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More on Savant

DHawthorneDHawthorne Junior MemberPosts: 4,584
The question was posed some time ago in another thread about Savant, and some asked whether it was a viable alternative to AMX on some types of jobs. Well, I'm in a much better position to comment on it nowadays, since my company has largely moved operations in that direction. I'm really only maintaining AMX jobs now, not doing new ones.

And it's been an utter nightmare. The argument was that programming in a Savant would go quicker, and therefore would sell easier ... well, maybe it would if *any* of their stuff worked. I have three jobs pending right now that I can't collect a final payment because Savant hasn't fixed device profiles that didn't work right. I have 3-4 days worth of unbillable labor on the two projects I dared update the control system version, and in the process broke things that were working before.

My conclusion is that you can't feasibly customize a single thing without spending a ridiculous amount of time on it. Here's and example: you can't branch conditions in a custom trigger ... no if/else logic, only if. And every source is treated as a discrete service in every zone, so if you have 8 sources, and 8 zones, you have to create 64 conditional statements for any custom event, *plus* multiply that by however many alternative logic paths must be accounted for. And it's all done in Apple Automator, which is itself a nightmare; drag and drop statements with pulldown parameters, which populate based on what's in your config file ... but only when you load the file in from within the statement,which you have to do for each and every statement. It doesn't even remember between them when you are working on the same logic flow.

At least they have good support. They need it. But I can't see how anyone makes money on these jobs in the "custom" integration field.

Comments

  • ericmedleyericmedley Senior Member - 4000+ posts Posts: 4,177
    Dave,

    Ditto for us at my (until very very recently) current employer. We pretty much switched over and have done no new AMX anything.

    I will say we've had one good experience, one so-so and a couple less-than-stellar. I can also say that it was inversely proportional to the amount of customization the client wanted. A first-time having automation client is extremely happy. More 2nd or 3rd automation system owners not so much.

    Overall, I don't think they're going to go away and their sales pitch works with the owners.
  • Spire_JeffSpire_Jeff Formerly Caffeinated Programmer Posts: 1,917
    Dave,

    Thank you for the insight. My company also explored Savant and we came to similar conclusions. If you are able to stay WAY inside their box, it seems like a potential solution. If you try to customize it, we just couldn't find a way to make it profitable. That doesn't even account for the possibility that Apple will move everything to the cloud and Mac Minis will go by the wayside. Then you have to start using Mac Pros for everything :)

    Jeff
  • viningvining X Member Posts: 4,358
    DHawthorne wrote: »
    I'm really only maintaining AMX jobs now, not doing new ones.
    What's the attraction to Savant? Hardware should be reasonably the same cost, the UIs are from what I've heard a bit slicker but still call them reasonably equal so it comes down to programming or am I missing something? What about a cookie cutter system/programming approach or even use CineTouch and make clients choose from a short list of supported devices like Savant does. At least then you could still customize when needed.

    What's the programming cost for Savant? Any charge or is it "built in"? How does it compare in cost to an AMX system or the CineTouch solution.

    Was the move from AMX to Savant more a push away by recent AMX BS policies or just an attraction to Savant, maybe a combination of both or something else? You guys were silver/gold so the BS program shouldn't have bothered them too much.
  • Spire_JeffSpire_Jeff Formerly Caffeinated Programmer Posts: 1,917
    One thing that Savant does a LOT better than AMX (in the Resi market) is marketing/promotion. This is to both dealers and end users alike. Savant talks a VERY solid game. The people selling it make it look extremely simple .... and it is for the most part, just not very efficient when you have to do a simple operation 64 times. Savant is very good at giving a technically correct answer that might leave out a couple of the gotchas. This allows you to make assumptions (and the assumption cliche holds very true :) ). An example would be: Can I program conditional statements for when a zone turns on? Savant answer: Yes, it's easy. You just go to the room and add a condition that says if X do Y. (Then they show you how fast it is do accomplish). They don't mention the fact that you have to do this one easy step on each source for the room. You are left with the assumption that it is easy ... until you have to deliver this to a client.

    The other thing is the allure of Apple. When Savant first came out, AMX still refused to acknowledge the viability of an iPad or iPod interface to their system. Savant not only acknowledged it, they embraced and, to some degree, have relied on it. This was very powerful in the market when people would be blinded by the iPad and the great marketing Savant was doing to show off the Apple brand. It is hard to turn Savant away when they are bring people to your door that want to give you money.

    Hope this helps,
    Jeff

    P.S.
    I might edit this when I have a spare moment to think, but I had to get this off my chest so I can continue programming.
  • John NagyJohn Nagy CineTouch Product Manager Posts: 1,550
    Repeating only from what our dealers tell us, and we have several who went to SAVANT and came back to CineTouch, Savant is only easy if you want a very ordinary system. And it is quite expensive for an ordinary system. They also reported that ordinary operations took far too many control pushes/scrolls to get what you wanted, annoying in larger systems with actual choices.

    CineTouch has many hundreds of choices in supported devices, and new drivers take only minutes to make in the field for most dealers. I mention this only because one possible reading (probably not the intended meaning) of an earlier post here could make a reader think we are more limited than we are.
  • viningvining X Member Posts: 4,358
    John Nagy wrote: »
    I mention this only because one possible reading (probably not the intended meaning) of an earlier post here could make a reader think we are more limited than we are.
    Correct, that wasn't the intent.

    How does the cost compare? How does Savant charge or how would the cost to "program" a Savant system compare to the CineTouch solution including labor for data entry, etc. Ball park rough guesstimate
  • ericmedleyericmedley Senior Member - 4000+ posts Posts: 4,177
    It's a little hard to make an apples to apples comparison because of the touch panel vs. IPad issue.

    When you compare gazinta/goezouta boxes, Savant is roughly 110-120% of AMX boxes. However, when the number of interfaces goes up, Savant gets cheaper fast due to the cost of iPads and docks vs. AMX touch panels.
  • John NagyJohn Nagy CineTouch Product Manager Posts: 1,550
    Really difficult as many things vary in how they are priced. Others can fill in what the Savant figures are....

    For a 16 room CineTouch, about a day in design and execution and getting the system running, that the dealer does himself (with support), NOT counting wiring issues that of course take whatever time it takes! You might spend another half day each on lighting and security to get the integration worked as you like. Of course first time jobs take longer, we make it a teaching process. Then it would be up to the users to make a series of choices as each use it to get it personalized, a process that never ends really.

    Cost for the above software to the trained dealer would be $12K-$16K depending on how many options, how many UI. But there's no charge for unlimited changes across unlimited years, that the dealer manages himself. Our planned price point is about half the actual end cost of third-party programers, and our dealers with such experience agree that they save big in finishing with flexibility. And being able to upsell new sources and things like fireplace control and such at no cost and minutes to change anytime later is huge.

    These days, our dealers are installing about 70% iPad and 30% AMX panels. This levels the price issue vs. Savant. About the only problem we are seeing with iPads is about 1 in 5 has difficulty maintaining a stable wifi connection. They "flap" and provide a poor experience. Most are fine... we haven't figured this out yet. But that can't be any different for SAVANT or any other system, we see the connection issue even before loading TPControl.

    I think the SAVANT has no per-job program license fee... but I don't know that for sure. Details anyone?
    I know some of their matrix switches are way way higher than AMX or any other brand you can use with CineTouch (Kramer, Vaux, Peak/Avocation, Phast, Elan, Crestr0n, Gefen, Extron, you name it....).

    We do know that so far each of our dealers who has tried SAVANT has come back to CineTouch if not for all jobs, for those that require customization or special needs. And they tell us the hardware from SAVANT was too expensive for what it does. They say they aren't very satisfying to use if you know what you are missing.

