Control4 EA-5 and EA-1 Controllers review

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posted on Tuesday, 17th May 2016 by David Slater

home cinema  Home automation  Control4 

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With Control4 launching a plethora of new kit at ISE 2016 we thought it was time to test drive their latest products. Control4 has refined its range over the last couple of years, delivering quicker, slicker and more reliable systems, so expectations were high.

We took delivery of its new EA-5 five zone home controller and one room EA-1, along with a 10-inch table top touchscreen, the C4-TT10-BL, and put them all through their paces.

Control4 EA-5 and EA-1 Controllers: Build quality and features
On unpacking the EA-5 (pictured above), it’s clear that the new model is at least cosmetically similar to the outgoing HC-800.  The front is an attractive gloss black and comes in a 1U size rack mountable chassis. On the rear, there are eight  IR relays, four RS232 connectors and four 12V triggers , which should be enough for any size home theater.

It can also control devices that use IP. An HDMI output will deliver the new Linear look GUI to your TV or projector setup. There are two Coaxial digital audio inputs/outputs and dual analogue stereo in/outs.

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However, while the EA-5 looks much like its predecessor, there have been big changes beneath the hood. The new EA-5 controller boasts twice the processing power of the old HC-800 and adds what I believe to be the best new feature: lossless music streaming. What’s more there’s no need for a wireless music bridge, as it comes with shairBridge. This allows you to stream music from a mobile device straight to the system. The inclusion of Deezer and Tidal services are another great bonus to this upgrade.

There’s support up to five zones for music, but for this audition I had it working across two rooms, controlling a Pioneer VSX-S510 AV receiver over IR, with a Samsung UHD 4K TV and Apple TV controlled over IR.

To complete our setup, we also connected a Nest thermostat and Rako bridge to the system. This  was done using both products’ IP address, after installing their drivers into the system. IP drivers are always a much better option than using IR bugs.

With the release of 2.82 software, the GUI has changed from the familiar circular look with all the icons in a line. This controller uses an Android platform and delivers a far slicker look, with pretty icons. Programming is achieved by running Composer 2.8, the Control4 programming interface.

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Control4 EA-5 and EA-1 Controllers: Installation and operation
Control4 is a very powerful system that allows anyone to build agents and do complex programming. The system is physically built, then each component is added on the system design screen. Once designed, you then go to the connections window where you can link all the products.

One important fact when programming is to always pick the right driver. Some are better written than others, with all the discrete codes you need. If you need to add more codes, you can learn them from the original remote that comes with the product, via the front panel of any Control4 controller when running the composer software.

We found it refreshingly easy to integrate with our Nest and Rako products. Within minutes we were programming lighting scenes and scheduling tasks!

With the EA-1 and the 10-inch touch screen installed, we had effectively created a whole house system. Our EA-1 was also controlling a Samsung TV with Apple TV and PC all in the mix.

The EA-1 may be the brand’s entry level controller, but still comes with enough connections on the rear to run a roomful of kit. There are 4 IR ports, two of them can be configured to be serial,  but you’ll need the IR to serial adaptor. You also get HDMI out to feed the GUI to the TV. The network port is not POE which is a real shame as most of these controllers will be hidden behind TVs so another power socket is needed to power it, unlike the EA-3 and EA-5 that are both equipped with POE sockets.

With the inclusion of the touch screen, integrators now also have the ability to use the intercom feature from the front room to the meeting room, another nice integrated solution that works straight out the box. In addition to the TV, we also added LILIN cameras to the network. These work really well, with the system allowing us to see every camera on the security home page.

We then added an HR-260 remote control. It’s such a simple remote to use, the new layout over the HR-250 is a big improvement and you now get a bigger LCD screen with more programmable buttons.

Value is high. The one room EA-1 comes in at a surprisingly affordable price, bringing Control4 in line with some of the cheaper one room control systems from URC or Harmony. The EA-1 and HR-260 retail for just £440.

The C4-TT10-BL 10-inch touchscreen has also leapt forward in both design and speed. The screen is really punchy and delivers a great performance over the network. One complaint we had of the older touchscreen models was the delay in refreshing screens, this is no longer true and I would definitely use this over the iPad app. The touchscreen can be set up in minutes: drop the driver in your project, add the screen to your network and Hey Presto, it downloads the system ready to use. The screen comes with a swish metal charging base that allows you to recharge the internal batteries.

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Control4 EA-5 and EA-1 Controllers: System expansion
Control4 also unveiled its new line of intelligent Square Wireless Lighting products at ISE, expanding custom and retrofit lighting opportunities for Control4 dealers in Europe.

The new line, which consists of a Wireless Dimmer, Wireless Switch, and Wireless Keypad, all offer wireless lighting automation in a compact square form-factor to fit a variety of wallboxes common in the UK. The Square Wireless Lighting offers myriad configurable keypad combinations on every new dimmer and switch, all of which incorporate backlit engraving and status LEDs for two-way feedback. Again, it proved easy to set up. I just dropped driver in Composer and replaced the old switch with dimmer.

Depending on whether you have a neutral at the switch, you have two wiring options. Line, load and neutral go into corresponding connections, if neutral is absent you will have to put a link between that connection and the load (pictured above). The maximum Tungsten load is 350 watt compared to an LED load of 100 watts. One thing to observe is this product will only work with 2.81 and above software. When you are specifying a dimmer switch you are able to choose different finishes and button configurations. Remember, the dimmer will only control one zone so will never replace full blown lighting systems, but is a great new product that the UK has been waiting for, as most installers just don’t like the American style wall plate here in UK.

Control4 EA-5 Controller: Verdict
The system has now been running for two weeks, and we’ve been adding more and more devices and codes, all without problems. I have to say I just love the new controller, it represents a big leap forward in speed and features; the Smokey screen animation is a little touch that looks really nice. Given the entry price of the EA-1, I can only see Control4 taking a bigger market share of the home automation market.  This is a truly 5 star product.

The Control4 EA-5, EA-1 and C4-TT10-BL are available now.

Retail prices: 
EA-1 with system controller £440
EA-5 £1460
10-inch Touchscreen £880

David Slater

David Slater started his writing career with SVI writing a
popular column, he has also guested on publications like Home Cinema Choice and
Living North

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