LGR Oddware – X10: MS-DOS Smart Home Automation!

Greetings, and welcome to LGR Oddware, where we're taking a look at hardware and software that is odd, forgotten, and obsolete, and today, that is the X10 Power House: "Control your home with your IBM PC." Yeah that's right, this is home automation, 1980's style. This selection of components and software is supposed to let you use your MS-DOS based computer and turn it into a control center for all sorts of devices around your house. Most notably, lights, in the case of this particular set of stuff. But, it's not gonna stop there: we're going to go also to the 90's With this HAL 2000 Home Automated Living…

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Thing. Which is a… it's like the same idea as the X10 — in fact, it uses some of the X10 hardware, but the software is voice controlled, and is sort of an AI assistant for your home. Yeah does that sound familiar? Well, they were doing this in the 90's, so Google Home and Alexa, you can eat your heart out, because we're going back in time to do home automation, oddware style. Let's take a look at the X10. So this is the X10 Powerhouse: "#1 in home control," for your IBM PC. Well, this is just one of many X10 products, though. These were actually introduced in 1975 by Pico Electronics, of Glenrothes, Scotland. And before the X10, they were making single-chip calculator processing units, in conjunction with General Instrument, powering machines such as the Royal Digital 3. And, actually, they do make the claim of this being the very first microprocessor, but, myeh, that is VERY much debatable, and is perhaps a topic for another video or two in the future, but, on to the X10 though, which was so named for being their 10th project, after 8 integrated circuit projects like those for General Instrument, and the 9th being the Accutrac 4000 remote controlled turntable.

And so, it's just a logical progression from "Hey, we can do remote controlled programmable turntables," "So why not just control and program everything else in the house?" and so the X10 was born. And it originally used power line communication: not radio controlled, not infrared, no; actually communicating between devices, using only your home power lines. And this sent a 120 kilohertz carrier signal burst, over the wires of your house. So this not only relied on the wiring in your house being up to snuff in order to work properly, but, it also meant it could spread to nearby homes or apartments if both of you had an X10 and you happened to be on the same shared electrical system. Even if you set the house and module code on the device, there was no encryption there, so shenanigans could definitely be had, and you could mess with your neighbors through a remote controlled device, which is pretty great. I imagine that would have been some fun in the 70's — heck could be fun now, what am I saying. But yeah, this initially cost around $50 for a control center, similar to this one here, and $20 per module.

And these different modules, like the LM465 here for lamps, would plug into different devices of different power requirements, and then connect through the power lines to the main Control Center Module. And it's worth noting that these weren't just sold as the X10 Powerhouse. They were also sold as the Plug'n Power Home Automation System through RadioShack starting in 1979? But this is a much later model of course, but yes, the same basic idea anyway. The computer interfaces though actually started showing up in 1983 for the ill-fated Mattel Aquarius. [giggles] That didn't last long. The Aquarius was killed, and then of course the project was killed. So, there were other ones being developed for other computers instead. RadioShack had one going for the TRS-80 color computer of course, And then it was shortly followed up for other computer systems like the Apple II, the Commodore 64, MS-DOS-based PCs, et cetera.

And in case you're curious, X10 is actually still around, making home automation stuff today with the cheaper ones being very similar to the old-school devices we'll be looking at here. And of course, newer ones that work with smartphones and all that kind of Wi-Fi nonsense that absolutely everyone is doing and is honestly a little bit boring at this point. That's why we'll be taking a look at the old school versions like this one, because I think that it is far more interesting and unusual Oddware type of thing.

A viewer named Kenneth from Texas actually sent me this, along with some of the other Powerhouse devices we'll be looking at here. And this right here is an original receipt for an X10 Powerhouse IBM PC computer kit like we'll be looking at here at a moment, and you can actually see that it is $19.90 in 1986, when this was bought. Granted, this is only for the main unit for serial connections, and it doesn't actually come with the modules to plug in your lamps and whatnot.

Speaking of those modules, you can see right there the – some of the different ones that you could get for this. Appliances, lamps, a mini controller, so you don't have to plug it into your PC necessarily, and then a wall switch module for controlling your light switches. This particular model, the CP290, can be "left connected to the computer for instantaneous control of up to 256 differently coded [laughs] X10 modules. But, in either case, does not tie the computer up. It's like having software which runs in the "background"". Well, let's just open this up, I'm very curious what's inside.

