First impressions on the RFPlayer, a new multiprotocol transceiver

The RFPlayer is a newcomers amongst USB communicating gateways meant to be used for home automation. It consists of a little dongle with two antennas. The dongle is simply plugged in an USB port and acts as a transmitter and receiver for many wireless protocols, on the 433 MHz and 868 MHz frequencies.

Vue du module RFPlayer

It’s already available in preorder on your shop Planète Domotique, the first batch is planned for late February. And as it is an significant novelty for home automation this year, it seemed essential for us to introduce this new device to you through this post!

See the RFPlayer page on Planète Domotique

What is the RFPlayer?

The RFPlayer is a little transceiver which aims to be a home automation gateway with many protocols included. It’s a little dongle both receiver and transmitter, which allows one to increase the number of supported protocols in his home automation  system. Not only it’s a gateway, as you’ll see below, but it also includes a number of features, in the spirit of making a setup more complete in terms of communication. This device can also be used in full stand-alone mode.

As a matter of fact, the RFPlayer is the first ZiKey ever introduced by ZiBlue. We already wrote about ZiBlue in previous blog post, for the announcement of the whole ZiBlue concept and the launch of ZiHome, a free home automation software in an app form, that can be installed on an Android or Linux system. The RFPlayer works perfectly with ZiHome since both solution were created to work together. However, since the main objective of ZiBlue is to give a choice and freedom in the choosing of the home automation system, the RFPlayer aims to be used with many other systems.

RFPlayer, vue avec les antennes dépliées

The dongle possesses two antennas (every frequency has its own). It has a length of 14 cm (5.5 inches) when the antennas are folded, and 22 cm (about 8.66 inches) with antennas unfolded. Its height is 1.6 cm (0.62 inches) and its width is 3,4 cm (1,34 inches). Of course, it can be plugged directly on a free USB port, or through an extension cord.

Moreover, there is a button on this dongle, which allows to carry some operations, and a LED light that can be seen through the housing.

With which wireless protocols can the RFPlayer interact?

The first thing you have to know about the RFPlayer is the list of protocols which with it’s able to interact. As seen above, it has two frequency bands : 433.92 et 868.35 MHz. If you are familiar with the technical aspects of home automation, you know that those are the most used frequencies in home automation in Europe (alongside 2,4 GHz which is used for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ZigBee). But those are only frequencies, not protocols. Let’s see which protocols are known to the RFPlayer.

Protocoles RFPlayer : AC, Domia, X10RF

The RFPlayer can emit and receive in the 433MHz AC protocol. It’s a famous “association code” protocol which is notably used by Chacon/DI-O products, but also a lot of products lines: Orno Smart Living, Intertechno, CoCo, Smartwares… Elements from those lines of products are all compliant, and they’re also compliant with the RFPlayer. Transmitters (remote controls, switches and various sensors) emits an unique code, and receivers (smart plugs, actuators of many kinds for lighting, shutters…) are able to records those codes. A gateway such as the RFPlayer is able to understand radio frames from the transmitters, and it can transmit those exact frames or create it own frames that can be associated to receivers.

The RFPlayer is also compliant with the 433MHz ARC protocol also called Domia. You can assign an identifier to modules using this protocole, by setting a house code (with letters from A to P) and a unit code (with numbers from 1 to 16). Note that on some modules, the house or unit code can be locked, so you only get to change the other code. Every transmitter controls directly every receiver that has the exact same combination of house and unit code. A gateway such as the RFPlayer car understand the emitted codes and transmit a chosen house and unit codes combination.

The RFPlayer communicates in X10RF, a communication protocol which had some success in North America, but can also be found in some European Smart Homes. For the association process, the principle is the same as ARC / Domia : a house code from A to P and an unit code from 1 to 16. X10 is mainly used through powerline, but there are gateways that can translate commands in both directions between wireless X10 and powerline X10.

Protocoles RFPlayer : Somfy RTS, Deltadore X2D

The RFPlayer also supports the Somfy RTS protocol, a proprietary home automation protocol from Somfy. We don’t have to introduce Somfy, this is a well-known brand, especially in France for shutters, awnings, velux… There are two existing Somfy protocols: RTS and io-homecontrol. The second one, io-homecontrol, is only supported by Somfy own gateways such as TaHoma, but Somfy RTS can be used with other devices, including the RFPlayer.

The RFPlayer also communicates in Delta Dore X2D, both in 433MHz and 868MHz. Delta Dore is especially used for heating and alarm, it’s a proprietary technology which, to this day, can only be used by the RFPlayer (outside Delta Dore own devices). The technology communicates on both frequencies to avoid every interference. Please note that there is also the Delta Dore X3D protocol, which can only be used by Delta Dore devices.

