Choosing a Z-Wave Controller
Choosing a Z-Wave controller can be difficult, they all do similar things, but in different ways. So it's a very subjective decision - depending on the user's needs. This guide is our attempt to explain the differences between the Z-Wave controllers from Fibaro, VERA and Zipato, and in the process, explain the various features and points to consider when choosing your controller. It's very subjective, so there are no right and wrong answers, and no "one size fits all" approach. You may disagree with our thoughts - and that's fine as it really is subjective.
What does the Controller do?
Before we go too far, lets just cover what the Z-Wave controller does.
The controller, sometimes called the hub or gateway, controls your Z-Wave system. It enables you to add and configure devices and to create and run 'scenes' that enable the system to do things automatically, such as turn on lights based on motion or time. The controller also allows remote access via the Internet or smartphone even when you are away from home.
There are two general types of Z-Wave controller - software-based systems that run on a PC, Mac or server, and dedicated Z-Wave controller units. In this guide we're focusing on the dedicated units that we sell, rather than software-based platforms. Note that we're talking about central Z-Wave controllers (hubs or gateways) rather than handheld remote controls or wall controllers.
The controllers we're going to look at are:
- VERA Edge
Low cost, very capable Z-Wave controller with a basic User Interface (UI).
- VERA Plus
Similar to VERA Edge but also includes support for ZigBee and BlueTooth products.
- Fibaro Home Center 2 (HC2)
Flexible Z-Wave controller with an intuitive User Interface (UI), dedicated panels for heating, alarms etc and advanced LUA programming capabilities.
- Fibaro Home Center Lite (HCL)
Based on the same UI as the Home Center 2, but has a restricted feature set to offer a lower cost entry-level controller (see feature table for more details).
Cloud-based controller featuring an intuitive user interface and 'rule-creator' scene builder and unique range of expansion modules.
Things to consider
As I said earlier, most controllers do similar things but in different ways, or some are more easy to use than others. Which one's best for you will depend on what you want from a controller, how technically minded you are, and what type of Z-Wave system you're looking to create. A simple system for controlling a few lights will be suited to all controllers, but may make sense for you to select the one that is easy to use. For more complex systems where you want a lot of things happening automatically, or controlling multi-zoned heating, then a more advanced controller will be a better option. Below are the things we feel are important and our opinion on how each controller meets these requirements.
User Interface and Ease of Use
Each of the controllers has their own User Interface (UI), you use this when you 'log-in' to the controller using a browser. This is the normal way you will use the controller when adding devices, configuring the system and creating automation scenes.
Some UIs are deigned to be more easy to use - they typically are more graphical and some have wizards for common tasks. Others are less easy to use and require you to do more behind the scenes work to make things work the way you wish. In general, the controllers we sell (Fibaro, VERA and Zipato) have worked hard to make their UIs easy to use, there is actually very little difference between them regarding ease of use. They still all look different and Fibaro is probably the nicest UI available at the moment.
Remember, other than configuration and housekeeping tasks, you will spend most of the time controlling the system from a phone or tablet app. So whilst the UI is important, the apps are just as important, especially for the people who will not be accessing the controller directly but controlling it from their phone (probably everyone else in the family).
Fibaro Home Center UI v4
Device support is important for all controllers. In theory all Z-Wave devices will work with any controller, but the reality is that some devices use different parts of the Z-Wave specification, or omit the less common Z-Wave classes. This throws up the occasional issue where particular devices don't work well with some controllers, or some types of device (such as locks) aren't supported at all by a controller. This doesn't mean there is an issue with the controller, just that the controller vendor chose not to support particular Z-Wave classes (such as security) or they've not released firmware to catch up with the latest versions of Z-Wave commands. For this reason, we test all the common devices we sell and list them in the Z-Wave Compatibility Guide, we also display a 'Certified' badge on all the devices we know work great and have high reliability.
Our Z-Wave controllers have a wide support for devices and as you can see from the Z-Wave Compatibility Guide cover almost all our devices. Fibaro and Zipato use a more rigid 'template' for device support, this means that if a device will not include into the controller as a generic device, then the vendor will need to add specific support for that device in a future firmware release (there's not much you can do). VERA has a more open structure, if a device has an issue there are usually workarounds that can be made to enable that device to work correctly. This usually means changing configuration files - it may not be something you wish to do yourself, but probably someone on the forum will have done it and made it available. In fact, for a number of devices, Vesternet have created these workarounds and we make them available to you in an application guide or Knowledgebase.
Whenever you're looking for new devices always check our Z-Wave Compatibility Guide.
Scenes are what bring your Z-Wave system to life, they enable you to control various devices with one single command. The scene can be activated manually by you or from a sensor or other device on the network. For instance a scene can be activated by a motion sensor to automatically turn several light on (at different brightness levels) as well as an appliance, and then after a set period of time turn the lights off.