Mmm… Well, there we have a cable and, uh… we got some really nastiness. That's… a lot more gross than I thought it would be. And let's see. We have some software. A Powerhouse SC IBM version 1.0. All right, we have it on a 360K disk here. "Why four manuals?" Yes. Why four art thou manuals? This nasty thing, I've got to clean this up before we do anything else. Ugh. It feels like old cheese, and cigarettes. Uegh. Now we have a relatively clean X10 Powerhouse Computer Interface, and yeah. so it looks like we have some toggle switches here for on and off. Um… [presses switches] They're not very satisfying switches. Oh. And we have a battery here, looks like a 9-volt. I have this right here that plugs into this.

And then this plugs into… I have no idea. Well, it turns out that cable was completely wrong for the IBM PC, it was for the Commodore 64, which is why it had an edge connector and not the 9-pin serial adapter, which will connect to the RS-232 of the IBM PC AT here that I'm gonna be trying it on. Now this is going to plug into… the X10 Powerhouse right here. Oh yeah, and I need a 9-volt battery to go in there. All right, that little red LED on there is flashing. Don't know if you can see that, but it is. So I guess that means it has power. And I'm assuming this plug for the wall is what is gonna make it adapt to the different wall adapters, or modules I guess, like this Lamp Module. I have a few of these that are still sealed because they're really easy to find it turns out. Smells weird. See right there, those dials on the front? Those are the settings for this individual unit which says this is number one unit on my personal X10 network, and then that "House" is set to house A, and that is kinda what I mentioned earlier as far as you'd be able to control your neighbor's X10 if you were on the same grid or whaterver, but, uh, I'm in a house, I don't have neighbors, so I'm not gonna be able to test that but I am going to just see if this works as it's supposed to in my own house here.

So I have a nice little lamp right here It has already turned on I'm just not plugged into anything obviously and then we're just gonna plug it into The bottom of the x10 power house lamp module, and yes, this does only go up to 300 watts And then we'll just plug it into the outlet over here And I'm assuming it's just not gonna do anything since we don't actually have the x10 Did that just flash, okay, it's flashing What can I say, I don't actually have the x10 power house computer interface plugged into anything but umm… That's weird unplug it for now. I don't know what the heck that's about that's Unusual okay Okay got that plugged into the computer, and then we'll get the computer interface plugged into the wall And I guess I'm gonna plug the lamp back in now cuz you know Okay well pressing the button manually works, but in the meantime.

It's flashing Yeah I was not expecting the ghetto strobe light effect That's for sure Okay, it's time for the powerhouse software, and I hope this disk works. I have not tested this at all oh Good an error the interface contains. No data write-protect error writing drive a well it did have the little thingy on there the little write-protect piece of tape okay, I'm just gonna copy everything over to a directory here Yeah, well run it this way The interface contains no data ah okay, whatever can enter the time 4:16 p.m. Monday No don't want to change that all right Uploading x10 data.

All right selecting on allows you to turn the selected. Yeah, I don't know That code is a 1 all right. Let's try Turning it on oh Whoa check this out Turning it off. Now. Oh, that's really cool turn it on now Yeah, let's see if we can dim Dim it to 50% now Okay well that's interesting Put that back Turned off it hurts That might be because I have an LED bulb in there and it might not just no let me see if I have an incandescent Check it out. I do. I hope it's still like valid So this one doesn't seem to be flashing I'm assuming that flashing weirdness was just because it was an LED Which obviously didn't exist when the software and hardware was made all right? Well, let's see.

Yeah, it just turns it on and then Turns it off It doesn't seem to be dimming it either Maybe that's just because of the type of lamp oh no no it is dimming Dude Incandescent is the key? Put it back up Oh That's really That's so cool my IBM is controlling my house through the power lines and serial cables and connections and Wow, dude. This is pretty awesome. So yeah, you can definitely choose When these things are gonna do their thing and the idea is that you don't have to have those software on to have it do its thing like Let's say, and I'm gonna have it come on at 427 and so I have I've programmed it to do that in 427 it should come on by itself even if the software isn't going because it's supposed to send like a signal to the Box All right Software is not on we're gonna wait till 427 to see if it does its thing and I should be friggin awesome if it does Ohh I did it! Ohh it did it! And so I should be able to control yeah, can control it manually using the box that is awesome Wow, this is this is the most useful oddware…

Probably ever It's not really even oddware. Because it is still an effective thing. It's just it's hugely obsolete There's way about our systems to do this But I mean it still does exactly what it's supposed to do if you have the hardware. That is so cool well now I'm really excited to check out another version of this thing so that was the 80s ms-dos side of things for the x10 But what about the 90s? Well say hello to the creatively named HAL 2000 not to be confused with the HAL 9000 Set the thermostat to 68 degrees, I'm afraid I can't do that Dave. So this one is a voice controlled Version of the x10 and you really the hardware is pretty much the same It's just all about the software in this case that is able to be run on Windows 95 yes Important to read this your–how 2000 software is a living product what the heck Just go to the website and download new relay well This is just saying that the thing gets patched doesn't mean it's alive and seeing the QuickStart guide Install it load it test it run it hmm sounds like a Daft Punk song and here's all the goodies That is a rather pleasing looking Cd-rom I gotta say look at that.

