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Scene Setter

International Smart House's resident installation expert, MATTHEW ROLLIN, meets up with lighting control specialists Futronix and finds a company with a lot to shout about…

Remember the days when you had to summon the energy to get out of your seat - having slumped into it following a labored day at work - just to switch channels? Well, you must be getting on a bit then, because I can't. I do, however, remember having to operate my stereo manually as a kid; something that's almost unthinkable in this day and age. The handheld remote control unit must constitute one of technology's finest creations for the world-weary couch potatoes that the media constantly tells us we all are. Rarely does a technological development establish itself so quickly, and having permeated popular culture to such an extensive degree it's almost impossible to imagine life without them.

What we can imagine, however, is a world where the role of the remote is extended and expanded; a day when the remote bursts out beyond the entertainment sector and assumes control in other spheres..like, for example, lighting.

While, I would imagine, most of you are thinking 'what I good idea', I should perhaps point out at this juncture I couldn't exactly go out and patent it. For lighting control systems that do exactly this have been around for a fair while now, which begs the question: if they're such a desirable revelation why haven't they been snapped up by all and sundry? Well, firstly, because not that many people have even been aware of their existence and, secondly, because they simply haven't been that affordable. The exclusivity, however, that once characterised this industry, is waning and as the wheel of technological evolution keeps turning, then much as providence would suggest, prices are falling. There is no doubt the market is out there. it's just a case of capturing it.

the price is right
One company with the populace firmly in its sights are Futronix (a name that will be familiar to fans of motorsport following Robbie Kerr's victory for the Futronix team in this season's formula 3 world championships). The Surrey-based innovators have been a high-profile player in the lighting control industry since 1989. Pioneers of digital dimmer lighting technology, they have always sought to maintain consumer friendly prices and now, following ten years of development, they confidently proclaim the age of remote controlled dimmer lighting is upon us. Indeed, if their predictions are correct, no longer will we rely on the manual dimmer and wall switches, but, in no time at all, should we wish to alter the level of light in our living room, reaching for the remote will be as natural a reaction as it is right now when the latest badly-thought-out reality TV show comes on.

The evidence for such confidence comes in the form of their P50. As Futronix' entry-level system - but feature-packed nonetheless - it is capable of controlling a single circuit of lighting (of a maximum 600 watts) and offers three levels of brightness, an optional infrared-based system of remote control and a sleep timer. With all this for less than $184, it can't be long before the landslide kicks off.

lighten up
Further up Futronix's range you'll find the P100, P400 and P800, all of which come with the infrared remote control and are capable of exerting influence over two, four and eight circuits of lighting respectively. On top of this, however, in the convenience stakes, plumping for one of these constitutes quite a step forward, as each one of them will awaken the purchaser to the world of "scene-dimming". Essentially, each unit has the capacity to remember up to 20 scenes which you can program in; scenes which use different combinations of lighting levels to suit different occasions and alter the ambience and atmosphere that your lighting projects. These scenes can be instantly recalled at the touch of a button so, if you're enjoying a cup of tea and a chat and a film you're keen on seeing comes on, all you'll have to do is quite literally lift a finger, hit a button and the lights will dim to an appropriate cinematic level. What could be easier?