Automated Living by URC is the publication that brings you the latest ideas and trends in control solutions. Get to know URC, enjoy fun giveaways, and enjoy features and stories about people and homes that have leveraged automation to make every day better.
By Cat A. Toomey
Director of Marketing, URC
Editor, Automated Living by URC
Yep, it’s time for summer fun and making the most of your open-air spaces with recreation and entertainment. There’s simply no better season to add magical music and lighting in the yard to enhance backyard barbeques and patio parties – and we’ll show you just how in this summer spectacular. Hmm, you may never look at your yard the same again.
Things get hot in this issue when we reveal a brand new compact controller from URC that truly changes everything – from the TV, lights and temperature – to changing the entire market’s entry price point for home automation! Can a product with a curious name like MRX-8 be your key to unraveling the mystery and getting started? You bet it can! Read on to find out how this little guy can accomplish huge feats for a price you never thought possible from our jovial journalist Jon Sienkiewicz.
Breezing through the pages, you’ll then catch sight of an exceptional eco-conscious escape in British Columbia where a coastal contemporary home accepts the eco-challenge with elegant automation. This Canadian gem enjoys the many benefits of home control while dramatically reducing its carbon footprint by marrying lights, shades, and thermostats to conserve energy. Magnificent outdoor views and entertainment cap it all off and show how going green can be both gorgeous and smart.
You won’t want to miss our Mission Invisible article, where you’ll find out what we’ve been hiding for years! And see a new video where URC’s own staff puts a whacky spin on entertainment control, the latest products, and social media outlets where you can join in for even more fun.
Plus, this quarter, we change up our interview section. Get to know a URC professional installation company and why this husband and wife team made the move to making homeowners happy with automation. They disclose important lessons learned, trusted brands and how they let customer’s passions always be their guide.
There are 14 weeks this summer, so how will you make the most of them? Home automation affords a new kind of stress-free living. We hope this issue lends you refreshing answers on ways to further relax, rest and enjoy recreation with family and friends. We’ll look forward to meeting you back here, in your inbox, bright and early next quarter for our fabulous fall issue of ah… Automated Living!
It’s 7:00 PM and there’s a slight summer breeze outside. Go on, get in that hammock. Your favorite music kicks on over outdoor speakers, yard lights brighten a bit, and the waterfall begins to spout. Ah, automation. Now you’re in your element.
Get ready for all the backyard resting and recreation ahead! Here’s a short list of tips to enhance your outdoor atmosphere and enjoyment all summer long, and for years to come.
How about a backyard like this? Prep your summer deck with outdoor sound and a pop up TV. Using a handy remote, you can press one button to have the hidden TV automatically pop out on a lift and change to your favorite channel while you kick back with that marvelous margarita – without leaving your comfy lounge chair.
It’s music to your ears. Increase every day’s enjoyment by delivering songs from your favorite Internet radio station or AppleTV to speakers all around the yard. Divide your yard into separate areas to select which speakers turn on, based upon you and a good book – or that family gathering. Marry these speakers with ones indoors to hear the same music in the kitchen. Grab more appetizers and never miss a beat.
Hey, that’s one terrific terrace. Take the heat out of summer and make your shindigs the coolest around. How about combining lights and music by having a button on your smart phone labeled “Party”? As your guests arrive, one press sets the mood lighting just right and fires up the summer favorites as you fire up the grill.
Taking on travel or summer road trips? Why not take URC and your backyard with you everywhere you go? Thanks to our friendly mobile app, you can put your home in your pocket and take off without a care in the world. Monitor security, turn lights on and off and let the pet sitter in from those mountains in Montana.
It’s always perfect poolside. Stick your toe in. Today’s pool and spa controls are easier and better than ever and they work with automation systems. Put in a fixed outdoor keypad under the awning and take total control of jets, valves, filtration, pumps, color lighting, bubbles – and even a waterfall.
When the party’s over! Later, once the last guest departs, tap the “All Off” button on your smartphone to shut everything down – the sounds of summer, yard lights, waterfall, TV tucks neatly away and you’re ready to hit the hay for the night. No worries, it’s so cool, you’ll be back at it again bright and early…
So take your fun in the sun to a whole new place where a little lively automation goes a long way. These backyard benefits are apt to become so essential, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.
