X10 (industry standard)

X10 (industry standard)

X10 is an international and open industry standard for communication among electronic devices used for home automation, also known as "domotics". It primarily uses power line wiring for signaling and control, where the signals involve brief radio frequency bursts representing digital information. A wireless radio based protocol transport is also defined.

X10 was developed in 1975 by Pico Electronics of Glenrothes, Scotland, in order to allow remote control of home devices and appliances. It was the first general purpose domotic network technology and remains the most widely available.Fact|date=March 2008

Although a number of higher bandwidth alternatives exist including KNX, INSTEON, BACnet, and LonWorks, X10 remains popular in the home environment with millions of units in use worldwide, and inexpensive availability of new components.

Power line carrier control overview

Household electrical wiring — the same which powers lights and appliances — is used to send digital data between X10 devices. This digital data is encoded onto a 120 kHz carrier which is transmitted as bursts during the relatively quiet zero crossings of the 50 or 60 Hz AC alternating current waveform. One bit is transmitted at each zero crossing.

The digital data consists of an address and a command sent from a controller to a controlled device. More advanced controllers can also query equally advanced devices to respond with their status. This status may be as simple as "off" or "on", or the current dimming level, or even the temperature or other sensor reading. Devices usually plug into the wall where a lamp, television, or other household appliance plugs in; however some built-in controllers are also available for wall switches and ceiling fixtures.

The relatively high-frequency carrier frequency carrying the signal cannot pass through a power transformer or across the phases of a multiphase system. For split phase systems, the signal can be passively coupled from phase-to-phase using a passive capacitor, but for three phase systems or where the capacitor provides insufficient coupling, an active X10 repeater can be used. To allow signals be coupled across phases and still match each phase's zero crossing point, each bit is transmitted three times in each half cycle, offset by 1/6th cycle.

It may also be desirable to block X10 signals from leaving the local area so, for example, the X10 controls in one house don't interfere with the X10 controls in a neighboring house. In this situation, inductive filters can be used to attenuate the X10 signals coming into or going out of the local area.

X10 protocol

Whether using power line or radio communications, packets transmitted using the X10 control protocol consist of a four bit "house code" followed by one or more four bit "unit code", finally followed by a four bit command. For the convenience of users configuring a system, the four bit house code is selected as a letter from A through P while the four bit unit code is a number 1 through 16.

When the system is installed, each controlled device is configured to respond to one of the 256 possible addresses (16 house codes × 16 unit codes); each device reacts to commands specifically addressed to it, or possibly to several broadcast commands.

The protocol may transmit a message that says "select code A3", followed by "turn on", which commands unit "A3" to turn on its device. Several units can be addressed before giving the command, allowing a command to affect several units simultaneously. For example, "select A3", "select A15", "select A4", and finally, "turn on", causes units A3, A4, and A15 to all turn on.

Note that there is no restriction (except possibly consideration of the neighbors) that prevents using more than one house code within a single house. The "all lights on" command and "all units off" commands will only affect a single house code, so an installation using multiple house codes effectively has the devices divided into separate zones.

Power line protocol physical layer details

In the 60 Hz AC current flow, a bit value of one is represented by a 1 millisecond burst of 120 kHz at the zero crossing point (nominally 0°, but within 200 microseconds of the zero crossing point), immediately followed by the absence of a pulse. A zero value is represented by the absence of 120 kHz at the zero crossing point (pulse), immediately followed by the presence of a pulse. All messages are sent twice to reduce false signaling. After allowing for retransmission, line control, etc, data rates are around 20 bit/s, making X10 data transmission so slow that the technology is confined to turning devices on and off or other very simple operations.

In order to provide a predictable start point, every data frame transmitted always begin with a "start code" of 1110. Immediately after the start code, a "house code" (A–P) appears, and after the letter code comes a "function code". Function codes may specify a unit number code (1–16) or a command code, the selection between the two modes being determined by the last bit where 0=unit number and 1=command). One start code, one letter code, and one function code is known as an X10 frame and represent the minimum components of a valid X10 data packet.

Each frame is sent twice in succession to make sure the receivers understand it over any power line noise for purposes of redundancy, reliability, and to accommodate line repeaters.

