HomeMinder; you can control your home electronically with this new system from General Electric. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.
HomeMinder is a programmable electronic system that controls lights, appliances, heating, and cooling in your home through existing house wiring. Visuals on a TV set are used for system set up and operation. It is also possible to control devices and leave short messages when you are away from home by using a touch tone telephone.
HomeMinder is available in two versions--a free-standing unit that connects to any TV set (or monitor) and a unit built into a 25" component TV set. We tested the free-standing version and seven assorted control modules.
The main controller comes packaged with a remote transmitter, one lamp module, one appliance module, and appropriate TV and telephone cables. Also available are extra modules, a light switch module, thermostat controller, and remote control unit.
Simple Set Up
The main controller connects between your TV set and antenna (or cable, VCR, computer, etc). It has both VHF (Ch. 3 or 4) and NTSC video output. There are no controls on the main controller itself; once plugged in, it is always on awaiting a command from the infrared remote control keypad.
The keypad has 16 keys (ten numbers, TV/HomeMinder switch, Enter key, Help key, Cancel key, and two keys to brighten or dim lamps). Once the main controller is installed, it leads you through a pictorial dialogue to set the time and date, install the module for each lamp or appliance, set on and off times, and set lamp brightness. The on-screen dialogue is especially helpful as you simply choose from a series of pictures the type of lamp or appliance you want to install, the room it is to go in, and the location in the room. You can set up to 96 on/off times for each unit (two or three should be plenty). Times can be set exactly or using "security" mode (turns on or off within 60 minutes of the time set). Devices can also be set to function every day, on weekdays, weekends, or specific days.
Each lamp or appliance module plugs into a polarized outlet (one prong is bigger than the other), and the lamp or appliance plugs into the module. These modules are identical to those sold by BSR, Leviton, Sears, and Radio Shack, although a GE spokesman told me that theirs are made to more exact specifications. As all five are made in Malaysia, this seems imporbable. We tried the GE system with a combination of GE, Leviton, and BSR modules and everything worked fine.
Telephone and Memo Operations
To control a device remotely, you can call your home phone from a touch tone phone. HomeMinder will answer after seven to ten rings with three beeps. If you have chosen to use a password (actually a three-digit number), you key that in followed by the code number of the device you wish to turn on or off.
You can also leave simple messages in the form, "I will be home at (time)" or "Call me at (phone number)."
Is It Worth It?
HomeMinder retails for about $500 with an assortment of seven or eight modules. Is it worth $300 more than a similar non-televised BSR/Leviton/etc. version? Yes, if you need the remote telephone facilities. Yes, if you want to set different times for weekdays and weekends. Yes, if you want especially easy programming. And, yes, if you want to be the first on your block with the latest high-tech gizmo. If not you can achieve the same control and security functions for a fraction of the price--but it won't be nearly as much fun.
Products: General Electric HomeMinder (theft detection system)