Has anyone determined a way to turn on and off groups of lights on a Honeywell Vista Automation Module (VAM) using a GE 45600 or 45633 remote as secondary? If not can this be done successfully with a MinMote or any other hand held controller? I am new to Z-wave and have not seen anything that is very encouraging. I have tried the two remotes mentioned with poor results. Basically all on or all off. Any help would be appreciated.
I do not have a SmartThings hub in the mix. From what I think I understand, the VAM must be the primary controller since I am using it with Total Connect. The documentation for the VAM indicates Total Connect will not work if the VAM is a secondary controller. I am very new to Z-wave and with my limited knowledge would think many people would be using a hand held device as a secondary controller to control lighting. Getting out an iPhone and getting to the correct page etc. is not near as easy as using a single button push on a remote. I also really don’t understand the difference in Hubs. SmartThings hubs vs VAM don’t they do the same thing with maybe a little difference in flexibility? I assumed most hubs operated about the same with the manufacture competing by software upgrades. My VAM controls lighting automatically does scenes etc. what more could I ask for? Maybe I just don’t know what all could be done with a SmartThings hub. Any guidance you could give me would be very helpful.
I asked my questions here on the SmartThings forum because it appears to be the only place people are talking about VAM’s and Z-wave device compatibility. Everywhere else they just say the remotes don’t work. I can’t imagine there is not a remote that will work with a VAM to turn light groups on and off. It’s not really that hard to do is it? Again any info you can give would be greatly appreciated.
I’m sure that’s very frustrating. I can’t help with the VAM, but if people who have it are telling you that the remotes don’t work, my guess is that they don’t. I would contact Honeywell and ask them what button remotes they can recommend for use with the VAM. I’m sorry I can’t help you more with that.
Differences in Hubs
I can say something about the difference in hubs. The differences can definitely be major. And there are some devices that will work with one hub and not another. Or work in different ways with different hubs.
SmartThings: Cloudbased, Multiprotocol architecture
The SmartThings hub is a white plastic box that has three active radios inside: a certified zwave plus controller, a certified zigbee coordinator using the ZHA 1.2 profile, and the ethernet radio which is used to connect to the Internet and talk to the SmartThings cloud.
Almost all the logic runs in the cloud, not on the local box. So there are many many things that SmartThings can do that a plain vanilla zwave controller cannot. Just as an example, you can use a handheld minimote, which is a Z wave device, and press a button on it to turn off a zigbee switch.
So far, so good.
But now we come to the actual Zwave capabilities that SmartThings has. It is certified at the “basic” level (that’s a Z wave term in this context). That means it should be able to send an on/off/dim command to any certified Z wave device. But that’s all it means. There are a lot of other Z wave commands which are optional for implementation. And SmartThings has not implemented all of them. (My guess is that VAM hasn’t either.)
What’s missing? Well, for one thing, “scene replication.” This is a command used specifically for handheld remotes. It’s a way of setting up a group of lights using the primary controller and then sending that group information one time to the handheld remote so that it then can turn that group on and off. If the primary controller doesn’t support that, there may not be a way to set up the handheld secondary.
So the next question is probably well, why didn’t smartthings implement that? And the answer goes back to the cloud. Smartthings was designed from the beginning as a multiprotocol platform. They knew they wanted to be able to include zigbee devices, Wi-Fi devices, Z wave devices, and cloud devices all in one group for user control. They didn’t want to be dependent on any commands that that would only work with one type of devices.
With SmartThings you absolutely can have a button device, like the handheld minimote, where you can press a button and have a group of lights turn on or off. But it’s not using the Z wave “scene” command sets to make that happen. Instead, the button device sends the message to the hub, the hub sends that message to the cloud, the cloud knows what lights are in the group, the cloud sends a message back to the hub, and the hub sends individual messages to each group member, Using that device’s protocol, to turn on.
The GE remotes were designed for older zwave – only systems
The 2 zwave devices that you mentioned, the GE remotes, are quite old technology. They work in a completely different way. There is a one time update from the primary controller to the handheld that tells it what the groups are. After that, when you press a button on the handheld, it sends a message directly to the lights in the group. It doesn’t even tell the Main controller that it did so.
This leads to multiple limitations when compared to the way SmartThings works with the minimote.
First, The GE remote can only talk to Z wave devices.
Second, these devices all have to be within about 30 feet of the remote. ( in contrast, in a SmartThings system a button on the minimote can control anything that smartthings can control, regardless of distance from the minimote itself.)
Third, One of the GE models is limited to only being able to control devices with network ID numbers that are less than 33. It’s just a hard limitation of the device. It’s not even that it’s a total of 33 devices-- it’s how it stores the device ID. So you might be trying to control just one lamp, but if that lamp happen to I have a device ID of 35 on your network, the remote can’t see it.
Fourth, the GE remote can literally only control devices, it can’t change the armed state for an alarm, run a routine, etc.
and fifth, which I suspect was the dealbreaker for the SmartThings designers, since the GE remote doesn’t tell the hub what it did, the status in the SmartThings mobile app would not stay in sync with the handheld remote. (These remotes were designed at a time when smartphones were not part of most home automation systems.)
So for all of these reasons, the GE remotes are not typically used with a SmartThings system. There are other button devices which do work, and provide the additional advantages described above. There is a way to use the GE remotes in a limited way just for some Z wave lights in one room, but most people don’t do that unless they already had one of these devices left from another system.
Other hubs, other feature sets
But there are definitely some other hubs which do let you easily set up a GE remote, such as vera. That’s because they were originally designed to be Z wave only systems and to operate locally and not to have a phone app. So they don’t care about the limitations of these devices. And they do support zwave Scene replication.
All of which is to say, which hub definitely matters.
But again, I would contact the manufacturer of the zwave controller that you are using, in this case the VAM, and ask them what if any handheld remote can work with their system. And depending on exactly which Z wave command sets that particular controller supports, the answer could well be none. Which is annoying, but is allowed under the zwave standard.
Thanks for all the great information. You have cleared up many question I had. I now understand why I am having problems getting these remotes to work. I will contact Honeywell as you suggest and see what they recommend.
Your post was very good so I had to read it several times so I didn’t miss anything. It did bring up a couple of questions. Why mix protocols z-wave and ZigBee? Can you do some things with one you can’t with the other?
You mentioned SmartThings being cloudbased. What happens when for some unknown reason you lose your internet connection to the SmartThings controller? I assume all automation is at a stand still. I had all my automation with Total Connect (which I believe is Honeywell’s version of the cloud or server) and I lost my internet connection due to an outage. I came home to find many of my extremely power hungry LED high power parking lot type lights had been running most of the day. The Honeywell VAM does give you the choice whether you want the control “remote or local” so I immediately changed that to local to eliminate any internet outage problem.
I will report back here with any information I receive from Honeywell that may help someone with the same remote troubles.
Glad it was helpful!
As for protocol selection, some people use all Z wave devices, some use all zigbee devices, some choose based on each specific need.
There’s an article in the community – created wiki on the pros and cons of each:
Discussion of how SmartThings manages local processing in the following thread: