What is X10

What Is X10?

X10 is a communication protocol enabling communication between smart home devices.

At the time a revolutionary leap, forty years after being brought to market, X10 is still going strong today.

X10 carries a signal over the mains power wiring in your home so you can control light switches, lamp holders or mains outlets. X10 allows you to control these locally or by remote control.

Even though there are now alternatives available without some of the shortcomings of X10 along with more bandwidth and functionality, X10 still occupies a pivotal role in home automation for millions of global users.

Before we break down the technical side of X10 into plain English, we’ll glimpse at the origins of this pioneering protocol.

The History of X10

Way back in 1970, a group of Scottish engineers formed Pico Electronics. The company developed the original single-chip calculator.

In 1974, Pico developed a programmable record deck in partnership with Birmingham Sound Reproducers and the seed was sown for a remote control for lights and various appliances.

BY 1975, the company’s tenth project sprung to life, named X10.

It took 3 years for products to hit the stores after Pico and BSR morphed into X10 Ltd.

The first system packaged was basic but effective:

  • Command Console
  • Appliance Module
  • Lamp Module

A timer and wall switch module soon followed and X10 was fully up and running.

The 1980s saw the introduction of a computer interface (CP-290). At the midpoint of this decade, BSR faded into oblivion with X10 (USA) stepping in.

X10 products are still selling today in significant numbers. Once we’ve taken a deeper dive into this groundbreaking communication protocol, we’ll highlight 5 of the best X10 devices for your smart home.

X10: A Brief Overview

X10 devices send blasts of 120 kHz (RF) signal onto a house’s existing powerline. This digital information hits the powerline at the zero crossing of the sine wave so any interference is strictly limited. 1 bit is transmitted at every zero crossing.

The digital data is composed of an address and a command sent to a device from a controller. Devices normally plug into the power outlet but some switches and fixtures come with integrated controllers.

X10 is largely a one-way technology since there’s no need for the signals to be acknowledged.

Signals are sent twice and take anywhere from ½ second to ¾ second to reach the responder. This explains the noticeable delay between pushing a button and the lights coming on.

Since X10 signals can be easily weakened and line noise can be considerable, it’s common for X10 systems to include filters, couplers, and repeaters to address this.

Protocol

All packets of data sent using the X10 protocol consists of 3 elements:

  • 4-bit House Code (A-P)
  • 4-bit Unit Code(s): (1-16)
  • 4-bit Command: (Binary number)

These permutations give you unique 256 addresses. You can set these up using a small address wheel. While this might seem impressive – indeed was impressive several decades ago – the limit might cause problems if you’ve got more ambitious smart home needs.

Devices will react to any command or series of commands sent its way by X10 protocol. You can also command multiple units at the same time by simply addressing each specific device before inputting the broadcast command.

Here are examples of some of the most common functions and corresponding commands:

  • All Units Off 0000
  • All Lights On 0001
  • On 0110
  • Off 0111
  • Dim 0100
  • Bright 0101

When you strip away the science, using X10 devices is really quite straightforward.

One-Way vs Two-Way

Cheaper X10 devices simply receive commands with no acknowledgement of status.

Two-way controllers allow you much more functionality and an enhanced network. On the flip side, these cost at least double and you’ll also need two-way devices.

RF Protocol

From motion sensors to wireless keypads to remote switches, there’s also a radio frequency protocol in place.

X10 devices send packets of data practically the same as the NEC IR protocol used by the majority of infrared remotes. With a radio receiver acting as a bridge, these packets are translated into standard X10 control packets.

You’ll be able to use this radio protocol with clickers (keypad controllers), burglar alarm modules, and passive lighting switches.

Hardware Support

You’ll need different modules according to load.

We’ll look briefly at hardware support in these 2 key areas:

  • Device Modules
  • Controllers

Device Modules

Incandescent lamps call for a lamp module or a wall switch module.

Other loads such as HID (high-intensity discharge) lamps and fluorescent lamps require an appliance module that switches the power by impulse relay.

With local control, you’ll be able to sidestep the controller and physically fire up your lamp or your coffee machine.

The more you spend, the more advanced the functionality. Upscale models have a degree of programmability and customization. They can also act as two-way devices and offer scene support.

Sensor modules help you deal with temperature, light and motion.

Thermostats and audible alarms are common device modules.

Controllers

Some X10 controller are extremely basic while others are much more complex.

A rudimentary controller can cope with multiple X10 devices at 4 sequential addresses from 1-4 and 5-8.

