Control4 delivers home automation Starter Kit for under $1,000 including installation, we go hands-on

Replacing a house full of switches and dials with a single remote seems a desirable proposition, but less-than-intuitive setup processes and fees that run far into the thousands make a disconnected home the only option for some. Like other home automation system manufacturers, Control4 has a bounty of offerings that can run up pricing into that out-of-reach range, but if you're looking to adjust audio and video in a single room, the new Starter Kit should get you going for just shy of a grand, including installation. That price includes a HC-250 Controller, which delivers IR control for up to eight components (via splitters connected to the four IR ports on the rear), serial control for up to two receivers or other systems and IP control for an unlimited number of devices. There's also an SR-250 ZigBee remote in the box, which offers full control through a television interface (HDMI and component outputs can be found on the HC-250's rear). You can also have full access through a variety of add-ons, including a $999 7-inch in-wall touchscreen with camera, a portable version for the same price, or any Android, iOS or Mac device -- access licenses for smartphones, tablets and computers run $199 each, or $499 to cover the entire home.

The Starter Kit can enable control of a single room, which may be fine for some users -- to add additional home theater setups you can bring on more HC-250s at $599 a pop. There's also an option to add ZigBee lighting controls ($129 per switch), ZigBee door locks ($150 to $350) or a door intercom unit with camera ($799). All-in, outfitting a large home can be quite pricey, and the Starter Kit is designed to get folks in the door, rather than to deliver a complete solution. We tested the controller with a TV, audio system, a pair of lights on two zones, the door intercom and a deadbolt, and all performed seamlessly without an hiccups. We also took a look at the intuitive drag-and-drop PC-based interface, which owners can use to change macros and add media. Introducing new components to the rig will require a dealer service call (or remote access, if you're just trying to loop in something like a NAS to serve up content). The Control4 Starter Kit is available through third-party dealers beginning today, including Magnolia Home Theater in select Best Buy stores (in that case, Geek Squad will handle the install). That sub-$1,000 figure factors in two hours of labor, and may climb a bit higher depending on dealer rates. Still, if you're just looking to get your feet wet, this seems to be a solid solution. Thumb through the gallery below for a closer look at the components and interface.