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Smart Home

The Windows 10-powered CastleHub is a smart-home moonshot

With claims of wide product compatibility, Cortana and Kinect-powered voice control, and Windows 10 built right in, this ambitious smart-home hub is promising the moon.

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CastleOS

For all its potential, the Internet of Things is still a confusing mish-mash of protocols, integrations and standards. The CastleHub from CastleOS wants to cut through the chaos by working with everything and helping all of your gadgets play nicely within a single smart-home interface.

If that sounds like a familiar pitch, it should. The CastleHub is just the latest of a seemingly endless number of wannabe smart-home control hubs, and with established options from names like Wink , SmartThings , and Staples Connect already in hundreds of thousands of homes -- not to mention recent smart home efforts from tech titans Apple, Google and Amazon -- it has its work cut out for it.

The fact that it costs $500 (about £320 or AU$675, converted roughly) doesn't help, either. That's more than the combined costs of the Wink Hub, the SmartThings Hub, the Staples Connect Hub and the Amazon Echo smart speaker.

CastleOS

To help set itself apart (and justify the high cost of buying in), the CastleHub claims to be the first smart-home hub powered by Windows 10. Basically a spherical PC, the CastleHub boasts a 30GB solid-state hard drive, 2GB of RAM and support for all of your Windows apps, including streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Along with managing your smart-home gadgets, the CastleHub promises to be your living room's master of multimedia, too, with support for playback on Plex, XBMC and MediaBrowser clients, and also voice-activated playback control with DirectTV receivers.

That voice-activation support extends elsewhere, most notably to Microsoft Kinect , which the CastleHub puts to use as an external microphone for system control. The idea is that, using Kinect, you'll be able to control your smart home by saying things like, "Computer, turn the heat up," or "Computer, turn out the lights in the back bedroom." CastleOS puts an emphasis on flexibility here, with the ability to create custom voice commands that run custom C# scripts. You can even rename the wake word.

All of that is aimed pretty clearly at advanced users who feel comfortable tinkering around with a system to that degree. CastleHub found success in a crowdfunding campaign this spring, so there's definitely a market for this thing, but I'm not sure that I see the mainstream appeal of a potential smart-home breakout. It's also worth noting that the similarly expensive Revolv smart hub failed to find enough customers despite a sizable marketing effort and prominent placement in big box retailers like Home Depot. It was eventually acquired (and discontinued) by Google-owned Nest Labs.

The CastleOS app promises energy tracking, simplified device controls and support for everything from smart lights to connected pet feeders. CastleOS

In terms of product compatibility, the CastleHub promises support for popular brands like Nest, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, TCP, and Ecobee, along with support for protocols like Z-Wave, Zigbee, X-10 and Insteon. That support isn't built in, though, as the CastleHub only includes radios for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. For everything else, you'll either need to plug in an additional adapter via USB, or rely on a product-specific adapter, like the Philips Hue Bridge. That cuts somewhat against the idea of the simplified smart home setup that the CastleHub is aiming at.

You'll control everything with the CastleOS HTML 5 application, which is designed to run on all devices -- iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Fire Phone, Linux, you name it. Advanced users can open the hood and tweak the code to their liking, or build an entirely new user interface. There's also an open API (application program interface) for third-party developers to play with. Also interesting: the CastleHub isn't a cloud-based device. All of your settings are stored locally, within the Hub itself. The team behind the CastleHub touts that as an approach that's more private and more secure.

The CastleHub is open for preorders now at early-bird pricing that knocks the cost down to $429 (£275, AU$580). That's still one heck of an investment, but serious smart-home enthusiasts might be tempted nonetheless. Preorders are expected to ship out by the end of August, immediately after Kickstarter backers receive theirs.

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