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Connected by TCP

Like most the other starter kits in this roundup the Connected by TCP Gateway Starter Kit, hereafter referred to as TCP, contains a gateway hub device and two LED Smart bulbs. The TCP hub, like the Insteon and Philips hub, is a wired Ethernet device that should only need to be plugged into your network and have power applied. You would think that the setup would be simpler than a Wi-Fi setup, but I'm sorry to report that it wasn't.

Connected by TCP Gateway Starter Kit

Connected by TCP Gateway Starter Kit

The TCP product requires an internet connection. If fact, if you don't have an internet connection, you lose the ability to control your lights locally or even set up the product. After creating an account, I was initially able to get the hub to connect to TCPI's servers. However, on a subsequent reconfiguration, the firmware was updated to the latest version and that's when my problems started.

The Gateway wouldn't connect to TCPI's servers. And, without a connection to their servers, I couldn't continue with the setup process. It turns out that I wasn't alone. The latest firmware made some security changes that broke the app for a lot of people. Here's just a small sampling of the comments on the Google Play Store subsequent to the 1/15/2015 update. Some of the comments were even harsher.

Google Play Store reader comments on the latest TCPI firmware upgrade

Google Play Store reader comments on the latest TCPI firmware upgrade

I called tech support and we performed the standard IP connectivity troubleshooting tasks (which I had already done before calling). Through the course of I troubleshooting I learned two key things.

First, the firmware update disabled the local HTTPS UI for the gateway. Though I never had a chance to use it, from the comments I read, it looks like you could have configured the product with a web browser.

Second, the application now also depends on UPnP to open a port on your router's firewall. I have UPnP disabled on my router for both security and because I have NASes that compete for ports 80 and 443. So UPnP creates more problems than it solves for reliable remote NAS access.

I provided the MAC address of my gateway to the technician so he could see if my gateway came up and the tech provided the port numbers used (49494 TCP&UDP). As soon as I enabled a port forwarding rule, the gateway connected to TCP's server.

While setting up a port forwarding rule and a DHCP reservation is something that most SmallNetBuilder readers would find easy, home lighting is intended to be a product easily installed by most consumers. I suspect that this latest firmware update, in addition to aggravating existing customers, will generate a lot of returns if it's not fixed quickly.

The interface for the TCP lights is pretty slick. The application I installed was a native iPad app, so I could use it in portrait or landscape mode. The program remembers the last menu used, and when you re-launch the application, that's the menu that's presented.

The main menu consists of only three entries: My Lights; Smart Control; and Configure. TCP uses "Rooms" to group light bulbs. When creating a Smart control (schedule), you configure either individual lights to be part of the schedule, or rooms. You can also create scenes that appear in the Smart Control list without schedules. If you later decide to schedule a scene, you can do so.

The image below shows the Smart Control menu. The first four entries are pre-configured Smart Controlsl installed with the software. I created the All Dim, All On and All Off scenes. Menu entries with vertical "Pause" bars near the icon (Home and Outdoor) are Smart Controls that have been de-activated. Tapping any of the items immediately runs the Smart control.

TCP Smart Control menu

TCP Smart Control menu

The image below shows the "My Lights" menu. In this menu, I've created a room named "Bedroom" and assigned both lights to the room. The icons are dynamic. They show not only the relative amount of brightness adjustment, but the illumination of the light bulb in the icon changes as you drag the slider up and down.

TCP My Lights menu

TCP My Lights menu

Like the Philips Hue Lux interface, the dimmer slider responds to sliding the dimmer up and down and the lights change brightness correspondingly after a brief delay. You don't need to lift your finger off of the screen to execute a change in brightness. If you change the settings, you have the option of saving it as a new scene. If you tap "Dim", a virtual dimmer slider appears on the screen which controls both lights as the same time/ (See gallery below.)

Creating a schedule for a Smart Control is very simple. The Smart Control scheduler lets you configure both start and stop times. Your choices for each are Sunrise, Sunset or Select Time. You can also pick days of the week the schedule will execute.

While the interface is attractive and easy to use, there are a lot of "N"s in Table 1. TCP doesn't support Away Profiles (Random On/Off), GeoFencing, timers, fade in/out, Sleep Timers or have support for IFTTT.

The TCP bulb, like several others in this roundup, has a color temperature of 2700K, but consumes 11 W to produce 800 lumens. At 72.7 Lumens/W, the bulb ranks #4 (out of 5) for energy efficiency.

TCP is the only product in the roundup to use 6LoWPAN, so it is not compatible with any of the other devices. However, Belkin recently announced a partnership with TCP and will be supporting TCP Bulbs soon. However these will be different bulbs with a different SKU. The bulbs included in the TCP starter kit are not compatible with the Belkin WeMo system.

The gallery below shows several other features described in the review.

While I didn't test extensively on the Android platform, I did install the Android client on at least two devices. The TCP gateway was the only product in the roundup that gave me problems with the Android client. The Android devices had difficulty finding the gateway - even during a refresh cycle (push the button on the gateway) - as suggested by their tech support.

Pro: Slick user interface
Con: Hub requires opened router ports

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