A complete guide to connecting the Broadlink RM pro and Broadlink Blackbean to Alexa

This is a fairly complete guide to connecting the RM pro to Alexa.

The two methods of getting Alexa to control the Broadlink RM pro:

The proper Broadlink Alexa skill is currently not available in the UK or parts of the EU.  This means you can either…

use this Android workaround: https://youtu.be/DJIhEyMQ0TI

 

Drawbacks of each:
Official skill
  • If you convince Alexa you live in the states then Amazon music and the Kindle book store won’t work.  They are the only two drawbacks and can easily be reversed by simply undoing the trick.
  • The official skill will allow you to control TV’s and that’s about it.  In order to control RF devices like plug sockets and light switches you can trick the Broadlink skill by using this video: https://youtu.be/Lg4HQhN5KXo
Android method
  • It requires an always on Android device
Benefits of each:
Official skill
  • Doesn’t require an Android device
Android method
  • Less of a hack, Amazon music and Kindle still work
  • Allows you to do more with the android device as a remote for people who don’t want to use Alexa: https://youtu.be/GxpG8G21was
  • Allows for more automation such as tasker and IFTTT control

Once you’ve chosen and implemented a method, and started having some fun with it you will want to look at creating custom commands so you can say more than just “on” and “off”, i.e. “Alexa, it’s time to go to sleep” might trigger all the lights off at once.  This video will show you how to do that: https://youtu.be/yaxIaPPRXt

Current bugs and the fixes! :
  • The RM plugin  won’t import from Econtrol with the current version. The developer is working on it but in  the mean time visit my downloads page for an older version that doesn’t have this issue. It will list itself as a 7 day trial but as long as you’ve paid for it then it won’t actually run out! 
  • When trying to enable the Philips Hue skill you may be asked to press the button on  the bridge before it will enable! If you don’t have a bridge you can’t, but never fear just login with my details below instead and the skill will skip the button press 😉
Username: Testbed@paulhibbert.co.uk
Password: testbed1

 

Hope that helps.

RM pro versus Harmony hub

Intro

I’ve been asked a few times now by subscribers whether the Harmony hub is really worth it when it comes to voice automation with Alexa, so here’s my two cents.

 

Harmony Hub


Logitech are big players and there’s no denying that there is some security in that.  Your gear is going to be reliable and Amazon are less likely to suddenly put the kybosh on your experience than they might with a little known gadget from China.

The Harmony hub is a nicely packaged product with some beautiful craftsmanship, so the real question is whether or not you can afford the price tag and whether or not you’re happy to live with a device that despite it’s good looks can only really blast Infrared.

Perhaps right now you’re perfectly happy just controlling the TV and your set top box, but if you hang around me for long enough you’ll probably catch the bug and wish you could ask Alexa to trigger “cinema mode” and watch her dim the lights.

RM Pro

So this is where my preferred device comes into play: the RM pro.  

The RM pro can blast both infrared and RF and will currently set you back just £30 on Amazon, which is a 3rd of the price tag of the cheapest Harmony hub.

There is one small snag; the RM pro is not natively controllable via Alexa…  BUT there is a hack that will take just 20 minutes of effort and a spare Android device.  It is an amazingly reliable solution and it’s really satisfying to feel like you cheated Logitech out of £70.  You can see my easy to follow tutorial here

Controlling Infrared and RF in one handy package means you can create scenes such as “Cinema mode” which can dim the lights, draw the curtains, turn your TV to the right source, power up your Blu ray player, turn on your popcorn machine.  There is no limit to what you can control and it will honestly leave you feeling like Harry Potter.

The problem with voice control for your TV

For both devices the commands are limited to “on” or “off” which makes for limited use.  I tend to use “turn BBC one on” amongst some other neat shortcuts, but you can’t browse the TV guide or turn the volume up and down for example.  It’s not like it’s impossible, it’s just seriously ugly.  Who wants to say “turn guide on, turn up on, turn up on, turn select on”?

This brings us to the issue with both devices:  Navigating your TV guide with your voice is the dream right?…

I honestly don’t think that it is.  Having used voice control for my Media Centre for years I can tell you that voice control is great for shortcuts like “play the latest available episode of X”, but you can’t beat a remote or an app on your phone for browsing through movies and shows.

For those of you thinking “Logitech won’t let me down, they will make the skill better in time”, I’ve got an opinion you won’t much like;  I am reasonably confident that Logitech have abandoned their Alexa skill and here’s why:

  1. They can’t know what set top box you have
  2. They don’t know who your TV service provider is
  3. They don’t know what country you are in
  4. They know the end user experience will be a frustrating menagerie of miss-heard commands, repeating yourself and calling Alexa names.

Imagine trying to write code that works one way for a Virgin customer, that works differently for a Sky customer, that dials different numbers for different channels depending on what country you are in,  that knows which channels you are subscribed to, and that knows which IR signal to send to fire up your TV  guide.  The combinations are mind boggling and it is precisely the reason that they leave it to you to program the thing up.  The Alexa control is a nice afterthought that was easy to implement.

The big hurdle Alexa developers all face

The biggest hurdle Logitech face is getting Alexa to remain listening as you navigate but stop listening when you’re done choosing.  and also know that “play”  and “pause”  mean the TV and not your Spotify account and volume up means your TV and not Alexa herself.

Perhaps Amazon will help them out by having Alexa remember she’s watching TV so the commands are applicable during that session, but I can’t see it.  I imagine the discussion has already happened and Amazon have offered a compromise command: “Ask Harmony to XYZ” and Logitech have figured it isn’t worth it.

Final thoughts

If I had all the money in the world I would still buy an RM pro, scratch that, I would buy 3 RM pros for 3 different rooms because it’s a 3rd of the price of the Harmony hub.

In summation the RM pro is cheaper, more capable and more malleable.  In my opinion there is absolutely no contest.

That said if Logitech want to send me a hub for review I won’t say no 😉

Happy automating,

-P