Dynamic Multimedia Solutions
From its oceanfront views and high-tech roof-top retreat to its great use of LED and natural lighting plus remote sensor thermostats, you’ll see why this eco-friendly home is one we absolutely adore. Look and get real-world inspiration from this Canadian homeowner who now delights in using URC Total Control technology to simplify his life while saving energy. Now able to easily control his home’s door locks, cameras, shades, thermostats and lighting via his iPhone, it’s no wonder this retired firefighter and electric car owner now insists he’s a home automation believer. If you’ve ever wondered how you could reduce your home’s carbon footprint, we guarantee you’ll find something here that speaks to you.
By Jon Sienkiewicz
Director of Corporate Communications, URC
Can a product with a curious name like the MRX-8 Controller from URC be your key to unraveling the mystery of the home automation equation? You bet it can!
The real meaning of home automation.
The trouble with our Americanized version of the English language is that the meanings of words keep changing. The big changes aren’t the problem—like back in the day when awful and awesome meant exactly the same thing. Or when Mark Twain teased us with the comparison of lightning to lightning bugs. Oh, no. The real culprits are the slow, gradual, incremental changes that sneak up on us and clobber us when we least expect it.
Take the word automatic for instance. For years, marketing professionals in every industry known to man have leveraged this sinister-sounding adjective to describe just about every new feature or function that an otherwise old product could do. Cameras became automatic when they could close the aperture diaphragm without human fingers twisting a dial. They became automatic once again when they could set the correct exposure without help. And yet again when they learned how to focus. Cars (I’d call them automobiles but that’s going too far) followed a similar evolution. Transmissions that did not require manual shifting were labeled automatic. And today that automatic designation is applied to cars that drive themselves, sans human.
The scope and depth of the meaning of the word automatic expands and grows as technology progresses. Everything gets better, but we continue to use that same old word.
So I ask you, is it any wonder why so many people are confused about a concept called home automation?
Home automation occurs when something that a human once did through physical effort is done according to rules established by humans and enforced by computers and/or other machinery.
On one side of the home automation equation we have a task or set of tasks, while on the other side is a device and a set of rules. The device is usually a specialized computer called a system controller. Like other computers, it has a CPU, RAM and an assortment of I/O (inputs and outputs, i.e., places where you can plug things in). The rules are programs that are permanently or temporarily stored in the device.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, we’re beginning to slip into some technical jargon here. Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to remember any of the computer babble—just do what I do when I read Polish novels and Chinese menus—skip over the words that you don’t immediately recognize.
URC makes a system controller that’s like no other. It’s called an MRX-8 and the full label is Compact Network System Controller. It’s smaller than many competitive models, but still fully powerful. It does everything a system controller is supposed to do but is priced significantly lower. Being more affordable means that more people can enjoy home automation without putting a major squeeze on the family finances.
As a user, you communicate with the system controller in one of several different ways. We call these interfaces and that’s probably as good as description as any. The interface might be a handheld remote control, an in-wall graphic-based keypad or a smart phone or tablet. It could also be a hidden sensor that is activated by an action—like opening a door.
Not to brag, but URC practically invented home theater control. We’ve sold more than 10 million remotes in the last decade and have been at it for more than 25 years. We currently offer the widest assortment of handheld remotes, in-wall graphic touchscreen keypads, push button keypads and mobile devices. You could say we wrote the book on control.
The interfaces communicate with the system controller by sending a coded signal through the air or along a wire. Wireless is handier to use, but stationary interfaces like keypads are often wired. Today, most home automation systems rely on the home’s wireless network for communication, but some smaller systems use RF (Radio Frequency—think garage door opener) or the old fashioned IR (Infra Red—think TV clicker). Systems that use the home’s wireless network are given a short but nonetheless sophisticated designation IP which stands for Internet Protocol.
The good news is that in many, many cases, the system controller can communicate with the objects in the house—the items on the task side of the equation, like lights, heating and air conditioning, television, etc.—using the same method that the interface uses. In other words, the interface (let’s say it’s a remote control) talks to the system controller using IP (the wireless network) and the system controller in turn talks to the TV using the same means. No wires, no ugly boxes or tangled messes.