    This is all second hand, but similar stories each time, so I suspect it has some truth.
  • glr-ftiglr-fti Junior Member Posts: 286
    Since AMX hasn't done much in the residential arena and the Bullseye requirements for a residential dealer are ridiculous with all of the purchase requirements for commercial products, we've been moving towards Savant. When I originally started with Savant I was excited. Then I tried to convert my home system and it was a nightmare and support was horrible so I stopped. This was two years ago or so. As Dave said the support is very good now and it has to be since their documentation is seriously lacking and the only way to learn is by jumping in and calling for help when you get stuck. Once you get over the initial hurdle it starts making sense. Just as with AMX just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. At this point I would agree that complicated customization would be a PITA but they are enhancing the software almost daily so what might be cumbersome today could be simple tomorrow. Case in point when I started with this to get a doorbell to work was a huge chore, now you can get one set up in a few minutes. There are no device limitations you simply build your own 'profile' if they don't happen to have one available. As an example I installed a Sim2 Crystal and they didn't have a profile so I took a D60 and changed the commands for the Crystal and voila done. It's no different than AMX in that regard.

    I just met with an old PHAST client and we are upgrading their system. I presented an AMX solution and Savant. The cost of an iPad versus an AMX panel was the deciding factor for them. Even getting an iPad and TPC didn't convince them to go AMX and they even have lots of DMS keypads in the wall that will go dark now and we could have used them with the AMX solution. This was their decision not mine. To be fair I used an Autopatch switcher for both proposals and not a Savant switcher because of cost. This will be basic AV control along with lighting and HVAC.

    To be a Savant dealer these days you need to purchase an annual Platinum Care Plan which is $2500. You also need to purchase a software license for the configuration software called Blueprint which is around $1500. There is no per job fee unless the dealer charges it perhaps to recoup the costs above.

    Maybe AMX will have something of substance on the residential side at CEDIA, but I'm not holding my breath.
  • ericmedleyericmedley Senior Member - 4000+ posts Posts: 4,177
    On glr-fti's point about AMX and Resi,

    I must say that our last visit from our new AMX rep about a month ago (our 4th rep in 3 years) was pretty pathetic. They spent about 25 minutes showing us very expensive non-residential stuff that had absolutely zero to do with our core business. When we wanted to see the new offerings in our Resi space we were shown pictures of the new super-wide touch panel. Not only is this unusable in our systems but the $12K price point only started a heated debate with some of our sales staff about TP cost vs. the number of iPads oe could buy with the same money. I was surprised to her the reps firstly go down the old path of "the iPad is a far inferior platform than a dedicated TP" and then 2nd actually failed to mention TP Control.

    I was going to bring it up. But after several minutes of discussion, I began to think that perhaps they didn't know about it or for some reason they were choosing to not talk about it.

    After it was done, I did ask them why they chose not to bring it up. The guy just kinda shrugged and smiled at me. It was bizarre.

    I was pretty embarrassed for them.
  • Spire_JeffSpire_Jeff Formerly Caffeinated Programmer Posts: 1,917
    ericmedley wrote: »
    On glr-fti's point about AMX and Resi,
    When we wanted to see the new offerings in our Resi space we were shown pictures of the new super-wide touch panel. Not only is this unusable in our systems but the $12K price point only started a heated debate with some of our sales staff about TP cost vs. the number of iPads oe could buy with the same money.

    I am probably not the majority, but I actually don't have a problem with the pricing on the new touch panels. Would I like them to be less expensive? SURE. Do I think it is necessary? It depends on what AMX wants from them.

    I saw them in person at InfoComm and they were really cool. If they are able to do all the things I think they should, they are a great addition to a job. I can see us selling 1 or 2 of these in a job (some clients will add more). They are different enough from all of the other touch panels out there and the uniqueness brings value to our clients.