Protocoles RFPlayer : Visonic, Blyss, KD101

The RFPlayer also communicated through the Visonic protocol in 433MHz and 868MHz. Visonic is an alarm brand that has proprietary and encrypted communication. All the RFPlayer features (receiver, repeater and transcoder, that we will see more in detail below) are compliant with PowerCode and SecureCode (both of the secure communication methods  that can be found on Visonic devices). Only the transmitting of non-preexisting codes has a particularity: it’s compliant with PowerCode but not SecureCode.

The BLYSS protocol is also supported by the RFPlayer. Blyss is an home automation protocol from Castorama (a french retailer), which can also be found in a pre-existing installation into a house. There are 150 items using this protocol.

We also find the KD101, a protocol which is actually only used by a smoke sensor of the same name and sold under various brands.

Protocoles RFPlayer : Oregon Scientific, OWL

The Oregon Scientific protocol (version 1, 2.1 and 3) is also supported by the RFPlayer. Oregon Scientific is a well-known brand of weather stations and weathers sensors. The RFPlayer is able to receive many kind of data about inside metrics (temperature, hydrometry, air quality), but also weather metrics, directly measured by thermo-hygro sensors, anemometer, rain gauge, barometer… This protocol is only used in the receive direction to collect these data (it isn’t interesting to emit data in this protocol, except if one would like to simulate sensors on an existing weather stations).

The British manufacturer OWL makes connected devices allowing to measure and collect the power consumption, and to manage a boiler, a water heater… The RFPlayer is able to receive and interpret data from the OWL power consumption sensors. OWL sensors consist of one to three amperometric clamps, and a transmitter (depending on the model, it will transmit the sum of three measures, or each measure individually). This protocol is also only used in the receive direction.

The presence of a 868MHz antennae may have directly evoked the Z-Wave an EnOcean protocols for some of you. Those two protocols aren’t in the list of protocols which are integrated to the RFPlayer. This is mainly due to specific operating characteristics of those two protocols.

What are the RFPlayer embedded features?

4 fonctions incluses dans le RFPlayer : Gateway, Parrot, Repeater, Transcoder

The “main” use of the RFPlayer for a home automation use is using it as a Gateway. This is what the list above is all about: the RFPlayer is able to communicated in transmission and reception in those protocols (except a few of them that are reception-only). The communication is simultaneous on the frequencies 433Mhz and 868MHz.

It’s possible to select the protocols listened by the RFPlayer, so it only listens and shows the protocols that matter to you.

RFPlayer : réception sur l'appli

Regarding the transmission, it’s of course possible to emit in various protocols known by the RFPlayer. Various actions are available : simple ON and OFF commutation, but also, depending on the protocols, particular radio frames to associate and dissociate devices, and for devices which support it, dimming values (DIM):

RFPlayer : émission sur l'appli

Various communication features are included in the RFPlayer: the One Stage Decoder, which is able to decode radio frames in only one step, the LBT (Listen Before Talk) which allows the device to be always listening to emit with the best timing, and SAW filters (Surface Acoustic Wave) which gives it a high immunity against radio noises.

The Parrot feature enables the RFPlayer to operate with radio protocols that are unknown to it. It memorizes radio frames in unknown protocols from frequencies 433MHz and 868MHz. Just like a parrot, it doesn’t have a semantic memorization of those frames, but a phonetic memorization. In other words, it’s able to transmit a radio frame (that he has memorized before)… even if it doesn’t understand it.

 

In the other direction and thanks to his dictionary of learned frames, the Parrot feature listens incoming radio signals to identify the frames it learned, and if some of them matches with previously memorized frames, it signals it, which allows for the triggering of scenes, for example. The RFPlayer is able to recognized radio frames, even if it doesn’t understand it.

A transcoding function (see below the section about the “Trascoder”) can directly be set on the Parrot management screen.

 

RFPlayer Parrot Function chart

The RFPlayer also includes a Repeater feature. It allows the optimizations of the wireless 433MHz and 868MHz communications to avoid the “fading” phenomenon (signal loss with the distance, that can also happen at close proximity to transmitters and receivers). Simply by plugging the RFPlayer on a power outlet with a USB/power plug adapter (the same kind which is provided with an USB cord for charging smartphones and tablets), it becomes a repeater in stand-alone mode.

It increases the range with an intelligent repeater feature: radio frames are recognized and formatted to be sure they are correctly received, and the RFPlayer waits for the best moment to transmit the signal in order to avoid radio frame collisions.

RFPlayer Repeater Function chart

At last, the RFPlayer includes a Transcoder feature. In a similar way to the repeater function, the transcoder feature allows it to transmit a “Y” frame when it receives a “X” frame. Moreover, this transcoder will be able to convert the frames from one protocol to a different protocol. Which allows it for example the use of an inexpensive remote control with many channels to control a receiver that works with a protocol in which remote controls are more expensive and have less channels.

 

RFPlayer Transcoder Function chart

How is the RFPlayer used?

Utilisation du RFPlayer

We’ll see in upcoming blog posts how to use the RFPlayer in detail. However, we will still discuss the ways of using the RFPlayer that are planned.

First of all, the RFPlayer can directly be plugged on a computer and be configured with the dedicated software which will soon be provided on the official website of the RFPlayer.

This software allows the user to select which protocols are listened in reception, to transmit radio frames in any built-in protocol, to configure many settings and features as those we described above, and also to update the firmware of the dongle. On the “System” tab, we can see various radio frames received and transmitted by the RFPlayer, and we also get to choose how those trames are formatted (raw text, XML, JSON…)

Onglet système du logiciel du RFPlayer

After this configuration, the RFPlayer can be used in stand-alone mode. As seen above, you only have to plug it in a power outlet with an USB/power plug adapter, and it will behave like a Repeater, Transcoder…

Exemple d'utilisation du RFPlayer en transcodeur

What is also planned is a full compliance with various home automation system,  ready-to-use all-in-one solutions such as eedomus, Vera or Jeedom, or DIY solutions like Domoticz, Domogik or the basic version of Jeedom.

The RFPlayer is already completely integrated in Jeedom, Domoticz and Domogik. The other integrations will be ready soon.

Solutions compatibles RFPlayer : ZiHome, Domoticz, DomogikSystèmes compatibles RFPlayer : eedomus, Vera, Jeedom

Of course, as the RFPlayer is one the ZiKeys, it’s fully functional on a ZiHome installation. You just have to install the ZiHome app on an Android system and to plus the RFPlayer on one of its USB ports, and your home automation solution will be fully ready. We also plan to write a blog post about this use in the future

Does the RFPlayer totally replaces RFXCom’s transceiver?

A comparison between the RFPlayer and the RFXTrx is unavoidable. The RFXTrx is a transmitter / receiver for 433MHz protocols which is plugged in USB, and since now, it’s was the most convenient way to add 433MHz communication with wireless protocols (such as Chacon, Oregon, X10RF…) in an existing home automation system. The new RFPlayer gives a new way of doing it, both for people who are creating their system from scratch and for people who wants to add more interoperability to their existing system.

Nevertheless, the RFXTrx433 doesn’t become obsolete and will still be a good choice in some instances. Since it’s been around longer, it’s already implemented in many systems. While the RFPlayer has for advantages a bigger selection of wireless protocols, and many additional built-in features, even in stand-alone mode. The introduction of the RFPlayer is an important event, and all of its features, seen above, will guarantee him to be quickly implemented in various existing home automation systems, and to be widely adopted.

Function RFPlayer
Comparatif des solutions : miniature RFPlayer
RFXCom’s RFXTrx433
Comparatif des solutions : miniature RFXCom
Frequencies Dual band 433 MHz and 868 MHz 433 MHz
Supported protocols Various 433 Mhz protocols such as AC, Domia, Oregon Scientific, Somfy RTS… Various 433 Mhz protocols such as AC, Domia, Oregon Scientific, Somfy RTS…
Supported “high level” protocols DeltaDore X2D, Visonic PowerCode, Visonic SecureCode
433 MHz and 868 MHz
Visonic PowerCode, 433 MHz
Additionnal built-in features Learn and replay frames from unknown protocols (PARROT), Repeater function, transcoder function. None
Stand-alone mode Oui No, controller required

Summary: the RFPlayer is just getting started!

We’re following ZiBlue since the company started, and we’re eager to discover and share their projects, while exchanging a lot with them. We know the expectations they have for the RFPlayer, and seeing all the good ideas they developed for this home automation transmitter / receiver, we can’t do anything else than follow and support them in the launch of this solution. In any case, ZiBlue has created a product that matches its ambitions.

We are still at the beginning of the RFPlayer’s story, just as the ZiHome solution, but as you will see in upcoming weeks, we will try the RFPlayer on a lot of solutions to show how much this dongle can do. Given what we’ve already seen in terms of use for this new device, which are very satisfying, we don’t have any doubt on the fact that the RFPlayer will reach a huge success!

A propos Pierre

Technophile, ludophile et bidouilleur dans l'âme, j'aborde les nouvelles technologies avec passion, curiosité et ouverture d'esprit. Je faisais partie de l'équipe de Planète Domotique de juin 2013 à mai 2017, d'où l'écriture de nombreux articles de blog pendant cette période.

3 commentaires

  1. The range of 433 MHz is quite impressive. The built quality and the features are amazing. I have seen some positive reviews on it and I also recommended to my friend after reading the article.

  2. Great topic and very informative post, tnx! I would just add one more possible solution, Infrared Thermometer
     

  3. Love to use this, but it doesn’t work in Domoticz running on a Raspberry Pi. Apparently you hgave to add a plug-in but the links to it are dead.

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