These simple controllers usually contain the following:

  • Unit 1 – On/off
  • Unit 2 – On/off
  • Unit 3 – On/off
  • Unit 4 – On/off
  • Brighten/Dim (this works on last unit selected)
  • All Lights ON/All Units Off

With more refined controllers, you’ll not only enjoy control of more units but you can also make use of timers.

At the upper end are highly sophisticated and fully programmable units. These controllers are capable of triggering a whole range of timed events. You also be able to create scenes such as hitting the lights and then adjusting the brightness levels to suit.

You might find that wireless devices in your smart home cause questionable on/off signals.

Also, the noise filtering on many contemporary devices is great for ensuring external noise stays out the way of X10 signals. The inbuilt flaw is that if these noise filters were not made with X10 in mind, you’ll get that frustrating weakening of the signal.

Many power supplies on electronics ranging from PCs to TV receivers also attenuate X10 signals.

Back-up power supplies are also not a good fit with X10. Again, it’s the filtering used that creates this incompatibility.

If you try to transmit more than one command at a time, signals can collide and go awry.

Interference and Lost Commands

One of the key drawbacks of X10 is the way the signals between live conductors in most European homes end up badly diluted.

One way to address this issue is to install a capacitor between the transformer leg wires. This acts as an effective path for X10 signals. You’ll find repeater devices and coupling devices in more expensive systems.

You might find that wireless devices in your smart home cause questionable on/off signals.

Also, the noise filtering on many contemporary devices is great for ensuring external noise stays out the way of X10 signals. The inbuilt flaw is that if these noise filters were not made with X10 in mind, you’ll get that frustrating weakening of the signal.

Many power supplies on electronics ranging from PCs to TV receivers also attenuate X10 signals.

Back-up power supplies are also not a good fit with X10. Again, it’s the filtering used that creates this incompatibility.

If you try to transmit more than one command at a time, signals can collide and go awry.

Drawbacks of X10

We’ll shortly give you a rundown of 5 of the best X10 devices along with what they do well.

How about the drawbacks of this aging protocol, though?

  • Minimal Functionality: In theory, X10 protocol allows you a fair degree of advanced control from dimming through scene selection using extended message set. Unfortunately, support for this is not compulsory so many of the cheaper X10 devices stick to the basic message set
  • Sluggish: Since with many X10 devices you’ll need to adjust light circuits individually, operation can be rather slow
  • Interference: If any of your neighbors are using X10, you’ll likely get some interference. Other RF wireless signals can also wreak havoc. In general X10 delivers an often rocky ride
  • No Encryption: Since both X10 and RF protocols have no support for encryption, choose another protocol if you’re concerned about security

The Birth of Wireless Technology

As you can see, while X10 came out the blocks in the 70s as something totally novel, many of the problems inherent to powerline systems were ironed out with the advent of wireless technology.

Protocols like Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Insteon started coming up against X10 systems and improving on the older powerline-based protocol.

Today, the vast bulk of new smart home products are wireless.

While UPB continues to uphold X10’s powerline legacy and Insteon harness some powerline principles, we’ll glance next at Z-Wave compared to X10 before rounding out with a look at some great Insteon

X10 vs Z-Wave

It’s hard to deny the many benefits of Z-Wave technology…

You can put your wireless Z-Wave devices wherever you want without restriction.

Since you won’t be altering wiring, you save the hassle and expense of hiring in an electrician. Installation of most Z-Wave devices takes less than 5 minutes with a screwdriver.

Z-Wave networks can control unlimited devices while you won’t find the signal bleeding into your neighbor’s house.

A Z-Wave network offers coverage throughout your whole home with a range of 400 feet.

All 650+ Z-Wave compatible devices work harmoniously together regardless of brand.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Z-Wave systems can be upgraded with ease so if you’re planning to expand the intelligence of your home, it makes a wise bet to consider Z-Wave.

Although Z-Wave is a more expensive option that the decades-old Z10 technology, for many it makes the most sensible decision. You can get started without spending a fortune, too. Entry-level kits start at little more than a hundred bucks.

Development of Hybrid Systems

Due to the age and inherent limitations, very few pure X10 automation systems thrive nowadays.

Increasingly, hybrid systems now combine X10 devices with wireless products from Insteon, Z-Wave or Zigbee.

Insteon: Dual-Mesh Networks

With Insteon, you get a combination of both wired and wireless comms in a reliable and versatile single system.

The system uses RF frequency with the powerline used as backup. This helps with precise routing and also minimizes intereference.

With over 65,000 distinct commands at your fingertips, Insteon adds remote control automation to lights and appliance throughout your home.

You can also streamline older X10 systems with Insteon technology.

Easy to install and set up, you’ll get a very dependable smart home automation for far less than you might imagine.

