Savant Remote: Why $499 DIY Home Automation Controller Works for CEDIA Pros – CEPro

Savant, maker of higher-end home automation systems dropped a bomb on the eve of CEDIA Expo 2015: The company was launching Savant Remote, a single-room DIY solution that would be sold through BestBuy.com, as well as specialty A/V retailers and integrators.

Predictably, many dealers initially panned Savant’s decision to sell direct to consumers. But if nothing else the announcement drove throngs of dealers to the company’s booth at CEDIA, where they really seemed to “get it,” according to Savant CEO William Lynch.

Forget about the direct-to-consumer sales for a moment. Dedicated integration companies should see the Remote as an opportunity for themselves to serve a broader market than current Savant systems allow, according to Lynch.

Savant’s legacy product line offers nearly unlimited capacity for controlling audio/video gear as well as subsystems such as security, lighting, HVAC, motorized shades, streaming music, movie servers and more. Systems start at $1,000 for the basics—a hub and an app—but can easily extend into six figures when multiple rooms and integrations are involved.

On the other hand, the Remote and its companion Savant Host gateway provide limited functionality – currently only the control of IR devices and a handful of IP devices – so it is unlikely to cannibalize sales of traditional Savant solutions.

One Savant Host in the Remote ecosystem can support up to four remotes for controlling entertainment systems in four different areas of the house – plenty for most households, including those served by professional home technology integrators.

Even considering the luxury market, “the majority of jobs are one- to four-zone systems,” Lynch says. “We have the product. Not only will it delight clients with the interface but installing it is easier than ever before.”

For these reasons, he says, the product can “help dealers with cash flow for funding their business.”

Lynch believes the Savant Remote “will do for four-zone entertainment systems what Sonos has done for multizone audio.”

Indeed, Sonos has stimulated business for thousands of dealers who would normally dismiss the simplest of wireless audio solutions. But they sell the product because it is simple to sell and install, and consumers love it. And even though Sonos is a DIY product like the Savant Remote, a majority of Sonos systems are sold through home technology integrators and specialty A/V shops.

Dealers can clean up on sales volume, but also on attachments like loudspeakers and installation labor. More importantly, though, they build a growing database of customers they might never have touched before.

That’s where Savant is going with the Remote.

About the Remote

The Savant Remote is a slick wand-style controller with both hard buttons and a touchscreen. If you had the chance to hold one at CEDIA, you probably agree it feels great in the hand.

The Remote communicates solely through Bluetooth with the companion charging station. Built into that station is a 360-degree IR blaster to control A/V devices directly. Also available are Bluetooth-to-IR adapters for placement in A/V equipment cabinets – no line-of-sight required from the base station to the gear.

The base station also includes Wi-Fi for communicating to the Savant Host, the system’s central controller.

The Host is the IP gateway that enables remote home-control via the cloud, as well as integration with IP-enabled smart devices such as Sonos, Roku and Savant’s own smart plug.

When it launches in Q1 2016, the Remote will be quite limited in IP-based integration, but more products will be added over time.

The Savant Remote “will do for four-zone entertainment systems what Sonos has done for multizone audio.”

– William Lynch, Savant CEO

While the Savant Remote is nice to look at and to hold, the magic resides in the software.

The “Savant Instant” set-up scheme makes it simple to program a system in less than 10 minutes. In the Savant demo room at CEDIA, a whole collection of IR- and IP-controlled A/V devices and lamp modules were set up in 9 minutes and 31 seconds, Lynch says.

Users don’t need to enter the brand names and model numbers of their equipment. The system auto-discovers IP devices and helps customers pin down IR codes. The remote cycles through all IR codes for any given product class, and the user simply presses a button when the device turns on, signifying that the system has found the correct IR code set.

This easy enrollment process extends to other Remote features as well.

For example, after customers enroll their cable/satellite box and enter their zip code into the system, the channels are automatically populated on the remote.

