Today marks a milestone for Love My Echo: I’m expanding the publication schedule by one day. New posts will now be published on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. For LME’s first Thursday article, I’m sharing a guest post from LME reader Troy Gromm, who has done some tinkering with available, Echo-supported devices to put Alexa in control of his entire home entertainment system.
This is a great tutorial for those who’d like to get the maximum functionality and value from their Echo and connected smart home devices, but who want to do it using only the existing, supported features of those products—no hacking, programming or electronics rewiring required!
I wanted to control my TV, set top box, receiver, etc with my Echo and I’m a bit paranoid about IFTTT. I saw that the new Samsung SmartThings hub (UK visitors click here) is compatible with both Echo and with the Logitech Harmony Hub (UK visitors click here). Long story short, Alexa can now turn on my TV, receiver, set to the right input, and change channels! I also have two Philips Hue Bloom lights behind my TV and they can be set to different colors depending on the channel. (Syfy and HGTV simply MUST have different colors.. obviously :P)
To do this, you set up “Activities” in the Logitech harmony hub software. For example, if I want Alexa to be able to tune to HGTV, I create an HGTV activity in the harmony hub software. The activity will turn on the TV, set its input, set the receiver’s input, and turn on the set top box by default. You then edit the Start portion of the activity to add a command to the set top box to set the correct channel. I created separate activities for each channel that I wanted Alexa to tune to: HGTV, Syfy, BBC, CNN, etc. the activities are all identical except for that last step where you set the channel you want on the set top box.
Also, if you want to have your lights change when you change channels, the Harmony hub activity is the place to add it. It can control lots of different kinds of lights. I have it turn off my family room lights (Insteon) and change colors of my Hue lights depending on the channel… because… why not?!
One note of caution, when you set up your devices in the harmony hub, make sure to set the power defaults. By default the harmony hub wants to turn everything off when you change activities. I never want my set top box to go off, so I changed the power settings to be always on.
In the SmartThings software, you add a new entertainment device (buttons and remotes), and add the Harmony Hub. Once you enter your Harmony credentials, it will let you chose which Activities you want to import as SmartThings Devices. It will add them as devices with the same name as the Harmony activities, except it will add “[Harmony Activity]” to the end of the name. Rename the activities and delete the “[Harmony Activity]” from the name, otherwise Alexa will get confused later.
After the Harmony and the SmartThings hubs are set up, you can then link it in the Alexa app. You select Link to SmartThings Hub under Settings > Connected Home > SmartThings. After you enter your smartthings credentials into the Alexa app, you will get a drop-down to choose which of your SmartThings hubs to use, and then which SmartThings devices (the ones you renamed above) you want Alexa to be able to control.
That’s it. Your Echo can now turn on your TV and change channels. “Alexa, turn on HGTV” will turn on all of the devices and tune to the correct channel (or if everything is on, it just changes the channel). “Alexa, turn off HGTV” will turn off all of the devices. I also have Harmony Activity called The TV, so I can say “Alexa, turn on/off the TV”
It’s working great so far!
The one thing that’s a pain in the butt is that when you add new Harmony activities, you have to delete the devices from the SmartThings app, and unlink the SmartThings hub from the Echo, and then re-add/re-link everything. Also, sometimes Alexa will say “that device does not support that activity” when you turn the TV off, but it turns off fine.
Anyway, I’ve been trying to find a good solution for this for a while and I’m pleased with how this turned out. I hope this info will be of use!
Note that Troy originally shared this tutorial on the Echotalk.org forum, and if you have specific questions or comments about it he’s told me he will be monitoring the thread there.
When The Ball Drops, Have Alexa Play Auld Lang Syne!
It turns out that there are LOTS of versions of Auld Lang Syne in Amazon’s Digital Music Store. There are some great versions included in the Prime catalog as well, but whichever version you want, you need to make your request specific. Those that are not included in the Prime catalog will have to be purchased if you want to hear them in full. Here are some options to try:
“Alexa, play Auld Lang Syne by Susan Boyle” – bittersweet, gentle vocal with piano & accordion accompaniment; currently included in the Prime catalog
“Alexa, play Auld Lang Syne by Rod Stewart” – surprisingly traditional version, with strings and fiddle; not currently in the Prime catalog
“Alexa, play Auld Lang Syne by Guy Lombardo” – traditional version; currently included in the Prime catalog
“Alexa, play Auld Lang Syne by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin” – traditional, slow, with a backing chorus; currently included in the Prime catalog
“Alexa, play Auld Lang Syne by BB King” – jazzy version, heavy on guitar of course; not currently in the Prime catalog
“Alexa, play Auld Lang Syne by James Taylor” – peaceful, acoustic version; not currently in the Prime catalog
“Alexa, play Auld Lang Syne by Dougie McClean” – pronounced “mack-lane”; an acoustic, folky take; currently included in the Prime catalog
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!
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Echo owners looking for an alternative to Philips/HUE in the smart home starter kit area will want to take a look at the Samsung SmartThings Hub and Outlet Bundle (UK visitors click here). Samsung lists over 100 smart home devices that are compatible with their SmartThings Hub, such as Cree smart bulbs, GE smart switches, dimmers and outlets, Kwikset smart locks, Leviton smart bulbs, switches, dimmers and outlets, and more. Alexa can communicate with the SmartThings hub, and the SmartThings hub communicates with the various connected smart home devices. If you’d like to do some further research, see the Smart Things posts in the Home Automation subreddit for tips, questions and answers from Smart Things Hub owners.
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