    If you compare an MVP-9000 to an iPad, they are about the same in most user related experiences. The ipad is lighter, the 9000 is wired when docked... there are pros and cons to both, but they are fairly even in all except cost. The biggest thing is the expectation level for the 9000 is higher than I think any electronic component can support. Clients aren't upset when the iPad locks and needs to reboot the app. This happens from time to time. If the panel goes offline and take 30 seconds to reconnect to a different AP, it is fine. When these things happen to a 9000, people get upset because they paid (in most their minds) 10x more and the thing doesn't work better!?! It doesn't matter if the iPad would have had 10x the problems, people are used to computers needing a reboot but being cheap. Any way, I am starting to drift. Back to point. It is hard to justify the difference, and the 9000 is not really that cool looking when compare to an iPad.

    Now, the new panapanels are cool looking. They are unique and could be considered artistic. This takes them out of the computer world, where everything is always faster and cheaper, and moves them to the artistic world, where the more expensive it is, the more you can brag about it :) The pitch that I have seen work best with this touch panel is one of restraint. You lead with a boring 7in or 10in panel in the Kitchen because that is a good place for getting the status of the house and knowing that a panel is always there. Once you establish a need for a wired touch panel (and this is easy by asking how often are cordless phones in the room they belong), you can then move to the artistic conversation. I have seen it in a job where the client was doing everything to save money and touch panels were being removed from room after room. When we got to the kitchen, I threw out this new touch panel that I just saw. I told them it was expensive and not meant to be installed in every room (my opinion to some degree), but it could really work well in the kitchen to give it that cool factor. Upon seeing the photos of the panel, they were excited about the product. I think it took them a while to ask about the price and even after hearing the price, they just said something like "You are right, that isn't for every room, but it would look really cool in the kitchen and I could show it off to my friends!"

    So, in conclusion, I think the size and form factor preclude the touch panel from being used in every room (with a few exceptions). This means we can treat them like any touch panel and go for a cheap price and still install the same number of panels, or, we can treat them like functional artwork and make them special and everyone makes more money in the process.

    Lastly, the graphics created for these panels must be of the same artistic quality, or the whole concept is shot :) If you put the use every color in the rainbow with 500 buttons on a single page file on this panel, you have destroyed the artistic integrity of the piece and nobody will be happy with it :)

    Jeff
  • HARMAN_icraigieHARMAN_icraigie Technical Trainer II, Harman Professional University Posts: 533
    ericmedley wrote: »
    I was surprised to her the reps firstly go down the old path of "the iPad is a far inferior platform than a dedicated TP" and then 2nd actually failed to mention TP Control..

    That would make him an outlier - I'm getting tired of seeming to telling every rep I meet that they can put both their iPad and Xoom away as I've already seen the TPC app. And a dedicated wired panel is a far superior platform for an integrated control system in many situations.
  • the8thstthe8thst Junior Member Posts: 470
    ericmedley wrote: »
    On glr-fti's point about AMX and Resi,

    I must say that our last visit from our new AMX rep about a month ago (our 4th rep in 3 years) was pretty pathetic. They spent about 25 minutes showing us very expensive non-residential stuff that had absolutely zero to do with our core business. When we wanted to see the new offerings in our Resi space we were shown pictures of the new super-wide touch panel. Not only is this unusable in our systems but the $12K price point only started a heated debate with some of our sales staff about TP cost vs. the number of iPads oe could buy with the same money. I was surprised to her the reps firstly go down the old path of "the iPad is a far inferior platform than a dedicated TP" and then 2nd actually failed to mention TP Control.

    I was going to bring it up. But after several minutes of discussion, I began to think that perhaps they didn't know about it or for some reason they were choosing to not talk about it.

    After it was done, I did ask them why they chose not to bring it up. The guy just kinda shrugged and smiled at me. It was bizarre.

    I was pretty embarrassed for them.

    It sounds like you got another bad rep. No wonder you have gone through 4 in 3 years.

    Our last meeting was far different.
    They covered the Enova matrix system in great detail (although expensive it is still directly competitive with ******** and is a viable resi product). HDMI, Audio, Ethernet, and Control over a single cat6 is GREAT.