Scenes are created and edited in the Controller's UI and can then be triggered by other devices or manually from within the UI or an App running on your phone or tablet. Each of the controllers has a graphical scene editor which enables you to build scenes varying in complexity, however, there are differences in capabilities between the controllers. For more complex scene control, it is generally better to use scripting such as LUA (see next section).
- Fibaro Scene Builder
The Fibaro Scene Builder is an intuitive 'block' editor that allows you to easily create scenes in an 'IF/THEN' style. It can take inputs from timers, devices, weather, variables and even other scenes, allowing it to control devices, virtual devices and scenes. The Scene Builder is fairly flexible, it's main limitations are that not all parameters are available for some devices (some multi-sensor devices) and it cannot use 'Else' conditions (you need to use a second scene). The Scene Builder is available in the HC2 and HCL.
More information is available in our guide Creating Scenes in the Fibaro Home Center.
- VERA Scene Editor
The VERA Scene editor has been updated in the latest UI7 firmware, so that it includes guided wizards to create common scenes. The scene editor can easily manage 'IF/THEN' conditions but has limitations in that it can only do 'OR' conditions, it cannot do 'AND' conditions. However, this can be easily extended by using plugins such as PLEG or Combination Switch.
More information is available in our guide Creating Scenes in VERA UI7.
- Zipato Rule Creator
The Zipato Rule Creator is an extremely flexible editor where you select and drag 'puzzle' blocks to create a scene or rule to control your system. It supports 'When' and 'IF/THEN/ELSE' style logic and all device types supported by the Zipabox platform. The main limitation with the Rule Creator has been it's reliability and as Zipabox is a cloud -based system, you need Internet access (to the Zipato servers) to create and edit rules.
More information is available in our guide Guide to using the Zipato Rule Creator.
Fibaro Home Center Scene Builder
VERA Scene Editor
Zipato Rule Creator
Advanced Scripting (LUA/LUUP)
LUA is a programming (scripting) language and is commonly used in home automation controllers to enable users to create more complex control scenes than supported by the controller's graphical scene editor. Almost all automation in a Z-Wave system is controlled by 'Scenes'. For instance these can make lights turn on when motion is detected at particular times of the day or make several things happen from one simple button press of a remote control. Most of these scenes can be created in the standard scene editor, but some more complex scenes are actually much easier to create using a LUA script, and in some extreme cases could only be created using LUA. This is especially true for complex multi-zoned heating systems or more advanced motion activated lighting control.
LUA is available in the Fibaro HC2 and VERA controllers, but is not available in the Fibaro HCL or Zipabox.
Apps and Plug-ins
Apps and Plug-ins are slightly different, but we've put them into one section as they are both optional software components.
Apps run on your Smartphone and Tablet, allowing you to monitor and control the system whether you're home or away. All controllers have their own (free) apps available for Android, iOS and Windows mobile. Additionally, there are also a number of 3rd party apps available for VERA, so you have a wide choice of apps to suit your needs, our favourite apps are shown in Vera Apps for Smartphones and Tablets. Currently there are no 3rd Party app designed specifically for Fibaro or Zipato, although some generic apps such as 'Roomie' do support VERA and Fibaro.
Plug-ins are similar to apps, but are downloaded and installed directly onto the controller. These enhance the controller's capabilities such as allowing more complex scenes without using LUA, and support for other technologies or appliances such as Sonos and other multimedia systems.
Plug-ins are a great way to have the controller work with other systems and allow it to become the center of your home's systems (just as it should be).
- VERA has a huge range of Plug-ins available from MIOS Marketplace and most of them are free.
- Fibaro have introduced Plug-ins with the release of the latest Fibaro v4.x firmware. Initially these will be developed by Fibaro, and already include Sonos, various AV & multimedia appliances, Philips Hue, Nest, Netatmo and 150 others, these will be joined by 3rd party (user) developed plug-ins during 2015.
- There are no plug-ins available for Zipabox
Fibaro Home Center Plugins Section
VERA MIOS Marketplace
Cloud-based or Stand-alone
We get used to having more of our resources available "in the cloud", but there is a strong debate amongst users whether this is a good or bad thing when it comes to your home automation system - especially when the controller forms the central and critical part of the whole system.
Zipato is a cloud-based system, this means that any change you wish to make to it (adding devices, changing a scene) has to be done using an Internet connection to the Zipato servers. Once you have made the changes, the new setup is copied (synced) to your Zipabox and will then run on the actual controller. The issue with is approach is that if the servers are not available, then you cannot make any changes to your system, which is really frustrating. It also means that your whole system is reliant on an external service that you have no control over.
