A conversation with Jeff Thomas of Control4 about their new Vibrant line of lighting products.
By BRITTANY MIER Y TERÁN
THE HOME AUTOMATION INDUSTRY HAS SEEN TREMENDOUS GROWTH OVER THE YEARS, with new innovations and technology being introduced every day. Leading this wave of change is Snap One, a company founded nearly 20 years ago who offer nearly 50 trusted brands encompassing technology categories including audio, video, surveillance, networking, conferencing, remote systems management and control.
One of Snap One’s core offerings is Control4. For almost two decades Control4 has been a leading manufacturer of automation and networking systems for homes and businesses, offering a unified smart operating platform to connect the wide range of technologies found in the modern performance space — lighting, audio, video, climate control, intercom and security. Their platform works with tens of thousands of third-party products and orchestrates more than 15 million connected devices worldwide.
Control4 has been in the lighting control space for some time, offering configurable interfaces that add the magic of automation to any home. Custom engraved and backlit keypads and displays offer instant, at-a-glance feedback to tell you what lights are on, in addition to safety alerts to see if the front door is locked, or if the garage door is left open.
Recently, Control4 announced their first lighting product branded under the Vibrant banner, consisting initially of tunable, dimmable tape lighting. To learn more about where they plan to take the lighting division, I sat down with Jeff Thomas, Vice President of Product Management for Lighting.
BRITTANY: Tell us about your involvement in the lighting space for Control4.
JEFF: I’ve spent most of my career in the smart home industry and I’ve been with Control4 for some time, working in product management for various product groups. For the past three years I’ve been involved with the lighting category. Working on smart home products is a lot of fun. It’s exciting to build products that improve our customers’ lives and make their homes so much better.
With my day-to-day work, I’m involved in product development for lighting, specifically lighting control. I’m excited to be in the lighting category because there’s a lot to learn and understand. And lighting creates a great experience for homeowners when it’s done right. It makes life great.
We’ve been involved in lighting control for a number of years. We have both wired and wireless solutions. The great thing about wireless is that you can go into virtually any home and offer a fantastic design and control experience. You can use the existing wiring and provide the homeowner with lighting that turns on automatically at sunset or when motion is detected, for example. You can also easily add sleek keypads that give the homeowner simple control of lighting scenes and virtually anything else in their home.
For new construction, our centralized lighting solutions eliminate banks of light switches with a simple keypad option to deliver a clean, uncluttered look for the homeowner. With more and more types of lighting, from downlights to tape to lamps, etc., it’s important to be able to control the design with scene-setting keypads or displays in order to remove excessive wall clutter. And that’s incredibly important for designers.
BRITTANY: Tell us about your new Vibrant product launch.
JEFF: As I mentioned, we’ve been in the lighting control category for many years with our wired and wireless solutions. We recently launched our Vibrant product line which consists of linear lighting, LED tape lighting, with all the accessories required, in addition to control features that are used to control the low voltage lighting.
We have a wired control solution that scales very nicely in large jobs. We also offer a wireless control solution giving integrators the opportunity to go into any job and add some nice linear lights. For example, an integrator could go into a job and maybe they’re there to put in a basic control system, maybe a door lock or thermostat. While they’re at the house they could say, “hey, why don’t we put some under cabinet or pathway lighting in the kitchen?” It adds so much to the ambiance of the space.
For kitchen remodels which are very common, linear lighting adds such an elegant touch. I think people have become aware of how much above cabinet and under cabinet lighting can add to their kitchen but aren’t sure how to go about it. Now the integrator can easily offer these solutions without major rewiring or substantial added costs. It’s a great high value, beautiful product addition and we’re really proud to be offering this to our dealers and customers.
BRITTANY: So this is just the first product under the Vibrant portfolio?
JEFF: Yes. Here’s the thing, we now have RGB and tunable white lighting in the LED marketplace. So traditionally, we really only needed one switch or dimmer to ramp brightness up and down. Now we are looking at controlling color temperature and color variables which adds a layer of complexity to the control aspect, the user interface if you will.
But homeowners don’t want more switches on the wall, and they still want to control those extra variables, the colors or color temperature, so they really need a control system to manage and realize all of the performance attributes of today’s advanced LED lighting options.
Here’s another example I’m really excited to share. We recently launched Daylight tuning which pertains to circadian rhythm, having the color temperature change throughout the day. As I beta-tested this in my own house, it’s really become part of my family’s routine and just what we’ve become used to in our lives. And it’s incredible.
We wake up in the morning and the great room and kitchen area is brightly lit with bright light similar to the sun as it rises. It feels good and it’s energizing. It’s a comfortable feeling because that’s what we want to get going early in the day. And then the light automatically changes throughout the day and as it gets towards evening and the light is softer, warmer and more reminiscent of incandescent bulbs. It begins to have a calming effect as we get towards bedtime.