    The new AMX expansion modules that sit on the Lan were also covered.

    The biggest thing we spent time talking about (and what has been really successful for us this year) is the continuation of the DA and DV packages that AMX offers. They are basically an 18x18 or UTPro with a 3101 Sig that comes bundled with a few iPad and iPhone TPControl licenses. The pricing is pretty much set so the TPControl licenses are free.

    I hope to see even more at Cedia, but mostly I am excited for some of the already announced products to start shipping.
  • DHawthorneDHawthorne Junior Member Posts: 4,584
    I don't think equipment cost was the deciding factor for us mostly switching over to Savant. It was the, "oh cool, I can control my house from my iPhone" factor, and the programming cost factor. The first is still an issue; a TPControl solution is still far more expensive than an iPad, especially if it's a new panel design from scratch. The second is turning out to be a myth. Even basic, simple jobs can be eaten alive in terms of programming time if there is a error in an equipment profile (and I have yet to see a job where at least one didn't work right).
  • sonnysonny Junior Member Posts: 208
    glr-fti wrote: »
    but they are enhancing the software almost daily

    that's a huge red flag for a software company...
  • ericmedleyericmedley Senior Member - 4000+ posts Posts: 4,177
    sonny wrote: »
    that's a huge red flag for a software company...

    Also, some of these updates blow out any of the customizations you've done in Apple's Automator. We've also seen one example where the upgrade broke code because an old profile went away. They actually couldn't fix it and they had to blow out and reformat the Macs and then freeze the version.
  • John NagyJohn Nagy CineTouch Product Manager Posts: 1,550
    Any sufficiently complex system software will be revised nearly daily. The challenge is to make the revisions do no harm.

    Any software company that isn't revising constantly is essentially out of business, with no one to raise any color flag.
  • sonnysonny Junior Member Posts: 208
    John Nagy wrote: »
    Any sufficiently complex system software will be revised nearly daily. The challenge is to make the revisions do no harm.

    Any software company that isn't revising constantly is essentially out of business, with no one to raise any color flag.

    Having to revise and release daily is symptomatic of not having formal development and testing processes in place, thus releasing systems broken systems into the marketplace. Granted there are situations that call for hot fixes, and no system is bug-free, but if you're having to compile new code constantly to fix issues in the field in order to keep out of hot water, you're on death watch.

    I would say a reasonable goal would be a major release every 12-18 months, with a couple of .x releases in the interim. The fewer hot fixes the better. Now, certainly a modular approach would allow for frequent updates/additions to device drivers, config files, interfaces, etc.

    All in my humble opinion of course!!
  • glr-ftiglr-fti Junior Member Posts: 286
    I stated they were enhancing the software daily. I never said anything about releasing it daily.
  • DHawthorneDHawthorne Junior Member Posts: 4,584
    Their releases are not so tightly spaced that I ever got the feeling they were anything but technology advances. I have no beef there. I do have a beef with them breaking old profiles and old logic ... and the distinct impression that they don't care. Easy for them to say, when they don't have two days worth of painstaking customizations destroyed by an update. I even had a case when one of their older products was broken by an update (in the software and logic flows), and had to be repaired manually with some tedious customizations (which themselves are subject to be broken the next update).

    But I guess my real problem, when it comes right down to it, is that it's not programming. It's data entry. It's specialized, and sometimes complex, data entry, but all you are really doing is entering parameters and the the software is writing the control code. It's exactly my same beef with AMX.home ... I don't care to be a data entry person, I want to write code. So I'm just miserable with the entire trend, and not in any position to retire or just walk out, or I surely would.
  • sonnysonny Junior Member Posts: 208
    glr-fti wrote: »
    I stated they were enhancing the software daily. I never said anything about releasing it daily.

    gotcha...I misinterpreted your statement.
  • Jorde_VJorde_V UX Scientist Posts: 393
    sonny wrote: »
    gotcha...I misinterpreted your statement.

    Also Chrome and firefox don't agree with you..