The most-used channels eventually rise to the top of the page(s). Since each user in the household has his or her own profile, only their faves rise to the top of their unique user interface.

Likewise, users set their own scenes and favorites, right from the remote.

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Savant Remote and Savant Host ecosystem (illus: CE Pro)

Savant, the Remote and the Integrator Channel

I remarked at the outset that I thought the Remote was a good move for Savant. While the product won’t have the rich feature set of DIY competitors like Harmony when it launches in Q1, we can imagine that the Savant Remote will get there, communicating with the major smart-home brands via the cloud.

At the same time, Harmony today lacks many key features of Savant, such as voice control, Sonos integration and the control of up to four rooms within a unified platform.

And let’s not simply gloss over Sonos. Savant investor KKR is also a major Sonos backer, so we can probably expect a more elegant-than-usual integration between the two systems. In the demo at CEDIA, Sonos zones appeared automatically in the Savant Remote.

As for A/V control, it is true that IR is so last-millennium, but unfortunately it’s still the way A/V is controlled today.

If you gotta do IR, at least Savant does it well. The battery-powered IR blasters (the system supports multiple) greatly simplifies control of devices behind cabinet doors, and since there’s an IR blaster in the charging cradle (rather than the remote itself), this eliminates the requirement for the remote to be fired directly at the TV.

VIDEO: Demo of Savant Remote at CEDIA 2015 (disclaimer: bad Wi-Fi on the show floor)
Integrators at CEDIA seemed to like the automatic TV channel/station mapping enabled through the Savant software. If the service provider moves CNN from channel 310 to channel 410, for example, the Remote makes the change automatically. The “CNN” button just works.

Then there is the unique feature of user-configurable scenes, which can be set from the remote itself. When the TV, sound and lighting are set just so, the user simply presses a button to capture the scene. Another button press or voice command – on the remote or Savant app—can recall that scene.

“To the $500 remote customer, this will be mind-blowing,” says one large Savant dealer who asked not to be identified. “I truly believe that.”

Presumably, new products added to the Savant ecosystem also could be captured in the scenes. My guess is that the next big integration will be with Lutron via the Lutron Smart Bridge IP gateway. That will enable control of Caseta light switches, Serena motorized shades and thermostats.

Now, take these features and assumptions (especially more two-way IP control) and ask yourself: Is there anything similar available to the integration channel? Can you set up a universal remote to control an entertainment system and Sonos multiroom audio system in just a few minutes, and enable the customer to set up, personalize and maintain their systems … for $500?

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RELATED: Savant is First of the Home Automation ‘Majors’ to Go DIY with $499 Savant Remote
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I have a perfectly wonderful IP-enabled remote control from Savant competitor Elan Home Systems. It’s as beautiful as the Savant wand and it has the hard buttons I demand. But now I want to switch from Time Warner Cable to Dish for TV service. I’d sure love to be able to do that myself.

In admiring the Savant Remote, one dealer tells me, “It is an additive product, rather than a push ‘down market.’

The same, he says, could be said about Sonos.

When that notion is understood, the real problem to Savant dealers is the seeming lack of an upgrade path from the DIY Remote to a Pro system.

But even though the Remote is Bluetooth, it does communicate with a local Wi-Fi base, which could in fact communicate with one of the more powerful hubs in the Savant portfolio: the Smart Host ($999) or the Pro Host (Apple computer).

It doesn’t do so today, but it could.

Savant made a bit of a boo-boo in announcing the DIY Remote and Best Buy relationship on the eve of CEDIA, especially since the messaging around the pro channel was not fully baked.

The new Website that went live the day before CEDIA made Savant look like a new company with a Kickstarter project. Even today, you have to dig deep on the site to learn that Savant is more than the maker of a soon-to-be-released DIY remote, and that there is a full arsenal of higher-end solutions supported by experienced integrators.

But like the product itself, that messaging will improve.

“We have never been more committed to the success of the custom integrator,” Lynch says.
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JULIE JACOBSON
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