posted on Thursday, 8th November 2012 by David Slater
DemoPad is a radical new software control system that dramatically reduces the costs associated with customisable home automation. Taking advantage of the booming app ecosystem and popularity of Apple mobile devices, DemoPad allows enthusiasts and installers alike to ape the kind of slick touchpanel controls commonly associated with proprietary hardware-based solutions. But just how easy is it to master and how polished are the results?
DemoPad: What you need to get started
Universal system control is the bedrock of a good custom install. Whether you have a stack of gear in your TV lounge or a home cinema room to control, integrating all the components has always been a challenge. Nobody likes six zappers in their lap and a sheet of A4 telling you how to turn on your equipment; this is where learning remotes or their bigger brother the touch screen traditionally come in.
Usually consumers are faced with a couple of choices, a learning remote that has an IR or RF repeater that allows you to relay the IR codes back to the equipment hidden out of sight, or a full blown control system that uses touch panels and iPads to talk to the kit via a central processor, the later usually being around four times the cost.
DemoPad, a company run by Mike Cain in Lancashire, has come up with a new solution to the problem: buy DemoPad for £27.99 from iTunes for your iOS device and get gratis setup software that allows you to configure quite complicated systems (DemoPad is not available for Android).
Once you've bought your software and downloaded the DemoPad design centre you are ready to start programming. DemoPad is an IP based system that requires some additional kit to interface with; for this review I purchased the Global Cache ITach IP to IR and IP to RS232 controllers (other compatible third party IP-to-whatever devices are available). So with my trusty Sony VAIO laptop booted up I was straight into configuring the ITach, this is carried out via a piece of software from Global Cache that allows you to setup the IP address. Like most control kit you need to assign a static IP address, as DHCP will always mess around with the kit on reboot. Once the IP address is sorted, you don't have many other options to play with; you can make a port a flood IR and that's about it.
DemoPad: Mastering the templates
Once all your control devices are setup it's down to building pages within DemoPad itself. There are two separate pages to program, one for landscape viewing and one for portrait viewing. Both can be the same or completely different. DemoPad comes with free templates that can get you up and running in about 30 minutes but they're not particularly sexy, so I went for the extra option of buying the pro version templates. This can be done in one of two ways: you can purchase a pay per project option costing £20.99 a go or if you are registered as an installer you can buy a license free version for £399 and use it on as many projects as you like. Standard and Retina resolution options are available.
Once the initial template for the pages is in place you then need to assign what the buttons do. This can be done via learning the codes directly into the software via the IR catcher or by searching the database for the codes (Global Cache is working on a large database for products). There are also fast track ways of controlling popular products from Rako, Crestron and Lutron, with separate menus in the software allowing for control of this kit. For example, if you have a Lutron Homeworks processor you just have to tell DemoPad its IP address and BUS numbers and you'll be controlling the Lutron processor in a matter on minutes. The finished results can look very polished, and are certainly comparable with traditional hardware based home automation systems.
DemoPad: Technical support
So DemoPad is obviously very clever, however there are caveats. Like most control system setup software, the difficult part is learning how best to use the thing; there's a lot of power hidden under the bonnet, you just need to work out what to do with it.
After around an hour of playing with it, I found I could drop photos of my automated blinds, put a slider next to them and then control them with a swoop of my finger. However, there were things that needed a long work around procedure. I'd like to see a back button on the software just in case I get into trouble and want to step back one action.
What is immediately clear though is that DemoPad has rewritten the control rulebook, and it's easy to see the system gaining traction. It's relatively cheap buy in and offers an opportunity for installers and programmers to charge a good hourly rate to setup a complex all singing and dancing system that could rival the say AMX or Crestron touch screens. For around £50 Demopad will also take your client's property layout and drop them onto a home page as an interactive floor plan - a nice touch.
Like any control product it's vital that you have a good tech support solution. DemoPad doesn't offer tech support over the phone and has opted for email support instead. However, you can jump the queue if you are a registered dealer with a support package. There is also a comprehensive support forum with training videos and a discussion area so you should be covered if you are stuck on site -just make sure you have an internet connection. One thing to also remember is register as an installer on the site, as this will open the site to full product support.
DemoPad: The verdict
So how does DemoPad rate as a control solution? If you're looking for an alternative to the big guns, then the system has plenty going for it. It's intuitive to use, is cost effective and works flawlessly over an IP network. I only had a couple of software tweak issues that I found but there was always a work around. Going forward, it would be nice to see tech support via phone at some stage though. If you want to control a house, cinema or small TV room setup I would heartily recommend DemoPad, but to get the best out of it as an installer you'll be well advised to take one of the day courses currently running up and down the country.
Software for DemoPad £27.99
Pro layout software £20.99 per job
Itach IP to IR £ 110
Itach IP to RS232 £110
For more on DemoPad and related third party hardware visit www.demopad.com and www.globalcache.com.
David Slater started his writing career with SVI writing a
popular column, he has also guested on publications like Home Cinema Choice and