Heatmiser Touchscreen Thermostat Review

As part of one of the many DIY projects at home at the moment, me and the wife are preparing to get our hallways, stairs and landings plastered; the final piece of our house decoration project, no less than five years after buying our first house together.

The house was originally equipped with warm air circulation heating, however about two years before we moved into the house, the previous owners had central heating fitted. As with any standard central heating install, the thermostat and timer system was basic and left a lot to be desired, with the timer controls located upstairs, tucked away with the boiler and wiring centre, and the thermostat being a standard twist dial model where to engage the heating was a process of trial and error twisting the dial until you heard the vague click of engagement.

Being a technophile and wanting something a little more for our lifestyle or technology, I discovered a company called Heatmiser which make a range of amazing looking and functioning slimline and touchscreen thermostats. I purchased their PRT-TS touchscreen model, which you can see here on their website (http://www.heatmiser.co.uk/web/index.php/room-thermostats/touchscreen-thermostats).

The unit is flush mounted, so meant I had to spend some time channelling out the wall to recess a 35mm patress back box, but this was a good thing as it gave me the chance to remove the plastic cable trunking which the previous owners had used to ‘hide’ the wiring for the old model which was surface mounted, along with re-positioning it away from the kitchen door where the previous owners had mounted it directly against which just looking unsightly.

In our wiring configuration, there is a small gotcha, which I originally misread in the wiring diagram, which is that you may require a short piece of Live coloured wire (if you’re doing it properly) to bridge between the Live and the A1 terminal interfaces. The A2 terminal connects to the yellow call for heat wire, however the switch to engage the call for heat is across the A1 and A2 terminals. Bridging the Live and the A1 terminals allows current to flow through the call for heat switch, and hence allowing the heating to be engaged. In my initial wiring of the unit, the unit was functional, however heat wasn’t being called for this reason, but bear in mind that depending on your wiring configuration, this may not be required.

The advantages to this setup are amazing. The new thermostat actually controls the entire heating timings and temperature, so to have it function correctly, you actually configure the timer unit in the wiring centre for permanent on mode and let the thermostat do the rest, making the control of it more friendly as it’s in the main body of the house. The new unit is energy saving trust approved and claims to be able to save up to 10% on your heating bills due to two key features. One is the accuracy as this unit is accurate to +/- 1oC verses a standard unit which is about 2-3oC and the second feature is Optimum Prestart.

Unlike conventional thermostats where you have to incorporate an element of warm up time in your programming so that the house is warm when you wake up, this unit calculates the exact amount of time to warm the house to the required temperature and engages the heating automatically at this time to ensure that you reach the required temperature by the time you set. This feature is disabled by default, but entering the Feature configuration mode on the touchscreen LCD allows you to enable it and specify whether to allow the unit one or hours hours to perform Optimum Start functions.

The finish of the product is really nice. I opted for the silver bezel, and with it’s blue backlight LCD which only illuminates when you touch the screen looks really modern and 21st century, but it’s also available in white and brass finishes too.

The unit has another feature called Frost Protection Mode, which when enabled by default allows you to configure a temperature, which when breached will automatically engage the heating outside of your normal comfort levels as Heatmiser call them, or timer settings as you would normally call them. This level can be set low to prevent accidental heating engagements, but is valuable as it helps maintain a safe temperature in the house whilst helping to prevent any pipe freezing etc in deep cold during winter. This is another way in which it helps reduce your bills as it means that firing up the heating for short five minute bursts during normal daytime hours to maintain a core temperature means you actually need the heating engaged for less time during your comfort times because the house is already closer to that comfort temperature.

Although I’m yet to see the real effectiveness of the unit as it’s currently summer, I’m sure it’s going to be great. The lock function for the LCD means that the kids can’t change any of the settings without unlocking it, which requires a key press for 10 seconds to disengage and the Hold function allows you to boost the temperature if you are feeling a bit cold one evening and it allows you to specify a hold time so that you don’t forget to turn the thermostat down again afterwards.

The timer programming is simple yet concise. I’ve set our unit to 7 day mode due to our lifestyle which means you get four settings for each of the 7 days, and for each event (Wake, Leave, Return and Sleep) you can specify a temperature, so you no longer have to run to the thermostat in the evening to turn it up because you want it warmer in the eventing that you do in the mornings before work.

The Heatmiser line actually includes many other products, some of which really interest me. One is a unit identical in looks to ours, but also allows control of the hot water timings, which then completely removes the need for a timer in the wiring centre, however the setup for our current heating system doesn’t permit this model. Our unit is a 230v model due to our current system, however they have a range of 12v units for more modern low voltage heating, and they also have a range of network thermostats which allows you, when connected to a Network Wiring Centre to link multiple thermostats for operation of split zone heating from one of many units, and control all of the units from a single unit, or even control the heating remotely via a web application or SMS message. I hope that in our next house, years down the line I get the opportunity to use some of these other products. I would love to be able to use the Heatmiser web application as part of a Media Center interface via a plugin so that you can adjust the heating from your 10ft view.

