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Smart Home

This might be Alexa's coolest trick yet

We're testing out a custom-installed Control4 home automation setup in the CNET Smart Home -- and it's already teaching Alexa some new tricks.

One of the best things about the CNET Smart Home is that it gives us a controlled environment for testing out some pretty comprehensive connected home setups. We've already taken deep dives with whole-home services like AT&T Digital Life and decked out our living room with the fanciest smart ceiling fans we could find. Now, we're planning on tackling smart home entertainment.

We've already dipped our toes into the water here, testing out DIY setups from Logitech Harmony and Blumoo that promise to bring your AV gear under the smart home umbrella. In both cases, we were left wanting controls that went deeper and offered us a little more.

That's when we turned our attention to Control4, a smart-home-as-a-service company that specializes in custom-installed connected entertainment setups. It's fairly high-end stuff, with master receivers starting at $600 and going as high as $2,000 -- nevermind the added cost of your smart home gear. But for those willing to splurge a bit, Control4 offers seamless, dealer-installed integration of all of your home video and audio needs, along with your home's lighting, climate, and security gadgets.

Now Playing: Watch this: Turn your smart home on with Control4 and Amazon's Alexa
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The most appealing thing about Control4 is arguably that they'll get everything up and running for you. And, that's exactly what they've done for us at the CNET Smart Home, starting off with a top-of-the-line control system that ties our basement media room together. And, thanks to the recently-added Control4 Alexa skill, we can control everything using voice commands on the Amazon Echo.

The really cool part? That includes stuff that we never even thought of automating -- including the basement's fireplace.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Here's how it works. The gas fireplace is wired to a two-switch control setup. We weren't sure where to even begin with that double ignition switch, so we skipped it as we started smartening the place up. But Control4 was happy to tackle it for us, replacing it with a single switch that can control the lights, the ceiling fans, the fireplace, or even toggle our pre-programmed scenes. And, Alexa can control all of it.

That's more than we were expecting -- and as much as I love a good DIY challenge, there's definitely something satisfying about having someone else go through the headache of getting it up and running.

We'll be diving in a lot deeper after we get back from CES at the start of the new year, with plans of expanding and vetting the system's whole-home audio capabilities, media integrations, and automation chops (if there's anything specific you want us to be sure to test out, let us know in the comments). But right now, the base installation has us impressed.

So, from our fireplace to yours (voice-activated or otherwise), have a very happy holiday season, and a happy new year, too. We'll be back with more in 2017.