently become a dealer for Savant, so I spent the rest of the summer upgrading the control system in my home to Savant. I’ve been living with it now for about three months and am really enjoying it.
Savant is a relative newcomer to the home automation world. That world is a pretty competitive market which meant Savant needed something really different to make their business a success. If there was ever a reason to say “hindsight is 20/20” Savant is a case study in this! When Savant was founded back in 2005, a share of Apple stock was about $17. Can you believe that! The first Apple Mac Mini was also introduced in January 2005. Savant decided their control system should run native on an Apple computer. When they first introduced Savant, this was actually an impediment as it took stacks of expensive Mac Mini’s to run a fairly basic system. Time passed and technology improved as Savant figured out a way to need less Mac Mini’s and made the system more robust. The introduction of the iPad really put them on the map though as it made their proposition a whole lot more compelling.
Having an automation system that runs native on iOS has several advantages. Most home automation systems have their own dedicated processor that handles all of the control commands. When you stay within that brand of control components, everything works fine, but when you try to layer in control from say an iPad, this adds a level of complexity and extra layers of feedback. There is also the risk that when Apple makes a change to the iPad, if you are not running native iOS, your add on app could have issues or not work at all with the new changes. Finally, it’s just the speed. I’ve never had a system in my house that responded so fast to commands. It’s just instant!
My home was a pretty simple Savant installation. I’ve got 4 music areas, two surround systems, and one dedicated home theater/high end audio standalone room. Savant takes a Mac Mini, makes several mods to it and this is called their Host. I only needed one for my system. As a matter of fact, many systems will only need one. I used their audio switcher for my whole house audio. It’s got 4 digital audio inputs, 4 analog, and has an HDMI connection it gets from the Host. The HDMI connection can carry up to 4 different iTunes streams- pretty darn cool. Their audio switcher contains several driver ports for control including both IR and RS233. For the systems located away from the rack, in the old Savant world, you would need another Host and a processor. They now have a piece that just sits on your home network, is very small, inexpensive, and it has several IR and one RS232 port for control. I located these in the systems that were not in my main equipment rack (one surround system and my theater). The fact that these can just sit on your normal home network makes wiring a snap!
Since I had holes in my walls from my older whole house audio system, I installed the Savant wall mount controls, which is basically an iTouch in a permanent docking station. In hindsight, I should have just patched these over except in one location as we find ourselves just using the iPad for control instead of the wall mounted controls.
The Savant iPad app is very intuitive to use. Being native to the Apple world, it works just like all Apple apps. There is very little in the way of a learning curve. If you can use an iPhone, you will quickly figure out how to use Savant. As I said in my blog on remote controls, the iPad is a wonderful device for controlling whole house systems. It’s large enough to see everything perfectly clearly right in front of you. The Savant app has a very happy feel to it. Once you’ve used it a couple of times, it becomes second nature just like your iPhone.
My favorite component in my new Savant system is the Select Remote. Imagine an iTouch embedded in a remote control with the addition of lots of tactile buttons! The Select Remote, and for that matter, any Savant control interface gives you the ability to just choose the room you are in, and start controlling it. So if I take the remote from the family room into the home theater, no problem! I really love having the tactile buttons for navigation for TV viewing along with the ability to jump right out of the Savant app and check email or browse the web. And when I want to jump back to TV control, its instant! No waiting to load up or anything, jump back to the app and its immediately live and ready to roll!
Another really neat thing on the Select Remote (or with iPad control) is the way Savant does favorites. Favorite TV channel programming in the world of remote controls has always been a challenge for both installers and end users. Sure it’s easy to program in favorite station icons that go directly to a channel, but what happens when the channel lineup changes? At that point it’s a trip back to your home just to change a couple of buttons. Trust me, we would much rather be installing new systems than spending time redoing channel icons. Savant solved this in a very elegant manner. You just pull up the favorites page, pick out a channel icon you want (or you can pull one from the web if it’s not in the database) and simply enter in the channel number it needs to go to! If things change, it takes about 10 seconds to fix it.
We have a Lutron RadioRa2 system in our home and I have to say the interface into Savant is just great. I can be watching TV, touch the “environment“ icon, I’ll see several choices like whole house lighting, climate, etc., but the one on the end is always the room I am in. Click that and I can control the lights in the room I am watching TV in. Then a couple of button presses take me right back.
From the music control side we’ve found ourselves listening to a whole lot more music than we used to with Savant. The interface to iTunes is just so simple to use, it’s a snap to navigate through the 1300 CD’s in our collection.
I would have to say, I just love the Savant system. The audio side sounds great, it’s not only easy to use, but easy to figure out how to use out of the gate, it’s blazingly fast, and the Apple connection has lots of advantages. The introduction of the iPad Mini really brought this to light. In the Savant eco-system, you pay a one-time fee for a site license that gives you up to 50 concurrent iOS interfaces. So, if I were to get a new iPad mini, all I have to do is go download the free app, and boom, I’ve got Savant control right on the iPad mini! No one has to come out and reprogram anything, it just works! Every other home automation company is right now figuring out how to redo their program to work with the mini. This means a friend could come over, download the free app and be controlling my system. You’ll have to decide how you want that to play out, but that is just so cool!
We’ve got Savant systems set up in both our Raleigh and Charlotte locations. When you come in for a demo, be sure and have them show you the Select Remote. It is one of my all-time favorite electronics toys!