First look: Lutron's HomeKit-compatible Caseta Wireless smart lighting dimmer

Posted:
in iPhone edited July 2015
One of the first Apple HomeKit-compatible products on the market is the Lutron Wireless lineup. AppleInsider was given the opportunity to test out its new smart lighting dimmer, and we found that while HomeKit shows plenty of promise, our initial experiences show there's still a lot of work to be done.




Home automation has always been hard. Even if all the devices worked properly from the bridge communicating to the lights and other accessories, getting everything configured and set up in rooms and zones has been the domain of home automation installers, people who drive vans and come strictly to sort out this and audio/video woes.

With the advent of the Internet of Things and programs like Works with Apple HomeKit, Works with Nest, and Google's Brillo and Weave technology, this isn't going to be the case for much longer. Eventually, configuring these products is going to be as easy as anything else we do with our phones.

But that day isn't quite here yet.




For this test, AppleInsider was provided the Lutron Cas?ta Wireless Smart Lighting Dimmer Kit. It includes a HomeKit-compatible bridge, 2 Pico remote controls with little pedestals for them to rest on, and 2 plug-in lamp dimmers with controls that mirror that of the remote controls.

Setup

Setup requires a few steps: Creating an account, pairing a dimmer with the bridge, Pairing a remote to the dimmer, assigning it a name in the app, and setting up rooms, zones, and scenes for Siri. This was not trouble-free.




We connected the bridge to power and a router. We downloaded the app. We set up an account within the app, and there our probems began.

Once we got an account set up, we couldn't connect to the bridge. Multiple attempts to get it to connect finally worked, after seeing errors saying it couldn't connect, or couldn't load a website.




We added two lamps. This also wasn't easy, as we got an error message adding the first lamp. It lost connection with the bridge while adding it.


Siri Integration

Siri integration is really the point of HomeKit - it's where we as users really see the promise of all these disparate products from competing manufacturers can work together to make scenes that are more convenient. Having proven we could turn the lights on and off in the app, we tried out the Siri integration.

The first step is identifying the hardware to Siri. The bridge has an 8-digit number on a sticker on its base. The app requires you to enter this number and then you're ready to begin assigning rooms and zones.


It's possible to connect two lamps to one dimmer.


We created a room and a zone. We got errors trying to create the rooms, saying that a room with that name already exists. It wasn't clear, but we suspect the answer is this: you cannot name a room with the same name as a lamp.

We initially created lamps named Bedroom 1 and Bedroom 2, and ended up changing the names of the lamps to "pink lamp" and "white lamp." We ended up creating a room for one lamp and a zone with one room in it, named Upstairs. This way, we were able to demonstrate turning a room on and off, a zone on and off, or the whole house on and off.

Siri was able to turn on and off the lamps by room, by zone, or by house name, but was not able to turn them on or off by lamp name.




Once set up, the demonstration of it to other family members went smoothly and looked really cool. But the frustration and difficulty of the initial setup lingers. This clearly isn't easy for everyone yet, but is easier than it has been in years past.

We were able to turn rooms and zones on and off, or set scenes, custom settings within a room or zone. We set half the lights to 20 percent and the other to 50 percent. Telling Siri to "set the Upstairs lights to 20" worked as a command.

However, we were unable to get Siri to control the lighting from our cell network (simulating being away from home) even though we signed into iCloud on the Apple TV (3rd generation) with the same iCloud ID as on our iPhone. This doesn't function yet because it hasn't been enabled by Apple, we suspect.




We're hopeful that it will be possible next month when HomeKit compatible products are expected to be sold in Apple Retail. There's room for someone to explain family sharing for iCloud accounts and making this work for family members, as well.

When people purchase a connected home device, they tend to purchase energy and security products first. The Philips Hue and Nest Learning Thermostat are good examples of past successes in the market.

One of the things that must be taken into account is the cost of this automation. A Nest is $249. The cost of buying in-wall Lutron light switches is around $50-$60 per switch. The good news is that you don't need to go all-in at once.




HomeKit makes it possible to install products from different vendors and assign them to rooms and zones available to all the apps. The downside is that these aren't available across all the manufacturer's apps.

If you wanted to control your lights from the app rather than Siri, and had your light dimmer switches from multiple vendors, you would have to go into each app to make the changes. You'll have to decide for yourself how well Siri works for you. Some people we know like it very much, while we know others who don't use it at all.