One big benefit is that IP-based systems can usually provide two-way (bi-directional) control that includes information feedback. For example, you can see—and set—room temperature directly on a remote control or iPhone without approaching the thermostat. And you can monitor volume levels as graphical bars and adjust as desired. A digital speedometer is an example of an instrument that provides feedback. Step on the accelerator and the MPH reading increases.
It keeps getting better. If you are using an interface that communicates by IP, like a tablet or smart phone for example, you don’t have to be home to do it. Connect to any wireless network anywhere—at work, at the beach, from the designer coffee shop—and you are in control just as much as if you were at home.
These two features—information feedback and off-site control—are paramount. Once you have them, you will never again be without them. The ability to sit at your job and check and adjust the temperature in your home, confirm that the lights are off (or on), see who is at your front door (yes, really you can) and even unlock the door for the plumber—all while 25 miles away from home—these are conveniences you’ll never want to be without.
No homes left behind.
All of the parts and pieces are not required to speak the same language. One of the functions of the system controller is to receive instructions from the interface and translate them into some form that the big dumb objects like TVs, door locks or ceiling lights can understand. It could use a method called Z-Wave®, or one called ZigBee or even a physical wire. The URC MRX-8 is multilingual and can communicate with all of these and more.
Going back to our simple home automation equation, we have a group of tasks on one side and a system controller plus interfaces on the other. The tasks can be strung together so that they happen in a specific sequence. For example, a macro (list of tasks) can be created that turns on your flat panel, adjusts the inputs to DVD, activates the Surround Sound system and dims the lights to one-third power—all happening at the touch of one button.
There’s almost no limit to what the tasks can be, and that’s what’s truly exciting. Here are the top five. There are more. And tomorrow there will be even more. The key—the way to get started—is a URC MRX-8 system controller and an interface or smart phone app. How far and wide you expand your system is up to you.
Five exciting things you can do.
Share music throughout the house—and outside onto the deck and patio. Share video, too. It’s called distributed audio and what that means is you can play the same music throughout the house or different selections in different areas. For example, you can listen to jazz in the kitchen while you cook whilst your spouse sings along with R&B in the family room and the kids hear classical in their rooms. Many find it an even bigger thrill to take the music outside. Choose playlists, adjust volume or even turn everything off while sipping sweet tea in your hot tub.
Turn lights on, off and dim them even when you’re not home. We all know that dimming lights saves money, energy and perhaps the planet. What most don’t realize is that lighting control means more than convenience and economy. Lighting control means security. You can set up scenes so that your house is lighted and looks lived in while you’re away. You can set lights to turn on the instant you reach your driveway so that you never enter a dark home again. You can match brightness to mood to accentuate that just-right candlelight dinner.
Use video cameras to see who is at the front door, monitor a baby’s room or just keep an eye on the dog in the backyard. Surveillance cameras can be located just about anywhere to keep a watchful eye on whatever is important to you. You can see who is ringing the doorbell, or make sure that the kids don’t leave the yard. Cameras give you a greater sense of security when you are away, too.
Adjust the temperature for comfort, ecology and savings. You probably have a programmable thermostat, right? Can you check the temperature and adjust it using only your smart phone while you are away in a different city or another part of the world? With an MRX-8 and a URC home automation system, the answer is “yes.”
Lower the shades. Shade control is convenient and can have a significant impact on your heating and cooling bills. Shades can be coordinated to rise every morning 30 minutes after sunrise and lower every night thirty minutes before sunset. Or whatever time YOU decide.
We’ve solved the home automation equation for you. Home automation happens when a set of tasks you formerly did by hand are done automatically and exactly the way you want them done. An MRX-8 controller from URC is the key to putting all of the pieces in motion to make automation happen. And MRX-8 is powerful. It’s reliable. And right now it’s super affordable.
Our URC team is at it again with the new “Kooky Cuts” video series. Recently, our staff took fun and games to a whole new level by writing, filming, acting and producing our own videos that provide a humorous look at home automation, while revealing the many seriously helpful features of owning such a system.
In this latest episode, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”, see how to amplify your entertainment life and watchful eye when you’re home, outside on the deck – or on the go. In under 2 minutes flat, you’ll witness exactly how you can select your favorite TV shows, crank up the music volume and unlock your doors from your smart phone or remote control.