Fibaro and VERA run everything on the controller. To make changes you log-in directly to the controller on your network (usually using its IP address), there is no need to access it via an Internet or external server. These systems put you more in control and you have very little reliance on the controller vendor's servers or services.
Note that I say "very little reliance". All Z-Wave controllers need some level of access to the Internet and the vendor's servers. Even though VERA and Fibaro effectively run in a stand-alone mode, they still need occasional access to the the servers for firmware updates, remote access, time checks and in VERA's case backups (Fibaro stores backups locally).
Generally the Z-Wave controller will be used to control a Z-Wave network, but most of them can be used to control other types of equipment and even other types of home automation systems, such as 433MHz and LightwaveRF. There are two ways to do this, depending on what types of system/device you're looking to control.
- Control via your IP Network (Ethernet & Wi-Fi)
Many modern multimedia appliances connect to your Ethernet or Wi-Fi network (IP network); appliances such as Smart TVs, AV Receivers, Sonos etc. Other technology hubs also do the same, for instance ZigBee, LightwaveRF, Philips Hue and many more. If the appliance or hub is on the IP network, then in most cases, the Z-Wave controller will be able to control it by sending HTTP or UDP commands via your Wi-Fi (IP) router.
- VERA can use LUA scripts or plug-ins to control IP appliances.
- Fibaro also has new plug-ins available for IP control, plus you can always use LUA if you wish.
- Zipato has sketchy HTTP support, so think carefully if you want to control IP equipment
- Adapters and Expansion Modules
The Z-Wave controllers are designed to work with Z-Wave devices, so if you want them to directly control devices of another technology, then you'll need an adapter or expansion module that can communicate using the right frequency and protocol.
- RFXtrx433E - The RFXtrx433E Transceiver can plug into the USB port of the VERA or Zipabox's Battery Back-up module and allows you to control LightwaveRF as well as a huge range of 433MHz devices from the likes of HomeEasy, Oregon Scientific, Owl... The Fibaro controllers can also use RFX, but it is a more convoluted process using a RaspBerry PI board, so not a quick solution.
- Zipatao Expansion Modules - Zipata have a unique range of expansion modules to allow it to control systems such as LightwaveRF, 433MHz, ZigBee, KNX, as well as a dedicated security module to interface into alarm systems.
- Native Support
The VERA Plus has native support for ZigBee (Home Automation Profile) and BlueTooth products. Currently there are few ZigBee devices available in Europe, but this will change. Choosing a controller that supports these additional technologies ensures you have a future-proof system that enables you to select from various technology offerings.
In addition to the features of each controller, it is worthwhile thinking about regular firmware updates and general support.
All Z-Wave controllers receive regular updates, but it's worth checking that your controller choice is receiving them regularly. Firmware updates are automatically made available, and you can choose to download them when you wish.
For most technical questions Vesternet's support staff will be able to provide you with guides, suggestions and solutions. Only if the actual controller has an issue or fault will we advise you to contact the controller vendor. This means that we can quickly resolve your question and get you moving ahead with your Z-Wave home automation.
As I said at the beginning of this guide, it is subjective. What I prefer in a controller, you may hate. So we've tried to keep this guide as factual and as balanced as possible. It's not designed to select the controller for you, but to highlight all the things to consider when choosing a controller. I hope we've helped clarify the controller mystery, if you have any comments, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Feature||VERA Edge||VERA Plus||Zipato||Fibaro HCL||Fibaro HC2|
|Cloud-based||-||-||Requires Internet Connection to Zipato Cloud Servers||-||-||Max Number of Devices||220||220||200||200+||200+||Z-Wave Version||Z-Wave Plus
|ZigBee||Via Expansion Module||BlueTooth|
|Graphical Scene Editor|
|Wizard Based Scene Editor|
|Panels & Widgets||Widgets
Climate and Security
Alarm, Heating, AC, Humidity, Sprinklers, Events and VoIP
|Notifications||SMS & email||SMS & email||SMS & email||SMS, email & push notifications|
|Virtual Devices||Basic||Basic||Basic||Basic (non-LUA)||Basic and LUA|
|VOIP - Voice Over IP|
|External Z-Wave Aerial|
|Dimensions ((LxWxH)||116 x 80 x 31mm||198 x 128 x 33mm||86 x 86 x 43mm||90 x 90 x 33mm||225 x 185 x 44mm|
|RFXtrx433E||Battery Back-up Module||Requires RaspBerry PI (RPI)|
|Alternative Technologies||Zigbee, BlueTooth||Zigbee, LightwaveRF, 433MHz & KNX,|
|Battery Back-up Module||TBA|
Copyright Vesternet 2016