As more people become aware of these advances in intelligent lighting, and then get to experience it, you have to wonder who wouldn’t want this in their home. But in order to integrate these new experiences, you really need a lighting control solution to automate and streamline your interaction with the environment. I’m a firm believer that the best solutions for people are those that are intuitive by their very nature. Less is more. You don’t want to have to open an app every time
you want to change the color temperature or you need to kick up the lights when you pop into the kitchen in the evening to whip up a snack. That extra friction caused by opening up an app is enough to cause people to stop using the new features after the newness wears off in the first couple of weeks. Using these new features must be simple and intuitive.
Finally, let me touch on the issue of compatibility. There are many different lighting solutions and apps and lighting controls. On one hand we want really simple control, but we also need it to work well with all of the lights in the house. And there are a lot of variables that are provided in the marketplace, which is why we are positioned as the backbone of the home. We play nice with everyone. As an open system we enable all kinds of third-party products to interface with our platform and to interoperate seamlessly.
Now with our Vibrant line, we can give integrators both control and lighting elements that they can trust are 100 percent compatible by their very design. They are all Control4 products, designed from the ground up to deliver a seamless solution. Integrators no longer have to jump through hoops in order to provide the perfect system for their customers. It makes everyone’s lives better in the long run.
BRITTANY: How do you feel the Vibrant line enhances and supports the interior designer’s objectives?
JEFF: Great question. The interior designer, as well as the landscape designer, have a vision of what they want to deliver to the client based on their discovery process. So they have selected various furnishings, floor coverings and window treatments. Outdoors there are entertainment areas and pathways, etc. And the designer marries all of these various elements into a seamless presentation for the client. It becomes someone’s dream home.
What we can now offer is a much more detailed, precise and controllable configuration. So let’s say that the designer envisions a particular color, perhaps to highlight the effects of the wallpaper choice. And also, they are using a variety of lighting layers throughout the space. So a lot of variables. And let’s say when the client moves in they want subtle changes to the color, the temperature, the intensity of light which I think most people fine tune once they’re living in a space for a few weeks.
With the Vibrant line and our Control4 control system, we can now give the designer and client the precision they need to make those small tweaks to get the lighting exactly perfect regardless of the time of day. Then those scenes can be set, and automated, so those incredibly complex technologies now become a simple one-touch solution or in a lot of cases, a no-touch solution. Simple. Intuitive.
BRITTANY: Talk about education and how Control4 is supporting your dealer base, because for many integrators these advances in lighting and control are still fairly new to them.
JEFF: Yes, this is a big consideration for everyone involved with lighting design and control. We are supporting our dealers just as we do for the wide variety of products we are known for. We educate in a variety of ways, including online tutorials, in person class-room style sessions, and of course out in the field across the country our representatives are meeting with integrators and answering questions and demonstrating products. So our commitment to any of our technologies — and remember technology advances occur daily and so you have to keep up with the latest — is what has made us such a good partner to our dealer base.
But here’s the thing that dawned on me recently. We attended the second year of the Lightapalooza lighting event and we gave two classes during the event. And neither of them
focused on our lighting products. What we concentrated on was how to sell lighting and how to create great lighting experiences. The concept of intelligent, controlled lighting. That’s obviously got to be our first concern, because the category is still young for many dealers.
So here’s how I look at it. You are going to include lighting into any project, whether it’s a major remodel or a new build. Every house has lighting. With all of the benefits of modern LED lighting and how it can enhance any space, we really need the system integrator involved early enough to explain all of the benefits of intelligent lighting and to assure the builders and designers of how they can provide benefits and efficiency through the building process. When homeowners get some basic education about what’s going on in the world of lighting and experience how valuable it is, they certainly will consider their options, based on many things including costs, etc. But we need to be showing the homeowner what we’re talking about and also educating the rest of the design-build professionals. I can’t think of anything that makes a greater impact, indoors and outdoors, than a well designed and controlled lighting system.
BRITTANY: You mentioned that you beta-test products in your own home and are thoroughly enjoying your lighting system. Is there any moment you can share where you were just blown away?
JEFF: You know, there was this one time I was out late in the day mowing my lawn. And one of my neighbors was heading out somewhere and he forgot to turn on his outdoor lights for when he’d be coming home. He got out of his car and walking up to the porch, unlocked the door, and went in to flip the lighting switch on. And I smiled to myself because I realized that it had been a very long time since the thought of turning my outside lights on or off had even entered my mind. With my automation and control, my life is more streamlined and my house is automatically more secure and comfortable. And I never have to think about it. I love it.