Whenever the data changes from one address to another address, from an address to a command, or from one command to another command, the data frames must be separated by at least 6 clear zero crossings (or "000000"). The sequence of six zeros resets the device decoder hardware.

The radio protocol

To allow the operation of wireless keypads, remote switches, and the like, a radio protocol is also defined. Operating at a frequency of 310 MHz in the U.S. and 433 MHz in European systems, the wireless devices send data packets that are very similar to ordinary X10 power line control packets. A radio receiver then provides a bridge which translates these radio packets to ordinary X10 power line control packets.

The devices available using the radio protocol include:
* Keypad controllers ("clickers")
* Keychain controllers that can control one to four X10 devices
* Burglar alarm modules that can transmit sensor data
* Passive infrared switches to control lighting and X-10 chimes
* Non-passive information bursts

Device modules

Depending on the load that is to be controlled, different modules must be used. For incandescent lamp loads, a "lamp module" or "wall switch" module can be used. These modules switch the power using a triac solid state switch and are also capable of dimming the lamp load. Lamp modules are almost silent in operation, and generally rated to control loads ranging from around 40 watts to 500 watts.

For loads other than incandescent lamps, such as fluorescent lamps, high-intensity discharge lamps, and electrical appliances, the triac-based electronic switching in the lamp module is unsuitable and an "appliance module" must be used instead. These modules switch the power using an impulse relay. In the U.S., these modules are generally rated to control loads up to 15 amperes.

Many device modules offer a feature called "local control". If the module is switched off, operating the power switch on the lamp or appliance will cause the module to turn on. In this way, a lamp can still be lit or a coffee pot turned on without the need to use an X10 controller. Wall switch modules may not offer this feature.

Some wall switch modules offer a feature called "local dimming". Ordinarily, the local push button of a wall switch module simply offers on/off control with no possibility of locally dimming the controlled lamp. If local dimming is offered, holding down the push button will cause the lamp to cycle through its brightness range.

Higher end modules have more advanced features such as programmable on levels, customizable fade rates, the ability to transmit commands when used (referred to as 2-way devices), and "scene" support.

There are sensor modules that sense and report temperature, light, infra-red, motion, or contact openings and closures. Device modules include thermostats, audible alarms and controllers for low voltage switches.


X10 controllers range from extremely simple to very sophisticated.

The simplest controllers are arranged to control four X10 devices at four sequential addresses (1–4 or 5–8). The controllers typically contain the following buttons:
* Unit 1 On/Off
* Unit 2 On/Off
* Unit 3 On/Off
* Unit 4 On/Off
* Brighten/Dim (last selected unit)
* All Lights On/All Units Off

More sophisticated controllers can control more units and/or incorporate timers that perform preprogrammed functions at specific times each day. Units are also available that use passive infrared motion detectors or photocells to turn lights on and off based on external conditions.

Finally, very sophisticated units are available that can be fully programmed or use a program running in an external computer. These systems can execute many different timed events, respond to external sensors, and execute, with the press of a single button, an entire "scene", turning lights on, establishing brightness levels, and so on. Control programs are available for PCs running Microsoft Windows, Apple's Macintosh and Linux software.

Burglar alarm systems are also available. In these systems, the controller uses X10 protocols or ordinary wiring to interrogate a number of remote sensors that may monitor doors, windows, and other access points. The controller may then use X10 protocols to activate lights, sirens, etc.

Weak points and limitations

One problem with X10 is excessive attenuation of signals between the two live conductors in the 3-wire 120/240 volt system used in typical North American residential construction. Signals from a transmitter on one live conductor may not propagate through the high impedance of the distribution transformer winding to the other live conductor. Often, there's simply no reliable path to allow the X10 signals to propagate from one phase wire to the other; this failure may come and go as large 240 volt devices such as stoves or dryers are turned on and off. (When turned on, such devices provide a low-impedance bridge for the X10 signals between the two phase wires.) This problem can be permanently overcome by installing a capacitor between the phase wires as a path for the X10 signals; manufacturers commonly sell signal couplers that plug into 240 volt sockets that perform this function. More sophisticated installations install an active repeater device between the phases, while others combine signal amplifiers with a coupling device. A repeater is also needed for inter-phase communication in homes with three-phase electric power. In many countries outside North America, entire houses are typically wired from a single 240 volt single phase wire so this problem does not occur.