To see more videos, join our YouTube Channel at
https://www.youtube.com/universalremote_urc and bookmark this link.
The TRC-1080 proves beauty is more than skin deep.
At URC, we always like to put our best face forward and the TRC-1080 Wi-Fi Remote Control is a great example of this philosophy. Let’s face it. Once your pro installer leaves the house, what’s left in your hands? The remote control. And a remote is a remote, right? Not this one!
The TRC-1080 is much more than the prettiest girl at the dance. This remote blends every hard button control you need with a brilliant LCD screen where custom color graphics sit at your beckon call for every function. Change channels, drop the shades, tweak volume levels and the temperature. Plus, you get live video – right on the remote screen! See who’s at the front door, verify a package was dropped off, and even witness what mischief the kids are into in the backyard or basement.
For 25 years we’ve been proving beauty goes deeper than the LCD. Our remote controls are legendary and the award-winning TRC-1080 shows off all that experience with rock-solid reliability, innovation, drop-dead gorgeous graphics and elegant control. There’s really nothing better in your hands than this remote. Try one and you’ll see beauty is more than skin deep.
Enhanced cable box compatibility announced.
With summer here, many of us suddenly have little ones at home looking for things to do, especially when it’s too hot to be outdoors. News flash! With a button push and no interaction or setup from you, they can crank down the temperature, fire up the TV, and take full control of DirecTV through a fantastic new interface on any Total Control device or their smartphone.
You or the kids are now able to easily access up to 60 favorites and add, delete or rearrange your favorites. Your home system can include one primary satellite box and up to five additional mini boxes – and you take charge of it all more easily than ever. With more than 39 million DirecTV subscribers in the Americas, we are thrilled to launch this enhanced compatibility. Check with your URC pro on how to add DirecTV to your system and make everyone happy in the house. We can’t keep them quiet but we can keep them well occupied!
New Controller changes TV, music lights – and the entire home automation industry.
As seen in this pub’s top product feature, our most popular system has VERY big news with the introduction of the MRX-8 Compact Controller. This tiny box is the perfect start to your home’s smarts, and is feature-packed and value-priced better than anything remotely similar on the market.
Small in size but huge on benefits, this central controller can sit in any room or a central equipment rack for robust control of your entertainment, lights, security, door locks, shades, temperature and more. Ideal for small to mid-range homes, condos, and offices, this guy issues control commands for all components throughout the house (and outdoors) right over your home network. Convenience galore – it offers off-premises service so that often, your installer won’t even need to set an appointment to come to the house for upgrades or changes. It works with Total Control remotes, keypads, touchscreens and your own smartphones and tablets. If you’ve been considering home automation, there’s no better way to make the move to the smartest home on the block.
How a dedicated touchscreen can make everything better.
You’ve got a remote and now you’ve got a mobile app. Why a touchscreen? There are several rooms where a slick in-wall touchscreen may be your ideal solution. For example, in our dining room, we have the TKP-7000 Color Touchscreen because it doesn’t look good or make sense to have a remote in the middle of the table as folks are passing fresh food. Frankly speaking, nor do I care for my hubby to leave the room searching for his cell to lower volume of The Eagles Greatest Hits mid conversation.
This touchscreen sits elegantly in the wall, ever-ready and present for a tap to turn down the tunes or dim the chandelier to set things just right. Another perfect place for a touchscreen is in a formal living room where often families have no flat screen TV but where you may want to check on the kids using connected cameras, turn off the fireplace, or pick a playlist. The sunny TKP-7000 features a bright screen, finger swipe navigation, and graphics galore – what a wonderful solution for specific spaces.
So Amanda, what year did you folks get into this business of specifying and installing home automation and entertainment systems for people?
We started TruMedia in 2003 as a retailer for DISH. In 2013, we began to grow our business into a very interesting segment known as the “custom electronics market.”
What exactly is the custom electronics market?
This is a rapidly growing market segment that serves consumers who want the latest smart automation technologies and entertainment systems that can work together cohesively throughout a home, to the outdoors and, in some cases, across multiple homes – such as vacation homes.
What was your entry into this area and what sparked your initial interest?
Our own customers helped us get involved in custom. They saw the kind of work we did with DISH, and the home projects we could complete that others in our area couldn’t.