    There's nothing wrong with frequent releases if you're making your system more efficient/you are adding features. It's generally considered better to update frequently and fix minor bugs that way. Iterate your way to the top I'd say. (Add new (small) features)

    Especially if you do it like Chrome does, using Courgette. http://www.chromium.org/developers/design-documents/software-updates-courgette
  • DHawthorneDHawthorne Junior Member Posts: 4,584
    Jorde_V wrote: »
    Also Chrome and firefox don't agree with you..

    There's nothing wrong with frequent releases if you're making your system more efficient/you are adding features. It's generally considered better to update frequently and fix minor bugs that way. Iterate your way to the top I'd say. (Add new (small) features)

    Especially if you do it like Chrome does, using Courgette. http://www.chromium.org/developers/design-documents/software-updates-courgette

    In Savant's case, it's a little more problematic as it's not trivial to upgrade a system, especially an old one that has a lot of touch panel servers. Not that it's difficult, but it can be time consuming, and once you upgrade your development MacBook, you have to update every project you plan to use it with as well (unless you want to use the convention of making a separate user for every distribution release, which in itself is an annoying pain, though sometimes necessary).
  • Jorde_VJorde_V UX Scientist Posts: 393
    DHawthorne wrote: »
    In Savant's case, it's a little more problematic as it's not trivial to upgrade a system, especially an old one that has a lot of touch panel servers. Not that it's difficult, but it can be time consuming, and once you upgrade your development MacBook, you have to update every project you plan to use it with as well (unless you want to use the convention of making a separate user for every distribution release, which in itself is an annoying pain, though sometimes necessary).

    The problem being Savant, not the approach.

    But it's good to know Savant sucks from a programmer's perspective. It feels like 200 steps backwards to program Crestron or Savant. Then again so does NetLinx once you've made love with OO-languages like Objective-C. :(
  • sonnysonny Junior Member Posts: 208
    Jorde_V wrote: »
    Also Chrome and firefox don't agree with you..

    There's nothing wrong with frequent releases if you're making your system more efficient/you are adding features. It's generally considered better to update frequently and fix minor bugs that way. Iterate your way to the top I'd say. (Add new (small) features)

    Especially if you do it like Chrome does, using Courgette. http://www.chromium.org/developers/design-documents/software-updates-courgette

    again, my initial comments were made based on my interpretation that Savant was having to provide daily fixes just to keep out of hot water. I've heard several stories of their programmers compiling code on job sites to complete projects...bad news.

    From this standpoint though, browsers, web-based systems, etc. are somewhat different than commercial infrastructure software in that there is virtually no migration time or cost to the user. In addition, those products are basically "as is" with the user assuming the risk of support and satisfaction, there is no support organization supporting 50 different versions of code. I ran a B2B web business in the late 90's and we updated every 2 weeks, but there were obviously no distribution costs and all clients were immediately using the current version.

    If I'm a client of Oracle, on the other hand, I don't really care about frequent releases because I'm not going to risk updating my system very often.
  • Jorde_VJorde_V UX Scientist Posts: 393
    sonny wrote: »
    again, my initial comments were made based on my interpretation that Savant was having to provide daily fixes just to keep out of hot water. I've heard several stories of their programmers compiling code on job sites to complete projects...bad news.

    From this standpoint though, browsers, web-based systems, etc. are somewhat different than commercial infrastructure software in that there is virtually no migration time or cost to the user. In addition, those products are basically "as is" with the user assuming the risk of support and satisfaction, there is no support organization supporting 50 different versions of code. I ran a B2B web business in the late 90's and we updated every 2 weeks, but there were obviously no distribution costs and all clients were immediately using the current version.

    If I'm a client of Oracle, on the other hand, I don't really care about frequent releases because I'm not going to risk updating my system very often.

    Yeah, was more meant in general. Any system could benefit from that kind of release schedule and method. But you need to implement in the correct way of course. (test-driven development is even more important that way though)
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