Home Automation

x10 vs Insteon Protocol for Home Automation – What’s the Difference?

(Last Updated On: October 13, 2017)

For the home user, the range of home automation radio protocols can be baffling and positively hostile, putting some users off the whole thing and limiting others to just one range of compatible devices.

In this article, we compare Insteon and X10, two of the older schemes that were created when the idea for smart homes was to run all communication along home wiring.

X10 dates back to the seventies and is therefore hugely popular among long-term smart home device makers and users (you didn’t really think that smart home was a new invention right?)

Insteon came about in 2005, mixing wired and wireless technology, developed by SmartLabs. Compatible with X10 it provides a neat stepping stone if you have an older smart home.

Both technologies have changed to keep up with the times and can offer, competing head on with Z-Wave, ZigBee and other relative newcomers.

The Core Features of Both Systems

Insteon

Insteon use of wireless and wireline command makes for a useful backup control system if your network goes down, although it won’t help in the event of a power failure. Using both methods also gets you around issues with wireless or building interference.

Insteon devices can be managed ad-hoc, without the need for a hub – great if you’re just starting out. Or a range of devices can be managed through products like the Insteon Hub that allow the user to control all aspects of their smart property from home or away, via a smartphone app.

Capable of helping users create scenes, schedules and provide alerts, so it can be just as modern as the newer standards. It is also compatible with the cutting edge range of devices including Nest, Apple Watch and
Amazon Echo.

X-10

The wireless protocol for X10 runs at 310 MHz here, or 433.92 MHz for European users, and it users a series of simple code commands like light on, light dim, light bright, all lights off and so on. Controllers can run set patterns of times to automatically activate a light or alarm, or unlock a door.

Most controllers are the classic clicker type, but modern devices provide the usual range of features for a particular device.

Now, there are also a range of X10 controller apps for smartphones (running via a PC server) that will send commands to specific devices, giving some added smartness to the old technology.

Pros and Cons of Both

Insteon

  • Pro: One of the primary benefits of Insteon is its dual-mesh network that gives it a level of redundancy. Compared to X10, it is also a lot faster to communicate with devices and is still compatible with the latest and future smart home technologies.
  • Pro: Insteon can also be used in some niche cases that other systems don’t support including adjustable ramp rates and on levels for for dimmer switches, low voltage devices and customizable devices.
  • Pro: Being X10 backward compatible also makes it a positive upgrade and stepping stone for those users, even if Insteon kit can be more expensive than X10, and just as costly, if not more than some modern smart hub home solutions. It can also address tens of thousands of devices, making it highly future proof for even the most inventive smart home tinkerer.
  • Con: Even though it is newer Insteon is not perfect, it can struggle with high data loads, and was never really designed with HD video in mind, although only recent WiFi standards were really designed to cope with that volume of information.

X-10

  • Con: Being one of the oldest standards, X10 is slow compared to its more modern rivals and commands can only be sent one at a time.
  • Pro: As an older technology, there is also the benefit of a huge body of knowledge, tips and advice online to help users in almost any sticky situation.
  • Pro: Despite its age, there are still a huge range of X10 controllers on the market, all available cheaply due to their relative lack of high-tech components. Event timers, remote controls, module controllers are all available at low cost and despite its age X10 doesn’t appear to be vanishing any time soon.
  • Con: The main issues from X-10 comes with its dependence on power lines, which can produce additional noise via power spikes. These can create false commands, and if there are multiple power circuits in the home, then bridges will be needed to communicate between the different areas, adding to the cost.

What are the Best Hubs for X10 and Insteon?

This depends a lot on how extensive your home automation system is and/or what your intended applications will be.

For Insteon, they have opted to sell their own hub. You can read my full review of the Insteon Hub at this page. The nice part about Insteon, is it is backwards compatible with X10, making and X10 hub somewhat redundant. Why use an archaic X10 controller if you can use a hub like Insteon?

Special Discounts

We have a special partnership with SmartHome.com where if you use our link and enter code “SMRTHM10” you can save 10% on your first order (applies all categories, but includes Insteon starter kits).

About the author

Patrick Sinclair

Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn't have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!

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