They trusted our opinion on latest technologies and began asking if we could do more and other kinds of projects in their homes. In 2013, we decided to focus on learning all about the custom integration world and became members of related trade organizations. We sought to be on the cusp of newest products and become the regional experts to help more customers blend home electronics into their daily lives.
We attended shows to expand our knowledge about products we wanted to offer, including whole house lighting and entertainment where our customers could turn on and adjust things in the home from remotes and smart phones.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned in this growing home automation world?
It’s extremely important to continually learn about new products and where things are headed. Education has been a big part of our business and success. With our eyes on this, we can better serve customers.
Secondly, we learned it’s crucial to work with products and manufacturers we believe in. As a family owned business, we’re in constant pursuit of excellence. Our products and the manufacturers we work with need to embrace this same vision. When we put a product into a customer’s home, it means it has the TruMedia stamp of approval. We must know the manufacturer will stand behind it and it will work.
My husband and I know the guys we work with like electronics and gadgets. But how I KNOW we’ve done a great job is when I see women we serve get that “A-ha!” moment where they know they can use these electronics and they LOVE them too! My favorite referrals are when the wife tells all her friends how they have to talk to us because we made her life easier with integrated electronics.
With consumers having more access to features that were once considered perhaps “home electronics only for the rich and famous,” how is this playing out in your business?
There are so many options now for customers, and many ads from companies like Comcast and AT&T. It’s become important for us to listen closely to our customer’s needs—now more than ever.
Some come in saying, “Hey, I saw this commercial where I can turn off my faucet from my Phone… can you do that for me?” Turns out, they may not really care about turning off a faucet per se, but they do want to know what “cool” thing is out there now that could make their life more enjoyable, safe or convenient.
We then ask lots of questions and discover what they want their experience to be. We can advise them about how to create that experience, based upon countless products available. Truth is, many of these technologies may or may not work well for a specific customer, and many products cannot work with each other. This is where we come in and really help them find what they’re seeking.
We work hard to be our client’s trusted advisor. Sometimes it’s the “cool” new gadget they saw and sometimes it’s a product they’ve never heard of, but will create the best results for them.
What brands and technologies are driving your business these days?
Our favorite product line is Total Control® from URC. We’ve been a big advocate and were excited when URC asked us to participate in this dialog.
The reason we love Total Control is that it offers a price point that many of our customers feel comfortable starting with, particularly with the new MRX-8. And, it’s user-friendly – there’s no training once installed, programmed and in our customer’s hands.
URC allows us to put in a smart home system that can grow and change with our customer’s needs. And that’s hard to find. For example, there are many products that have their own separate app for control, but Total Control brings everything together into one easy app. And we can add new things, such as shade control, down the road. That’s powerful.
Given our history in the TV and entertainment segment, we also like the fact that URC seamlessly integrates TV, Audio and Video products as well. Often these are the first things our clients want to control and are most are familiar with.
You must know about other smart home systems. What is it about Total Control that stands out relative to daily use?
We selected Total Control because the user experience is the same no matter what device our customer uses. Mom may want the iPad app, kids have their iPhones always in hand and maybe dad likes a classic handheld remote control.
With URC, everyone can have what they want, and each device has a common look and navigation. URC is a one-stop solution. What more could you want? Most people love their technology, they just want things to work and not be complicated. That’s URC.
What are some of the newer brands that you’re exploring and why?
We’re really excited about what’s happening in shades and lighting. The new Lutron Caseta™ wireless products open up new opportunities for customers who are in existing homes and want to have the up-to-date-technology but don’t want to have to do massive infrastructure renovation.
With many new shading textures, colors and styles, we can offer customers much more than we ever could before. Having the ability to pair those products with URC means we can create the personalized experience customers dream of!
What changes or trends make these home automation solutions relevant to homeowners going forward?
Customers have access to more information than ever before. We found it’s important to distinguish information versus expertise. Most people have watched at least one episode on HGTV or the “Do It Yourself” channel, but that doesn’t mean they all go out and build their own house, or do all of their remodel projects themselves and are instantly experts. Need proof, watch Renovation Realities. How many of them complete their projects? And of those who do, how many of them had to hire a professional to help finish it?
