May 052010

Inevitably after I get comfortable in my couch to watch a good movie, I realize that I haven’t set my room lighting to the optimal levels. Or I realize that I have left lights on upstairs. Because I am lazy, I don’t want to get off the couch to dim the family room lights or even worse, go upstairs to turn those lights off. Instead, I just press a button on my Harmony remote control and the lights are set however I want. You will also need an USB-UIRT to receive the IR signals and a 24/7 computer running PowerHome to do the work (I use my HTPC). Of course, you will also need some type of automated lighting. I have Insteon to control my lights.

You could do this with an old, unused remote, but I don’t like to have any extra remotes lying around my family room, so I really prefer the Harmony remote for this. If you don’t have a Harmony remote, and you don’t want to bring another remote into your living room, one other option would be to assign an unused button on your current remote control to be your lighting button. The whole idea here is you need transmit a unique IR signal such that whenever it is seen, it will, say, turn your upstairs lights off. If you do have a Harmony, you can add a new device that you don’t currently have in your home theater (you don’t want to be sending out signals that actually do something). Then you can go to the adjust buttons menus and Rename the labels for the soft buttons. Label one “Upstairs” and one “Fam Room”. It doesn’t matter what the IR command is. It could be channel up, the number 8, video toggle, mute, or anything else. We will learn the commands into the USB-UIRT and PowerHome, so it doesn’t matter what command is coming out of the remote.

Next, install the USB-UIRT and make sure it is working. To do that, just… um.. plug it in. They are pretty much fool-proof.

Next, we need tell PowerHome that you have a new controller. Go to the PowerHome explorer and expand the Setup branch and add a new Controller. You will see that there is already support for the USB-UIRT. Go into the settings for the device and set the type to “Pronto”. Shut down PowerHome and restart. PowerHome is now ready to receive IR triggers.

Next go into the PowerHome explorer and expand the Setup branch once again. This time go to Devices. Add an IR device and set it for about 20 IR commands. Then you can expand the newly added device in the navigation tree and start learning IR commands. Right click on a blank row and choose “Learn IR”. Take your remote control to the USB-UIRT and press the button corresponding to the command you are learning. I have found that you have to get an inch or two away from the UIRT when learning commands. If it learns OK, you should see an ASCII string representing the command.

Now we need to add a trigger for the newly learned IR command. But before we can do that, we need a macro that will be executed whenever the IR command is detected. Build a macro that has the one line INTSTEON GROUP OFF and select the group corresponding to your upstairs lights. Run the macro and ensure your upstairs lights turn off. Now build that trigger. Select the trigger type to be IR, select the device and command. Enter in the macro to be run and you should be good to go. Press the button on your remote and the lights should turn off.

The final step is to click over to your HTPC, start a movie that you have ripped to your hard drive, turn off the lights and enjoy :)