Holy crap it has gold on the back, too Fancy so it comes with another one of these lamp modules Here is the exact same thing really as far as I know nothing really changed and it connects via What appears to be rj11 probably what this is? and then we just turn just plug that right in here and Yeah, you know serial interface and Windows software so well Yeah Let's control the house with my voice So the setup process for this is pretty much exactly the same as what we just did we plugged in the serial Cable to the computer and then that of course goes to the wall wart thingy And the other connector goes to the lamp module and that goes to this lamp which is what we're going to be trying to control here using HAL 2000, and then we also have a Microphone here, which is going to allow us to do all this stuff with voice activation So it does what the heck? This is copyrighted material to register.

You must contact them at the phone number oh my goodness Ancient DRM can go and suck it so look at all these things that it can Control, them is pretty impressive for you know the late 90s. I mean I guess I don't know I never really looked into this kind of thing back then we have a HVAC Infrared internet a personal assistant some security options various household sensors Your computer system settings telephone voice recognition a weather station and of course your X10 things Which allows you to control pretty much the power of anything in your house if you have it connected to the appropriate Module and then if we go over here we should be able to go into the system data and check out all these other things you got macros a rolodex a selection of various customizable devices schedules different sensors conditions with rules and things like that for the actions that it can do and it will do reminders and Timers and all sorts of things man is pretty much Google home or Alexa back in the day It's pretty awesome so in the devices here.

We can add a device such as the x10 we have connected, so I'm gonna do location Desk, and then the device lamp so that is doing desk lamp from the x10 interface. We have connected a One is the house and unit code because that's default and then these are the different types of options and It's pretty much all the same stuff really that The dos one did so we can click this to test and there's our light click that to turn it off. Oh So that's fine. There's an LED bulb in there, so I'm sure it's gonna do the same weird blinky thing So we're not even gonna bother with the dimming you can add it to different Groups for instance you could associate a front porch light with the group outdoor So when you turn off outdoor lights the front porch light is among the devices affected. That's pretty rad But yeah, we're just gonna add that and now at this point we should be able to activate commands through the microphone I'm just going to hold it up to my myself here and Computer Computer: Yes Ohhhh…

Hi Computer: I have opened the rolodex Ahahaha! Why did it open the rolodex? Uhh close the rolodex Computer: I have closed the rolodex Turn on the desk lamp Computer: I have turned on this lamp That is so cool! Turn off the desk lamp Computer: In seven minutes turn off the desk lamp No! Computer: Canceled turn off the desk lamp now Computer: I have turned off this lamp. What is the meaning of life? *chirp* Oh? Well anyway, thanks for all the help HAL you've been a blast Computer: Monday-Friday Wednesday-Friday at 12pm turn on this lamp Kahahahahahahaha! Ahahahahahahahaha!!! Computer: Please say yes or no AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! No! Computer: Canceled Ahahahahahaha! Well it's got some adorable quirks, but this just amuses me to no end Computer: The TV Guide is open Oh good grief Well That's about it for this episode of LGR Oddware And I hope you enjoyed it because I'd certainly did I was really amused that HAL worked out as well As well as he does.

He's really adorable, and then of course just the x10 in general it I was surprised at how well this all works, and how relatively simple it is to set up I'm not necessarily surprised in like The way that it works like I have an intercom system From the 70s that relies on the same types of methods of like power line communication within your house So I know that the tech is like you know it's kind of an old technology, and it just works But this one in particular the HAL It just cracks me up. I I wish I could have my entire house like Controlled with this like if I could replace Google assistant with HAL, I would totally do that this guy's got some charm anyway Anyway Thank you very much for watching And if you enjoyed this episode of LGR then perhaps you'd like to see some of my others they're odd There are Oddware episodes every so often as well as all sorts of explorations of Hardware and software and tech stories and games and whatnot and once again.

Thank you very much for watching.

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