If you’re interested in X10 devices, we’ll explore 5 of the very best right now.

5 of The Best X10 Smart Products

1) X10 Universal Module

This very reasonably priced X10 Universal Module is a great way to automate a broad spread of events in your smart home.

As with all smart home appliances, convenience is one of the driving reasons for investment. Imagine being able to close the garage door automatically or opening all the curtains or blinds on demand.

Alongside the convenience of controlling your sprinkler system in the garden, you’ll also be able to conserve water by making sure your lawn gets only the water it needs and no more.

The X10 Universal Module can either close a contact when you send an On signal or keep it closed until it receives an Off signal.

As well as sprinklers and drapery, you can control a number of other applications including window openers, speakers security devices, telephones, electronic ignition fireplaces and furnaces.

Get a great deal of functionality and flexibility at a price you’ll love with this X10 Universal Module

Pros

  • Wide range of applications from operating furnaces and low-voltage lighting through garage door openers and sprinklers
  • Audible alert when responding to any signals if required
  • Set module for both momentary and sustained contact closure

Cons

  • Some reported issues with durability

2) X10 Lamp Module

Controlling the lights in your home was once the preserve of sci-fi movies but it’s now commonplace.

If you’re looking for an entry-level X10 unit to help you which you can simply plug in with no complex installation, shoot for this Lamp Module. All you need to do is pop it in the socket, set up the dial code and grab your X10 plug-in controller. It couldn’t be an easier way to step onto the smart home ladder.

Although the core purpose of the LM645 is to control incandescent lights, you’ll also be able to control certain dimmable alternatives. If you run into problems, try the Appliance Module below instead.

This simple unit allows you to dim lamps but throw in some more X10 modules and you can start setting scenes throughout your smart home at the push of a button.

Pros

  • Extremely quick and easy installation so buy without a headache
  • Control your lighting in a plug-and-play fashion by dropping this unit into the wall directly before the plug
  • Works with any X10 controller that plugs in to dim your lights fuss-free

Cons

  • Some issues with lifespan but you need to be realistic at this price point

3) X10 Appliance Module

Unlike the Lamp Module above, this X10 Appliance Module incorporates a relay to cut the power on and off.

The main purpose of this nifty module is to take full control of the heating or cooling system in your home. Never again return to a house that’s stiflingly hot or icy cold.

Beyond this, use an X10 controller and you’ll also be able to control your lights remotely.

You’ll need no new wiring at all so if you’ve been put off X10 appliances due to the tiresome and costly set-up, this great unit should change your mind.

As with all lower-end modules, bear in mind how little you’re paying rather than expecting this unit to last 20 years then complaining when it doesn’t. We think this Appliance Module represents superb overall value so why not give one a try?

Pros

  • Control a broad spread of appliances from TVs and ACs to fans, coffee makers, and much more
  • You’ll also be able to control your lighting using an X10 controller
  • Unbeatable value for money as a smart home starter unit

Cons

  • Prone to burning out as with any cheaper domotics product so keep your expectations reasonable and remember that price tag

4) X10 Mini Controller

If you want to take remote control of your smart home from anywhere there’s a plus socket, this X10 Mini Controller enables you to command as many as 8 X10-enabled receivers.

There are 4 On and 4 Off buttons then you simply hit the 1-4 / 5-8 switch and you’re all set to control another 4 devices.

The scaled-down dimensions mean you’ve got no concerns about setting this up just about anywhere.

With flashing LEDs showing you when the signal has been sent, you can tell immediately if your commands have been successful.

This is yet another very keenly priced piece of X10 kit well worth the minimal investment.

Pros

  • Take control of 8 groups of X10 receivers
  • Extremely compact so ideal for placing anywhere with limited space
  • Flashing LED signal shows you when the signal has been sent

Cons

  • Uses a fair amount of power even when standing idle

5) X10 SuperSocket Receptacle

Last but by no means least, the X10 SuperSocket Receptacle is an ingenious invention. Plug any device into the upper outlet to render it X10-compatible.

You’ll get double duty here with the lower outlet completely standard so you won’t end up missing the outlet where you used to plug in your vacuum.

Since you circumvent the need for a module, you can get a much less cluttered look perfect for a more minimalist smart home.

Power remains always on as with any regular outlet.

Pros

  • Combination of standard bottom outlet and top outlet enabling X10 functionality in the devices you plug in
  • No need for a module so enjoy a more streamlined look
  • What this unit lacks on the technology front, it makes up for with reliability

Cons

  • The standard issues of poor lifespan reported from some users but we feel this unit is still great value

Please wait...