This is our passion. If we continue to pursue knowledge and excellence in our fields we will continue to be the “go-to” resource and have highly satisfied customers. And that’s what makes TruMedia tick!
“This is our passion. If we continue to pursue knowledge and excellence in our fields we will continue to be the go-to resource and have highly satisfied customers. TruMedia – Installing Innovation in Your Home!” – Amanda and Ponch”
“URC’s Total Control was the obvious choice. It was the ideal solution for this customer’s job because of its ability to integrate seamlessly with so many subsystems… He can remotely let anyone in, monitor their activity while they’re inside and remotely lock the doors once they leave.”
– Don Santolla, Co-owner
Dynamic Multimedia Solutions
What do you call a home automation system you can’t see? Perfection!
A friend of our company—we’ll call him Oscar (even though he’s not that big of a grouch)—explained to us what we wants in a home automation system. Or rather, what he doesn’t want. He doesn’t want to see it.
“I want the best home automation system you’ve never seen,” said he. “And I know what I don’t want to come with it; I don’t want another $%#@! instruction book.”
Tall order? Not for URC. A URC Total Control system can be installed and concealed so well that you’ll swear it’s swaddled in a Cloak of Invisibility.
Let’s get one thing straight. Many of us here at URC are equipment freaks, so to speak, and we enjoy having a rack full of black boxes studded with flashing LEDs and all connected with neatly dressed wires. That’s how we enjoy our hobby. But we completely understand that we might be in the minority. For many people, a music system is to be heard, not seen.
You see, URC is truly a pioneer in control technology. We were one of the first companies to develop the concept of “no pointing required” by using RF (Radio Frequency) in our remote controls to communicate with base stations that could be hidden completely out of sight—or even in a different room. We’ve come a long way since perfecting RF. Nowadays we use an invisible force that is already at work in your house: your wireless network and internet connection.
What would you like to automate—invisibly? We can start with whole-house lighting. You thought we were going to say “TV” didn’t you? We’ll come back to the flat panel later.
Your trained and Certified Total Control installer—a local professional who might even be your neighbor—can install our Vivido Lighting System to give you convenience, security and economy. You will see the light—but that’s all. No ugly boxes, no bizarre looking control panels cut into your walls. After installation you will be able to turn lights on and off and dim them, but more importantly you can set lighting scenes that happen by themselves. Make your home look lived-in when you’re away, set mood lighting at evening mealtime and have lights that shine their greetings when you arrive home each night. Control them from the driveway with your phone and never enter a dark home again.
A door lock that’s controlled by Z-Wave® is another example of undetectable control. In fact, you won’t even see the key! Automating your door lock gives you these benefits. You can confirm the door is locked after you leave home; receive text messages any time the door is unlocked; set temporary entry codes to allow tradesmen in to service appliances without giving them permanent access; unlock your door from the car before you fill both arms with groceries; the list of perks continues.
Concealing control of the flat panel television is child’s play. You might say we’ve been hiding things for years! With the right URC Total Control products installed you will be able to control all television functions from a stylish, handheld remote control, your smart phone or an iPad/Android tablet. No wires, no boxes, no kidding.
How does invisible control happen?
How do you make something this big look like nothing? Deep within the recesses of this installation—your basement, perhaps, or utility room—is hidden a URC Total Control Network System Controller. It’s the brains of the operation. It could be our megastar MRX-20 which features on-screen display and cool “write in the air” gesture-powered remotes, our de rigueur MRX-10 or our latest, the stealth champion MRX-8.
As the name implies, our network system controllers are connected to your wireless home network. They receive instructions from handheld remote controls, touchpanels and smart phones/tablet that have been programmed and paired to control your house invisibly. All physical manifestations of control—boxes, cables, power supplies and trolls—can be hidden from view. Well, maybe not the trolls—but then again, they’re invisible to begin with.
Bonus: you can remain in control of everything inside your home even when you are outside having fun this summer. Whether you are sprawled on the family room couch, snoozing in a poolside chaise lounge or munching on a hot dog at a baseball game 30 miles away, you are as close to home as your smart phone or tablet.
Our friend Oscar? Yeah, he gets it now. You can have your cake and not see it, too. We can work control magic the likes of which you will never see. If your ambition is to have invisible whole-house control, install URC’s Total Control and you can honestly say you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. And you never will.
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