Come the winter I’ll post another review of how the unit actually performs at managing the heating bill and temperature maintenance, but so far, the outlook is good.

The Day the Logitech Harmony One Works

We’ve been lucky enough to have a Logitech Harmony One touchscreen multifunction remote control for little over a year now and it’s safe to say that it is probably the best amount money you could spend on your TV and front room electronic devices purely for it’s power and potential and the Logitech software albeit a little cumbersome and slow has enough options and features to keep anyone satisfied – Anyone but me.

At home, we have a Samsung LE40R88BD which is about two years old now. Ever since I configured the Harmony for our TV there has been a problem – It doesn’t switch between inputs properly.

In its efforts to be intelligent, the TV skips over some inputs when they are determined to be off but this isn’t so for the entire suite of inputs, so HDMI for example is skipped, while the SCART inputs or the Component is not skipped over meaning that the Harmony has always had problems getting you to the right channel for the correct viewing device.

When at Nicky’s dads house recently and adjusting his Harmony setup for him, I noticed his remote Harmony configuration for his newer Samsung LE40A686M1F gave him access to direct input buttons such as HDMI 1, 2 and so forth which made me very jealous because his remote worked exactly how it is supposed to.

About three months ago, I sat on the remote after one of the children hid it under our beanbag and needless to say, the screen took the brunt of my weight. The touchscreen still works, but you cannot see about two thirds of the display meaning I am the only person in the house able to use these buttons purely through memory of their position.

I got an Xbox 360 for Christmas, which, with built-in infra-red and Media Center Extender support meant I would need to add this to the Harmony, however this gives me a problem. If we can’t see the screen how are we going to see the new buttons and this could cause a problem for channel switching also.

I decided to perform an experiment. I added the model code for Nicky’s dads TV set to our remote as a second TV and didn’t make it part of any of our activities configured on the remote, and I memorised the position of the HDMI input buttons. When I took to our TV with these buttons, to my surprise the commands were received by the TV and they worked.

I’ve now since removed our original TV from the Harmony configuration and replaced it in all of the activities with Mick’s model TV meaning that the Harmony now takes us directly to the correct input for each activity and also allows me to control the Xbox 360.

The lesson to be learnt: Although the Harmony software gives you excellent control over your devices, don’t always assume it’s right, and experiment from time to time.

Ofcom Versus BSkyB: The Battle for British Media and Services

Over the course of the weekend, I starting reading an article on the BBC News site which I sent to myself to read later as it was very interesting: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/robertpeston/2010/03/ofcom_v_sky_the_epic_business.html

The article surrounds the topic of Sky (BSkyB) and their power over the British broadcasting and multimedia markets and the investigation into their tactics and control by Ofcom.

The article touches subjects I have blogged about previously and also a topic I am very passionate about. Hit the next link to see all of my posts in the media category and you will start to see the picture I am painting (http://richardjgreen.net/index.php/topics/media/).

Sky provide a lot of content but they also block and inhibit the delivery of new content. With Sky in the way, how are companies like Love Film or even the USA’s very own Netflix going to get to market here?

Where are content on-demand and internet based video streaming services like the US enjoy for us Brits? How are products like Media Center in Windows XP, Vista and 7 ever going to get a good reception when the biggest player in the media industry doesn’t allow for their product to work using Media Center because they breech a European ruling regarding open standards for television service providers? Only Freeview and Freesat are available via Media Center and the channel line-up leaves something to be desired. With beautiful products like HD HomeRun from Silicon Dust available we are severely missing out.

I really look forward to the report from Ofcom, supposedly to be released this week coming, however I wonder if it will throw as many punches as are really necessary? The author Robert Peston says,

So for BSkyB, Ofcom’s tanks are not on the lawn, but are actually bulldozing through the studios.

Unfortunately, I doubt it will get to this. Politicians are too scared to tackle the media giant in Rupert Murdoch’s pocket because of the potential political backlash he could cause, however what is most concerning are David Cameron’s comments regarding the scaling back of Ofcom and their powers.

…with a Conservative Government, Ofcom as we know it will cease to exist. Its remit will be restricted to its narrow technical and enforcement roles. It will no longer play a role in making policy.

