Savant, a leader in home automation and whole-house audio/video, is releasing software version 8.0 in April. Along with that comes firmware updates, new (better) licensing plans, sanctioned Sonos integration, native streaming media from Autonomic, a new Pro Remote, and vast improvements to the user interface that might have become too oversimplified in the last revision.
And for the bonus round, authorized Savant dealers will get the DIY-friendly Savant Remote that was announced last year … before the DIYs get it.
Savant will be exhibiting next week at the big security conference ISC West 2016 next week in Las Vegas.
Version 8.0: New User Interface, Better Licensing Terms
Savant 8.0 software includes an enhanced user interface for the Savant app. The company had moved to a dramatically new user experience in 2014 with the single-app home, allowing consumers to configure their own scenes, schedules and alerts.
The UI hierarchy put users first, rooms and scenes second, and products third.
While the simplified UI might have been more inviting to consumers, it did require a few too many button presses to drill down into products – for example, viewing the status of all the window coverings throughout the house.
Savant “flattened” out the interface so users can “see everything in the house from the home screen,” says Tim McInerney, director of product marketing for Savant.
For example, from the home screen you might press the bulb icon to see all lights in the home, or press and hold to access the lighting menu.
When users do get to the “room” pages, an overlay shows the devices in the room and enables one-touch access to any of them. From the Dining Room page, for example, click on the Apple TV icon to operate that device in that room.
Here’s more good news for 8.0: You get a lot more stuff for each Savant Smart Host license.
McInerney says about 90 percent of the “premium” provisions are now provided in the basic Savant service – up to eight rooms of entertainment, plus four rooms of environmental control (12 total), one stream of Savant Music, 64 lighting loads, third-party A/V switching for 3 zones or less, 8 cameras, BacNET and KNX … pretty much everything except for more rooms and more complicated video switching.
Sonos Integration and Native Autonomic
Savant now has a Sonos driver, blessed by Sonos itself. Sonos helped to build it and Savant is “using what they’ve told us to use,” McInerney says.
While Sonos has yet to release an API per se, the company has been working with home-control vendors over the past few months to encourage proper integration.
McInerney says, “They’ve given us access to their engineering team and vice versa. We share our software with them. It’s more of a two-way-communication type of partnership. If we’re having issues, we have help.”
And Savant won’t be caught unawares by engineering changes from Sonos.
McInerney characterizes Sonos as an “Elite Partner,” but says it gets no particularly special favors from the company, despite having a common investor, KKR.
Even bigger news: The Savant Smart Host with 8.0 will double as an Autonomic media player, one of the most popular media-management services among home-technology integrators.
Savant already integrated two-way with Autonomic’s Mirage Media Servers, but now a modified version of the MMS software is built into the Savant hardware. Users can now tap into music from all of Autonomic’s streaming media partners including Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Pandora, SiriusXM, Rhapsody, Slacker, Napster, Tunein and iTunes.
Music is output through the TOSlink port on the Smart Host, which previously had not been utilized.
Savant Pro Remote & Voice Control
When Savant announced the new Savant Remote last year – a controller meant for simple installs and direct-to-consumer sales – some dealers balked. Where was the remote for them?
Savant will have it soon: The new Savant Pro Remote ($700) will be available for pre-order starting April 5, and is expected to ship in May 2016.
The Pro Remote serves as an extension of the company’s Smart Host home automation hub, providing similar functionality as Savant’s smartphone app for controlling audio, video, lighting, thermostats and other subsystems – at least the functionality that makes sense for a handheld remote.
The Pro version looks like the original model on the outside, but the firmware is different and, no, they’re not interchangeable.
Like the original Remote, the Pro version is voice controllable, enabling users to operate not only their TV entertainment center but also their home control systems by uttering a few words.
Savant’s speech-recognition engine is limited to specific services such as controlling devices, scenes, content and other Savant-related fare. Don’t expect too much artificial intelligence or shenanigans because the company wanted to lighten the overhead.
That’s because Savant contains the processing in the remote itself, rather than some server in the cloud or even in the home, making for a speedy experience between asking and receiving.
Savant continues to do work on the back end to respond to such commands as, “I’m hot,” but users also can add custom phrases to the library.
The Savant Remote at McInerney’s home responds to the son’s command, “It’s Connor’s turn to watch TV” by switching to ESPN from Disney, “which is what my daughter likes.”
As for the elephant in the room, “There’s no support for [Amazon] Echo yet,” says McInerney, “but obviously we’re looking at it.”
As for the DIY-oriented Savant Remote announced last year, McInerney believes home-technology pros can make a good business out of the limited solution. The company has decided to give authorized dealers the first go of it before it is sold online directly to consumers.
Savant 4K Video Distribution
Savant was all set to add 4K cards to its video-distribution product, but it was right before HDCP 2.2 was coming out and the company decided to hold off until it had a compliant product.
The new Savant 4K (30 Hz) Video Input Module will be available in May (preorder April 5), and it does support HDCP 2.2.
It also provides audio down-mixing as well as video down-converting for 1080p displays.
Additionally, Savant partnered with PureLink, maker of high-performance commercial-grade video switchers, to offer new video switchers for the residential market.
Unlike PureLink’s commercial products, the 4K/60 Savant versions support HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 to pass through copy-protected content. They come in two versions, 4x4 and 8x8, and include SmartHost Premium licenses.
McInerney says Savant tested several video switches, including many of the usual suspects in the residential custom market, but PureLink won out. Savant appreciated the level of testing that goes into every single PureLink switch.
“They’re in all these regulated government and military institutions,” McInerney says. “We’re ridiculously critical of every component.”
PureLink HDBaseT 4K extenders will follow.