An RCD/GFCI can attenuate X10 signals passing through the device. This means that X10 signals passing through an RCD may not be strong enough to provide reliable communication.

Other problems: TVs or wireless devices may cause spurious off or on signals. Noise filtering (as installed on computers as well as many modern appliances) may help keep external noise out of X10 signals, but noise filters not designed for X10 may also filter out X10 signals traveling on the branch circuit to which the appliance is connected.

Also, certain types of power supplies used in modern electronic equipment (such as computers, television sets, and satellite receivers) "eat" passing X10 signals by providing a low impedance path to high frequency signals. Typically, the capacitors used on the inputs to these power supplies short the X10 signal from line to neutral, suppressing any hope of X10 control on the circuit near that device. Filters are available that will block the X10 signals from ever reaching such devices; plugging offending devices into such filters can cure mysterious X10 intermittent failures.

Some X10 controllers may not work well or at all with low power devices (below 50 watts) or devices like fluorescent bulbs that do not present resistive loads. Use of an appliance module rather than a lamp module may resolve this problem.

X10 signals can only be transmitted one command at a time, first by addressing the device to control, and then sending an operation for that device to perform. If two X10 signals are transmitted at the same time they may collide or interleave, leading to commands that either cannot be decoded or that trigger incorrect operations.

The X10 protocol is also slow. It takes roughly three quarters of a second to transmit a device address and a command. While generally not noticeable when using a tabletop controller, it becomes a noticeable problem when using 2-way switches or when utilizing some sort of computerized controller. The apparent delay can be lessened somewhat through the use of scenes and by using slower device dim rates.

X10 dimmer devices offer little or no built-in support for varying lighting moods, so called "scene setting". Changing a lighting scene typically requires adjusting each lighting circuit one after the other, and can be visually unappealing and also very slow. Support for arbitrary dimming speed is also generally lacking, again limiting the aesthetics and suitability of X10 for proper lighting control.

The standard X10 power line and RF protocols lack support for encryption, and can only address 256 devices. Unless filtered, power line signals from close neighbours using X10 may interfere with each other if the same device addresses are used by each party. Interfering RF wireless signals may similarly be received, with it being easy for anyone nearby with an X10 RF remote to wittingly or unwittingly cause mayhem if an RF to power line device is being used on a premises.


There are bridges to translate X10 to other domotic standards (e.g. KNX).

See also

* EnOcean Wireless & batteryless control and sensing
* Power line communication
* Universal powerline bus is a competing industry technology to X10.

External links

* Groups:
** Usenet|comp.home.automation|Home automation
* [http://kbase.x10.com X10 Knowledge Base] A huge repository of trouble-shooting information for X10 projects. (Commercial site)
* [http://www.smarthomeusa.com/info/x10theory/x10theory/#theory How X10 works] A detailed explanation of the X10 protocol.
* [http://www.hometoys.com/htinews/feb99/articles/kingery/kingery13.htm#Digital%20X-10 Digital X-10,Which One Should I Use?] .
* Free source:
** [http://wish.sourceforge.net An X10 driver for Linux]
** [http://www.heyu.org HEYU] - X10 Automation for Linux, Unix, and Mac OS X;
** [http://www.linuxha.com Linux Home Automation web site] - general home automation information with respect to Linux. Not limited to just X10.
* X10 in Australia, NZ & other 220V/50Hz countries:
** [http://www.envioustechnology.com.au/support/x10.php?ref=WkP Australian X10] - Information on X10 & A10 from an Australian/NZ perspective (240V/50Hz).
** PDFlink| [http://www.envioustechnology.com.au/support/diagrams/X10Integration.pdf Integration Diagram] - Showing integration of various Aus/NZ (240V, 50Hz) X10/A10 modules
* [http://www.diy-ha.com X10 Automation Guides] --A site with detailed tutorials on X10 automation, including X10 troubleshooting
* [http://www.kevinboone.com/x10.html Using X10 for home automation] - An article that describes different X10 modules and their usage, by Kevin Boone.

* X10 in Europe
* [http://www.eurox10.com www.eurox10.com] - European Home Automation Portal with all X10 products for the European market (230v)


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