Roomie Remote – Smart Entertainment
Update April 16, 2020: We are no longer using the Roomie Remote Service. It is still available but pricing may have changed since we published this original story.
Our home entertainment system was one of the first things we started automating here at AppMyHome. Even before we got rid of our cable we were trying to figure out how best to stream digital photos, music and movies to our living room. At one point we used PlayOn on a Windows PC with a Sony PlayStation and a Western Digital box connected to our old receiver. We were early adopters of the Apple TV and were enthusiastic to upgrade to an Internet connected receiver when the first models were available.
The Harmony One universal remote was the first we tried to connect and control most of our smart entertainment system. It worked fine, but it required constant charging and at times got out of synch with the power of the various devices, causing things not to turn on together. Once we started adding home automation and controlling devices via our iphones and iPads, it was natural to look for iOS alternatives and we found Roomie Remote.
Roomie is installed on a recycled iPad Mini that we have assigned as our “universal smart home remote.” For entertainment, we have Roomie controlling our Denon receiver, Samsung TV, Blu Ray Player and Apple TV. We use a Global Cache iTach Flex Wi-Fi IR blaster to enable us to turn on the Samsung TV. We do not have cable tv but have an antenna that allows us to receive many over the air channels. With this setup we are able to watch regular TV, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, iTunes content, play Pandora stations, HD Radio, iTunes Radio and play music from our personal iTunes collections and playlists.
The first challenge getting started with Roomie is choosing and buying the right components. We started with the Roomie App for ios, which is $9.99 and allows us to run the app on our living room iPad plus our phones and other ipads we have in our family sharing account. We added Roomie Service, which gives us access to the local media guides and the Apple Watch app, which is $16.99 per year. After you have the app, you can add devices to your service by purchasing a device 10-pack for a one time cost of $19.99. If you want to add more than 10, you can buy up to three additional 10-packs, after that you can add unlimited devices. We also have Roomie Agent ($29.99 one time), which allows us to synch all the scripts and menus across all our devices. Roomie also offers the Roomie Blaster device for $109, which allows you to control infrared remotes over IP, but we use the original Global Cache iTach Flex IR blaster we bought before Roomie started reselling their own. When we originally bought our Harmony One Remote, we thought it was pretty expensive at close to $400; but at least it wasn’t this complex.
Once we installed the Roomie App on our iPad, we set up our system right through the app. To start, you add a “room” to the app, with a name and an icon. Ours is “Living Room.” Once you have your room, you edit the room to start adding devices and activities.
Device discovery is very good and to keep your system up-to-date, Roomie automatically re-scans for the device addresses and fixes any device address changes. This is really important as your IP addresses can often change. Each device has an optional remote, setting up of the remotes that Roomie uses can be very confusing, but there are some pre-defined remotes that look like your device, as well as simplified remotes that allow you to access the functions of your devices.
After you have your devices, you can start adding activities using those devices. For instance, if you want to “Watch TV,” you probably want the TV, the receiver and speakers to all come on at the same time. In your activity, you can select and add each of these functions to your script. You can access all the commands from each of your devices so you can make these as complex as you want. The challenge when you are adding these activities is getting all of the added delays right to allow your devices to power on and be ready for the command. It has taken us a lot of trial and error for us to get our activities right and some still seem to take forever. We have recently optimized this for our setup by adding one activity that turns on the TV and the receiver only. After those come on, we can quickly switch between services. Two steps is not ideal but is certainly faster and less frustrating.
The Roomie setup is complex and difficult to learn. Since we originally set it up, the instructions have much improved and there are also many tutorial videos available but there are still some challenges. You can save a file with configuration other than through the Roomie Service, for example to dropbox. We would find it helpful if there was an easy way to edit the file outside of the iOS user interface, and a way to capture the log files to study the scripts so you could more easily figure out and optimize them instead of just trial and error in your living room. The App does allow you to restrict editing on devices, so that someone visiting can’t change the scripts accidentally.
One very confusing part is that when you set up activities, each device’s commands in that activity run independently. For example, while you think a TV’s commands precedes a receiver command, each device’s commands happen in parallel. You can sync the commands of a device, but to sync between devices requires a setting which frankly doesn’t seem to work all the time.
After setup, the user interface is very good. We have Roomie configured to start several different services with one click – Watch TV, watch Apple TV, Listen to Radio, Watch Blu Ray, Listen to Pandora, etc. Since we do not have cable, one of the best features of Roomie is the ability to have a local media guide with all of our over the air channels. Once the TV is on if we want to watch a show on the guide we can just click on the station.
We also have Roomie connected to our Nest Thermostat, our Hue Light Bulbs, and devices attached to our Zipato Zipabox smart home hub. Roomie can turn devices on by executing URLs, which allows us to use the Zipato devices without explicit support. It also supports other smart home hubs like SmartThings and Insteon. With it’s intuitive room interface, Roomie is definitely a contender for complete control of your entire smart home.
In addition to our control iPad, we can run Roomie on all our family iPads, iPhones and most recently, on the Apple Watch. The Roomie Agent makes sure that all the same settings are synced across all these devices. The native watch app is very simple but allows us to control important things like volume. The one quirk with what we have purchased and are using today is that Roomie only allows us to operate on one Apple Watch, because our family sharing on iTunes does not allow us to share in app purchases.
In summary, Roomie Remote is a very powerful home entertainment and control system for iOS users but it requires a significant investment of time and money to get it configured optimally to do what you need. If you are willing to make that investment it could be a great overall controller for your entire smart home.