Ofcom are critical to ensuring the growth and success of the British media markets, and couple this with the plans from the Tory’s to release figures on BBC earnings and force the BBC to scale down some of the BBC products and offerings and you have to wonder if the Tory’s actually want us to progress with the rest of the world. All they need is Mandy to join their ranks and were destined for doom. I don’t have the time to look, but I’m sure a review of a list of the Tory sponsors would quickly reveal cash injection from Mr Murdoch. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Sky Player for Windows Media Center

It’s been visible for sometime, however today is the first day that the Sky Player functionality in Windows Media Center works. I’ve never used Sky Player online before so I had a bit of work getting my account setup and the rights to access our subscribed channels but after about 15-30mins I had it all working.

The UI is clean and mostly in-line with the style of Windows Media Center. Some elements such as the TV Guide I felt where not sympathetic to the Media Center UI and should be updated to give a better feel of integration.

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Sky HD for Windows Media Center a Possible Reality?

You will have all seen my post previously on Windows Media Center Envy over the US treatment and our lack of.

CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design & Installation) is a show taking place in one month, and Engadget HD have an article on their predictions for announcements at the show at http://www.engadgethd.com/2009/08/10/cedia-2009-windows-media-center-predictions/.

I love Engadget because if something gets posted it quite often happens to be true, so what do you think happened to my excitement level when I read this excerpt:

We don’t expect the US to have all the fun, so here’s a crazy prediction for the UK. Currently recording premium HD content on the other side of the Atlantic isn’t really an option. There is one Sky TV hack that works, but isn’t for the faint of heart as it requires constant maintenance. Well the other day we were looking through our old pictures from the eHome tour and noticed something new. Right next to a PC labelled “Draco” is a PC labelled “Horseshoe.” Now we weren’t able to find any indication of what project horseshoe was, but the same PC had another sticker with DVB-S/T on it. This just happens to be the encoding Sky TV uses. This combined with the recent partnership announcements with Microsoft and Sky has us thinking that this little white box in the picture below is actually a Sky TV HD tuner for Media Center, but we’ve been wrong before.

If the picture in the article and the text is to be believed then Microsoft’s work with Sky to include Sky Sports content within Xbox Live could be part of a larger introduction to the eHome way from Sky and we could be seeing Sky finally allow people to use Media Center with it’s TV services without almighty hacks.

If this does come, I tell thee – I care not how poor I may be or what happens, I shall own it!

Windows Media Center Envy

It’s been a hell of a long time since I’ve tweeted or blogged anything. Heaven knows why, I just haven’t found the time as I have been busy all evenings lately, but I thought I would drop my head in the door just to say hi with this one.

Since my last writing, a lot has been going down in Microsoft town: Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 RTM announcements and Windows 7 RTM being available to Partners and MSDN and TechNet customers by August 6th (yes please), Office 2010 Technical Preview, updates for Windows Home Server, Silverlight 3.0, Expression Studio 3.0 and more products to cover in numerous blog postings.

In this post though I wanted to mention my envy for Americans. I’m not normally one to think the grass is indeed greener on the other side but this is a bone of contention for me – TV.

In the UK we have quite a few choices: Freeview, Freesat, Cable (Virgin Media) and Satellite (Sky). Freeview and Freesat are working their way as integrated components on modern HDTV’s. Virgin Media only allow you to use their equipment because you are leasing it, and Sky use encryption and other techniques to force you to use their equipment.

Jump to the other side of the great lake and you get things like this: http://www.engadgethd.com/2009/07/27/windows-7-media-center-review/

I’ve looked at the features in Windows 7 Media Center previously however I’ve never spent too much time on it because the UK market doesn’t warrant its use unfortunately.

As the review states, Windows Media Center in Windows 7 is the best PVR you can get and has some excellent features which make Virgin and Sky’s offerings like pre-industrial revolution, however due to the lack of support by UK product vendors we get the raw deal.

My request to anyone at Virgin or Sky reading this?

Make your own TV tuners and charge over the odds for them, give us the option to use MCE officially and explain how we can do it without CAM’s and modules and hacks or whatever, just let us use a superior product please.

Sure I could use Freesat or Freeview with MCE but what really is the point?
We have Sky in our home and we don’t get the premium packages (like Sports or Movies) except for the Eurosport bolt-on for MotoGP but the channels available with the package we do have still outweighs the idea of going back to Freesat.

Vista SideShow

SideShow has always been a feature of Windows Vista, however I’ve never used it because I’ve never had a SideShow enabled device and such device are few and far between unless you just go out and buy one without real purpose, until today.

Ok so in actual fact it’s a while ago, but I today discovered the CTP Windows Mobile SideShow Client which means Windows Mobile can be connected via Bluetooth to your Vista box and function as a SideShow device.

Meaning? You can do all sorts of things, some of which are kind of pointless in my opinion especially being that as it’s Bluetooth based your at most of 10m away from your PC, however some of it is quite cool.

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