EchoStar, the satellite service provider affiliated with Dish Network, is ambitiously jumping into the smart-home space with Sage, a home-automation hub aimed at consumers looking for a comprehensive, but easy-to-install do-it-yourself solution.
The feature that makes this system so interesting is that it connects in between your cable, satellite, or streaming-video set-top box and your TV, overlaying its dashboard on the screen and showing the live TV using picture-in-picture mode. There will also, of course, be smartphone and tablet apps for the system.
Product manager David Lett was a somewhat light on details—including a price tag and availability—when he gave me an embargoed briefing last month, but I liked what I heard. I was especially enthused with the part about this being a self-installable, self-monitored system that’s free from monthly subscription fees (more on that later).
Similar to the Wink Relay and the Wink Hub, the Sage houses radios for all of the most popular smart-home protocols: ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. Users will also be able to download updates that will add support for other protocols, such as Nest’s Thread or 6LoWPAN. So Sage should have the infrastructure to support most any type of lighting control, security camera; door, window, motion, or glass-break sensor; thermostat; or other smart-home component.
Echostar will build some of these devices itself. Lett mentioned three—in addition to the hub itself—that sound pretty awesome: There’s a doorbell sensor that sends an alert to your TV and to your smartphone when someone rings the doorbell. If there’s a security camera pointed at the front door, a video stream showing the person who rang the bell will pop up on your TV.
Lett described a battery-powered, snap-on, mechanical retrofit for existing light switches that installs without touching the AC wiring (no, I don’t understand it either). And he told me about a wired outdoor security camera that uses power-over-Ethernet, but that has a Wi-Fi module in its AC adapter. You feed its flat Ethernet cable through the window—closing the window on the cable, presumably—and plug it into the AC adapter. Video streams from the adapter to your Wi-Fi router wirelessly, and you don’t need to worry about having an outdoor AC outlet or a camera that runs on undependable battery power.
Sage could be an effective self-monitored home-security system because it provides a direct connection to your local emergency responders. “If someone breaks in,” said Lett, “and is detected by a motion, glass-break, door/window sensor, me an everyone in my family will get an alert on our smartphones. If a security camera is involved, a clip of what triggered the alarm comes attached to the message. That video will pop up on the TV, too.”
“If you see an intruder,” Lett continued, “simply press the ‘Call 911’ button on the app and it will connect you with the local emergency responder. At the other end of the call, they’ll see your local address on their screen, so they’l know where your house is. Because you can verify the event with video, they will send an emergency response. And the system avoids false alarms because you can verify what’s happening inside the house.”
“We’ve gone to extreme measures to make the system easy to install and easy to use,” said Lett. “We developed a conversational rules engine that asks you questions about what you want to accomplish.”
But Echostar doesn’t intend to entirely reinvent the wheel. The company also plans to operate a certification program to ensure that third-party products meet its requirements for performance, security, and interoperability.
The Sage hub will have a battery backup and a GSM module, so that it will remain able to send alerts to your smartphone in the event of a power outage or if a burglar cuts the phone or cable-TV line that you use for Internet service. This all sounds like a lot of service and infrastructure for EchoStar to support without an ongoing revenue stream, so I pressed Lett on this point. He reiterated that there would be no monthly service fee—unless the customer signed up for some optional services, such as purchasing cloud storage for additional video for the security cameras. “We’re still trying to figure that out,” he said.
I’ll continue to report on Sage as EchoStar does that. It’s a very interesting product.
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Michael is TechHive's lead editor, with 30+ years of experience covering the tech industry, focusing on the smart home, home audio, and home theater. He built his own smart home in 2007 and used it as a real-world test lab for product reviews. Following a relocation to the Pacific Northwest, he is now converting his new home, an 1890 Victorian bungalow, into a modern smart home.