Controlling rooms, zones and scenes from Siri works well, and we're optimistic it's only going to get better. App developers for hardware products need to pay special attention to making the initial sign-up and set up as painless as possible. Once set up, we were pleased with the Lutron Caseta Wireless's performance. We're very much looking forward to HomeKit compatible products, and the interoperability they bring.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    Great article! I'm getting this system shipped to me tomorrow & was hoping for a review to reference when setting up.
  • Reply 2 of 12
    rilesriles Posts: 5member
    The big problem I see is that the range of the Smart Bridge is only 30 feet and if you want multiple Smart Bridges then you need to use multiple accounts. This limits this product only to smaller homes.
  • Reply 3 of 12
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 647editor



    Please feel free to contact me on twitter if you have any questions about it while you set it up. I can't promise I'll have answers, but I'm happy to try and help.

     

    @vmarks on twitter

  • Reply 4 of 12
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 647editor
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by riles View Post



    The big problem I see is that the range of the Smart Bridge is only 30 feet and if you want multiple Smart Bridges then you need to use multiple accounts. This limits this product only to smaller homes.



    Other systems like the Insteon bridge use both RF and HomePlug to create a mesh network with longer range. We hope to have a first look article on that system up soon.

  • Reply 5 of 12
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,962member

    I love technologies, but I'm not ready to spend hundreds of hard earned dollars just for devices used to turn off the lights yet. 

  • Reply 6 of 12
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,422member
    If you listen to his review on the IA podcast he was less then thrilled with thier implementation. As he stated here, it was difficult from the start, I have done Home automation dating back to the 80's and finally gave up in the 2000's when there was little to no support for Mac and expecially OSX and Lutron would not have been my go to source for home automation, Reason being, the same as it was pointed out here, they seem to make it more complicated than it needed to be. Home automation is not easy and I was hoping with Apple's home kit it would make it a lot easier so I did not need to spend hours getting it all working. It sounds like it still not quite there yet.

    As it was pointed out above, it not worth $100's to turn lights on and off. You really need to have smarts around it, you need the IFTTT decision making which is support to be supported with IOS9 to really make it work the way you want. This functionality existed in the Mac version of home automation but it required keeping your computer running all the time, so the power you saved turning lights off was used up by the computer. My system using to know sun raise and sun set and turned lights on and off accordingly, it also use to randomizes light turning off and off so it made like someone was alway at home and it would not turn certain lights on unless someone was in that room.

    I am still in a wait and see mode on this before I make another investment.
  • Reply 7 of 12
    There is an update to the app today that says it adds Siri control to individual dimmers and switches. I hope this addresses the issue I have of not being able to use Siri to turn a light on. If it's already on Siri can adjust brightness and turn it off. It's a little frustrating.

    However, the parts that work work very well and very fast. When I ask Siri to dim a light it happens almost immediately and before Siri even has a chance to respond. So far I like the Lutron setup.

    It even works with my ?Watch. When I leave home and a light is on I get an alert notifying me of such and the option to turn the light off, all from the watch. Very handy!
  • Reply 8 of 12
    kenbokenbo Posts: 4member

    My setup experience was more positive than the review.  My kit was the in-wall dimmer set.  Account creation (quick) and bridge setup (about a minute of status spinning) was relatively pain free.  If I recall correctly the 8-digit sticker was to activate the bridge as opposed to enabling Siri to work with Caseta.  When creating a room name I also received the message that the name already existed, however I believe it was because the zone naming process timed out (this switch happened to be the furthest one from the bridge) and the bridge didn't yet receive the update, because once I click OK on the message the name popped up on my list of zones.  Getting this far-out switch to work consistently was the biggest challenge (about 5 minutes), which was likely attributable to the proximity of the bridge; after moving the bridge all switches are reachable and working.  Siri works too (but not away from home), and now looking forward their app update that lets us control individual dimmers.

  • Reply 9 of 12
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 647editor
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by IHateScreenNames View Post



    There is an update to the app today that says it adds Siri control to individual dimmers and switches. I hope this addresses the issue I have of not being able to use Siri to turn a light on. If it's already on Siri can adjust brightness and turn it off. It's a little frustrating.



    However, the parts that work work very well and very fast. When I ask Siri to dim a light it happens almost immediately and before Siri even has a chance to respond. So far I like the Lutron setup.



    It even works with my ?Watch. When I leave home and a light is on I get an alert notifying me of such and the option to turn the light off, all from the watch. Very handy!



    I'll be trying the update. I'm hopeful.

  • Reply 10 of 12
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 647editor
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by kenbo View Post

     

    My setup experience was more positive than the review.  My kit was the in-wall dimmer set.  Account creation (quick) and bridge setup (about a minute of status spinning) was relatively pain free.  If I recall correctly the 8-digit sticker was to activate the bridge as opposed to enabling Siri to work with Caseta.  When creating a room name I also received the message that the name already existed, however I believe it was because the zone naming process timed out (this switch happened to be the furthest one from the bridge) and the bridge didn't yet receive the update, because once I click OK on the message the name popped up on my list of zones.  Getting this far-out switch to work consistently was the biggest challenge (about 5 minutes), which was likely attributable to the proximity of the bridge; after moving the bridge all switches are reachable and working.  Siri works too (but not away from home), and now looking forward their app update that lets us control individual dimmers.




