A Visit With Savant

suskin-avindustry-heart-0414 Discussion of some project details recently brought me to the Savant Systems showroom in lower Manhattan. In addition to the matter at hand, I was treated to a showroom tour as well as a discussion on their offerings, the overall Savant ecosystem, and where they hope to be in the future.

The demo space is laid out the way many such spaces are, as a series of simulated rooms designed to showcase the technology in a variety of settings. There’s a corporate boardroom with a conference table, a small classroom, a working bar (complete with liquor), and a variety of residential spaces including a sitting-room and a Theo Kalomirakis-designed screening room. The spaces all have a nice, modern look and are powered by Savant’s control system. Many spaces, including the theater, use Savant’s video-tiling as well as their control, switching, and transport.

As you may or may not know, Savant doesn’t manufacture touch panels. Instead, consumer tablets (in most cases iPads, although Android support is well on its way) as control interfaces. For some very special spaces I see the value in a commercial, hardwired touchpanel with physical buttons and capable of live video preview. For the vast majority of spaces an iPad is a 10″ Wi-Fi touchpanel at a fraction the cost of offerings from Crestron or AMX. The nice thing about an iPad is that it’s very responsive – as much if not more so than the latest generation of commercial panels. They took advantage of this in some aspects of the standard GUI design, including drag-and drop and pinch-to-zoom gestures.

susking-theo-theater-0314The residential space broke away from the standard interface to show off something a bit fancier. The iPad there had a scrollable image of the room in which we were standing. Clicking on a room element (a light, for instance) would open controls for that element. Even niftier, turning on a light made the light appear lit not only on the iPad interface, but on the picture of the iPad within the interface. It is, no question, a slick bit of GUI design.

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What Savant is known for — at least to me — is their Apple-based control systems. For those who don’t know, “Apple-based” is very much literal in this context. If you take the cover off one of their control processors, you’ll find an actual Mac mini on the inside. They also have the sort of custom-engraved 8-button decora keypads one seems from many control manufacturers. A variety of control extenders are available, including IP to IR suskin-touchpanel-0314or RS232. Given the number of extenders available and the capabilities of one processor, Savant claims the ability to run an entire campus including scores of rooms using a single unit (although this would be ill-advised as creating a single-point of failure).

They also showed off their switching and distribution equipment. It’s the by-now familiar card-cage style switchers with local inputs, local output, and HDBaseT cards. Like many, their cards are of the four-in or four-out variety. Unfortunately, there are no HDBaseT input cards available yet. These are promised soon.

The rest of the discussion was about software. Savant is very proud of their “Blueprint” programming interface, claiming it to be easier and more user-friendly than competitors. They also boast an energy/resource management platform. This is a very nice thing which I’m increasingly suggesting as a standard part of the integrated control system for large deployments.

Should Savant be considered a viable commercial alternative as well as a residential solution? They at least are working hard enough to position themselves that way and have enough capability to be a part of the conversation. I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what’s next from them.