X-10 is a system that has been around for several years. The X-10 system allows some level of home automation through carrier current control of lights and appliances.
The X-10 system consists of a series of "controllers" and "modules." A controller transmits commands along the AC power line to the modules. The modules in turn allow control of something plugged into them. The system allows 256 different devices grouped into 16 addresses in each of 16 "house codes." Since the signal is transmitted on the AC power line, it will go as far as the first transformer outside your house. This means that it could get into other houses or signals from other houses could get into yours. This is the reason for the "house code" so that you and your neighbors can coexist without interfering with each other.
There are controllers designed to be manually operated, timed controllers, versions that respond to commands sent over a phone line, versions that respond to low current switch closures (like alarm switches) and versions that can be programmed by a computer to do a weekly series of tasks. These devices are fairly inexpensive, running from $10 to $50.
Modules come in various types as well. Some are designed to control and dim incandescent lamps up to 300 watts, some use relays to switch as much as 15 amps, others provide low voltage relay contact outputs or a low voltage DC output. Module prices run from about $8 to $20.
I use X-10 components in my home to control all the lights in and around my bedroom so that I can turn them on or off individually or together. Some other general lamps in my house are also controlled so that I can turn on lighting throughout the house from my bed stand in case I hear any funny noises downstairs. I also use the system in my mountain cabin to control the heaters and other loads. I can turn the heat on before I leave my home so that the cabin will be warm by the time I get there. I also use modules to control my basement layout so that some big red low voltage switches on the control panels will shut off ALL the AC power to the entire layout in a case of a panic. This same control is used when I leave the cabin so that by pressing one button, all the heaters (4 of them), the TV and VCR, the layout and the electric blanket are all turned off. This way I don't leave stuff on by mistake when I leave.
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Recently a Video Camera was added to the product line. This is a radio linked camera and receiver that can be operated by battery or an included AC power supply. The system is designed for home security. Each camera of several would be connected to its X-10 enabled power supply and commanded on and off in turn by a remote X-10 controller. The receiver would pick up the signal from the operating camera and display it on a TV or provide the signal to a VCR for recording.
Both of my camcorders are too big to push around on a flatcar, so I bought one of these cameras ($80 complete on a special deal) because figured that I could push the camera around and radio link the signal back to the receiver and then record it. Within limits, it does the job.
The camera is the top half of the assembly shown. It runs from 12 VDC supplied to the plug. The bottom half is the battery power supply which would not be needed for an AC powered system. It uses 4 AA batteries and upconverts the 6 volts from the batteries to 12 volts to run the camera. The batteries are claimed to last about 4 hours. The camera itself has a much longer 12 volt power cord, but in this configuration, the cord is wound up inside the top part of the battery holder. The AC adaptor also has a fairly long cord so that it can be plugged in at some limited distance from the camera when the camera is mounted at a fixed location.
The camera has a 2.4 GHz radio link with 4 switchable RF channels. The transmitting antenna is the square plastic flag next to the camera head. It can be repositioned to provide the best radio link.
I purchased a system that didn't have the X-10 DC module, it was supposed to have a fixed 12 VDC power supply. However, when it arrived, there was a note in the box indicating that the version that I ordered was out of stock and I had been "upgraded" to the remote controlled version. The two rotary switches on the power supply allow the X-10 address and house code of the power supply to be selected.
The receiver also has a flag type antenna that can be reoriented. There is a composite video output (on TV channel 3 or 4) and separate audio and video outputs. The receiver comes with its own 12 volt power supply, a set of audio/video cables and a RF cable with standard type F connectors (not shown).
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It does work, after a fashion. I didn't expect really great video quality or a steady RF link. I got neither, but I did get enough so that I though that it was worth the money.
The camera's video quality doesn't match the quality of a typical camcorder. It has a fixed focus, fixed focal length lens with a very small aperture. It is also quite sensitive to bright lights and so it has ghosts when shooting near a bright light source. I would guess that the system has 200 lines or so of video resolution and only fair low light capability.
The audio quality is poor. The built in microphone is very sensitive, but it also overloads easily and distorts on normal voice within a few feet of the camera. The wheel noise when the camera was running on the flatcar as shown below completely overloaded the microphone so that it could hear nothing else but the wheel noise.
The RF link is pretty good considering the low cost of the system. Within the range I tested it (about 50'), the picture was without snow and steady while it wasn't being wiped out by multipath. Even at very short range, the link can drop out if there are reflections that allow two or more versions of the signal to reach the receiver by different paths. While being pushed by on a train, there were many short dropouts that were not dependent on the distance between the camera and the receiver. Even behind the mountain, it didn't work any worse than when it was within line of sight.
The antenna patterns seem to be pretty good. As the camera rotated through turns, there was no tendency for the signal to fade in or out. The signal was either there or it was not. The dropouts were very short and seemed to occur at any distance or orientation. Some of the worst dropouts seemed to occur when the train was closest to the receiver.
There are many ways to mount this camera, I chose the simplest one. I just placed the camera on the back of a flatcar and pushed it around. The camera height comes out about at the same height as a locomotive cab so you get a "cab's eye" view of the action. With the camera at the rear of the car, it gets turned a little as the front of the flatcar enters a turn and it follows the track better. The field of view is limited so that it doesn't see the front of the car.
I bought an inexpensive USB video digitizer so that I could convert the analog video to digital format. I have posted some of the results of this little experiment on the GIRR Video page.
The camera head is mounted on an arm and swivel so that the head can be reoriented in a limited fashion. The cable from the head is clipped to this arm. I found that the stiffness of the cable prevented the head from staying in the position that I desired so I removed the cable from the clips. In the process, a little of the sleeving tore, but that was no problem.
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There are other ways to get on board video. The obvious solution is to mount a camcorder on a car and push it around. My two cameras are both too big to do this. Most of the new digital video cameras are really small and the result is already digitized ready to be downloaded to a computer and edited. However, I'm not willing to spend $1000+ on a DV camera especially when video and digital video standards are constantly changing.
There was a company that had a product called TrainCam but they do not seem to exist anymore, at least their web site is gone. Their product was small enough to mount in an HO loco, but it was pretty expensive and I don't know how well it worked.
ChooChoo Cam also sells video equipment small enough to go into HO equipment, but this stuff is pretty expensive too.
Lionel used to market locomotives with a black and white video camera, called RailCam, already installed. However these were reported to suffer from noise problems because the signal was linked back through the rails and was impacted by intermittent wheel contact.
At the X-10 web site there is an article on using the X-10 camera on S-scale trains.
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© 2001-2002 George Schreyer
Created Jan 20, 2001
Last Updated September 21, 2002