    I'm very glad it worked well for you.

     

    I put about 30 minutes into trying to reconnect with the bridge, standing directly next to it. That's longer than anyone should have to mess with it. The 8 digits are required by manufacturers to activate HomeKit, or Siri integration as Lutron's labeled it. I believe I wasn't asked for the 8 digits until I tried to use Siri integration.

     

    Given the new app update, I'm going to delete all my profile and setup, reset the bridge, and start from scratch to see what's improved.

  • Reply 11 of 12
    damn_its_hotdamn_its_hot Posts: 1,184member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Maestro64 View Post



    ...You really need to have smarts around it, you need the IFTTT decision making which is support to be supported with IOS9 to really make it work the way you want. This functionality existed in the Mac version of home automation but it required keeping your computer running all the time...

     

    Way back in the "olden days" (as my daughter would say) of the eighties I used the venerable old X10 system to do some "home automation". I had a device sold by them that allowed you to write control routines for different zones/rooms. It was not fancy and it certainly didn't use iPhone, etc ;) but it did quite a bit. The 'server' (more a controller) had static memory that maintained the routines you wrote for it -- you initially wrote using a Mac program (or a PC) and connected to it with a serial cable (the Mac to the X10 controller) where you had a bit more smarts to control stuff but after downloading you did not have to maintain a connection to a Mac. It ran and had a large group of buttons on the top that could be used to control devices or routines. Not as sophisticated but it worked (you could also write AppleScript to send event triggers and put that in QuickTime). BTW: I still connect my christmas tree lights to and X10 and any window or outside lights also so that I have more control over them and can turn them all on/off remotely. The components are over 20 years old and although I would have to pull out one of my old PowerPC or 68K Macs to change my simple program it still serves me well.

     

    I am amazed at how slowly this type of product has moved. I guess it is because people want control much more than lamps, fans, etc... so there has been no financial incentive for the big guys to build something better? When I started looking at this in the early eighties I figured by now we would be walking thru Start Trek doors and thru halls and into rooms that adjusted for our needs. Guess it has kinda been like going to the moon was -- lots of hype about Mars and colonies on the moon and we have seen neither just less than a half century later.

  • Reply 12 of 12
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 647editor
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Damn_Its_Hot View Post

     

     

    Way back in the "olden days" (as my daughter would say) of the eighties I used the venerable old X10 system to do some "home automation". I had a device sold by them that allowed you to write control routines for different zones/rooms. It was not fancy and it certainly didn't use iPhone, etc ;) but it did quite a bit. The 'server' (more a controller) had static memory that maintained the routines you wrote for it -- you initially wrote using a Mac program (or a PC) and connected to it with a serial cable (the Mac to the X10 controller) where you had a bit more smarts to control stuff but after downloading you did not have to maintain a connection to a Mac. It ran and had a large group of buttons on the top that could be used to control devices or routines. Not as sophisticated but it worked (you could also write AppleScript to send event triggers and put that in QuickTime). BTW: I still connect my christmas tree lights to and X10 and any window or outside lights also so that I have more control over them and can turn them all on/off remotely. The components are over 20 years old and although I would have to pull out one of my old PowerPC or 68K Macs to change my simple program it still serves me well.

     

    I am amazed at how slowly this type of product has moved. I guess it is because people want control much more than lamps, fans, etc... so there has been no financial incentive for the big guys to build something better? When I started looking at this in the early eighties I figured by now we would be walking thru Start Trek doors and thru halls and into rooms that adjusted for our needs. Guess it has kinda been like going to the moon was -- lots of hype about Mars and colonies on the moon and we have seen neither just less than a half century later.




    In the 1980s, IBM had Star Trek doors on their Rochester, Minnesota facility.

     

    But then, in the 1950s, we had demonstrations of what American life would be like in the future that involved robotic vacuum cleaners and ubiquitous video calling. If you'd said in the 90s, "I thought we'd be there by now," you'd have been correct, but only off by a decade to 15 years.

     

    It's partly a lack of motivation, partly a lack of imagination, and partly trying to figure out what problem is really being solved here. It's easy to look at automation of industrial architecture, harder to explain the point to an apartment dweller or single family home. That's why lighting shouldn't be the focus as much as "energy" and "security" should be - the notion that you can save energy (and by extension, money) through automation can be sold to people - "remote control your lamps from inside your home" isn't nearly as interesting.

     

    You're absolutely right, we need to get to a world where the home reconfigures itself according to our needs. Right now, that means, proximity and knowing occupancy correlated with time of day and observed habits - adjust temperatures (HVAC and ceiling fans) and lighting accordingly, etc.

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