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Quartics Inc. is a semiconductor company based in Irvine, CA, with offices in India, China and Taiwan. Quartics was formed in 2003 to focus on semiconductor architecture for video-based media, aiming to overcome a raft of modern digital challenges. To date, the company has been granted 10 patents, with 40 pending, in media processing architecture, video and graphics processing and QoS algorithms.

Insteon, X10, ZigBee and Z-Wave

We’ve started to talk quite a bit lately about home automation.  Granted it isn’t exactly an HDTV or Home Theater topic, but we think it fits quite well.  After all, most home theater installers also offer some form lighting control.  If you can add your own lighting, window covering and screen control to your home theater, it makes perfect sense.

Both of us are using devices based on Insteon technology in our homes.  As much as we talk about Insteon, you may think it’s the only choice out there. It turns out that there is actually a handful of options for those interested in do-it-yourself home automation.  In addition to Insteon, there’s X10, ZigBee and Z-Wave.


The X10 protocol has been around for quite a while.  It was developed in 1975 by Scottish firm Pico Electronics.  It primarily uses powerline communication between devices to automate home control of lighting and other devices.  Because it has been around for so long, it has a significant install base and a lot of devoted fans.

Unfortunately, reliability has always been an issue with X10, earning it the nickname X8 out of 10.  Lights may randomly turn on or off, various wireless products can interfere with proper operation and control commands tend to be very slow.  Despite its shortcomings, it remains very popular due to the availability of devices and their relatively low cost.


Insteon seeks to solve the shortcomings of X10 by providing a more reliable experience while maintaining full backward compatibility with the X10 standard.  Insteon employs a dual-mesh topology using powerline and RF communication for redundancy.  All devices act as repeaters as well, to make sure control messages get to the correct destination.  Owners of X10 devices have a very direct upgrade path to Insteon.

Insteon was created and is primarily supported by SmartHome.  There are literally hundreds of device options available at SmartHome.com, from light switches to motion sensors, garage door openers to thermostats.  Most devices are very reasonably priced, making it a natural fit for the do it yourselfer.


ZigBee is an open control protocol supported by hundreds of manufacturers.  Unlike X10 and Insteon, it is a wireless (RF) only protocol.  It was designed for low bandwidth, low power devices and is ideally suited for home automation applications.  However, significant delays in ratifying a standard have hindered product availability.

Doing a Google search for ZigBee light switches will leave you scratching your head.  Perhaps the biggest supporter of ZigBee actually producing usable hardware is Control4.  They have limited options and, because they are from Control4, require an authorized dealer sell and typically install them.  From what we can tell, ZigBee is not a good option for the do-it-yourself audience.


Z-Wave is very similar in concept to ZigBee.  It is a wireless (RF) mesh network designed for low bandwidth, low power communication between devices.  The technology uses a low-power RF radio that can be built into any home electronics device, including lighting, home access control, entertainment systems and household appliances.

Perhaps the most notable Z-Wave supporters for the do-it-yourselfer are GE, Leviton and Monster.  All three are big names in consumer devices and offer a wide variety of products for the do-it-yourself project.  Much like Insteon, there are also software packages you can install on a computer to control all the Z-Wave devices in your home.


For those like us who want to automate their homes and their theaters, there are plenty of options, to be sure.  We’d dismiss ZigBee right off the bat.  Also, X10 has had it’s time in the sun, but doesn’t quite stack up to the other choices.  That leaves it to personal preference between Insteon and Z-Wave.  We’re sure you’ll be more than happy with either.

Download Episode #431

Posted by The HT Guys, June 25, 2010 12:22 AM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.