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Version 1.1 is now posted
Charmed Quark Software is pleased to announce the release of version 1.1 of CQC (Charmed Quark Controller), their Windows XP/2K based control and automation system. The 1.1 version is now available for download and purchase. You can download it and try it for 30 days without any restrictions. At any point during that time, you may purchase a license and convert your trial version to a license version without any interruptions. CQC is a fundamentally networked product and the purchase price licenses the CQC Master Server for your network as a whole, and you can run as many clients or servers as you wish.

The 1.1 version introduces one major new feature, and a number of others which just couldn't be slipped into the 1.0 release under the wire. The release notes describes the details of the bugs and features added in this release, but here is a brief description of the major new features.

Protocol Description Driver. In the 1.0 release, there were two ways to interface CQC to a device. C++ device drivers can be done, but those are only available to Charmed Quark. User written device drivers have been done in the CML language, which is CQC's powerful built in, object oriented language. CML is also used to write user control macros, and it's general purpose nature allows you to get even the most complex devices under control; however, it's very generality has proven a bit much to bite off by less technical users.

In order to make it easier for end users to create their own device interfaces, an alternative method is now available in the form of the Protocol Description Language. Instead of writing your own driver, you will describe the protocol in a text file, and a generic driver will use that description to drive the communcations with the device. The protocol description language currently supports serial and socket based devices.

When creating CML based drivers, the driver developer uses the standard CML graphical IDE to do the development. This powerful debugging environment is a huge boon to driver debugging. However, this is not a possibility for protocol description based drivers, so a specialized graphical test harness is provided for testing protocol language based drivers offline before installing them on CQC.

CML is still the prefered mechanism, because of it's power and flexibility, and some devices might be too complex to handle with the protocol description language, but this new protocol language based driver should allow many more people provide device interfaces, since most devices are consistent and simple enough to be handled this way. As always, if you do a quality driver for a device, and contribute it back to Charmed Quark for distribution in the product, you will get a free copy of CQC. If you keep the driver updated in future releases (usually just a matter of validating it still works ok), then you will get those upgrades for free as well.

Zoned IR Support. Until now, CQC has only supported 'open air' blasters, which just blast out into the open air and address any devices that their signals happen to reach. As of this release, the CQC IR architecture now supports zoned IR blasters, so that you can address specific devices for IR blasting events. This is particularly important when you want to control more than one of a given type of device. With an open air blaster, they would all respond to the signal the same. With a zoned blaster, each device is addressed via a cabled blaster that sticks onto the front of the device in most cases.

This version includes a driver for CQC's first zoned IR device, the Global Cache GC-100. The GC-100 is actually a multi-function box, which is ethernet based which is very nice. It can include variable numbers of zoned IR blasters, sensors, and contact closures. CQC will sense the available features and adjust accordingly. The sensors allow you to read whether a device's front panel is putting out light, i.e. whether it is on or off.

Also included in this version is support for the Home-Electro Ira-2 IR receiver, which is similar to the IRMan. Both devices allow you to train CQC to invoke user configured events based on particular IR remote button presses. CQC already supported the USB-UIRT, RedRat2, and IRMan.

Lexicon MC-12 Driver. An early cut of the MC-12 driver was included in the 1.0 version, but this version includes a much improved version which is more robust and includes more features, and supports the V3 MC-12 software. This driver is provided by Eric Bariaux at CQC also supports the Lexicon MC-1, and eventually Eric's driver will probably become an integrated driver that supports the MC-1, MC-8, and MC-12.

HD Leeza Driver. At the time that the 1.0 release came out, the HD Leeza's firmware was still in a pretty early stage, so the driver was fairly limited and not terribly robust. In this version, the HD Leeza driver has been updated to work with the latest, 5.5.55, firmware, which is more robust and provides more information.

Denon 3800 DVD Player. The Denon 3800 is one of the least expensive serially controllable DVD players, and it has a full and robust protocol, so it is a great choice for people who want to create a highly controllable system. Generally speaking, only the most megabuck DVD players provide any external control capabilities. David Hays provided this driver, and it is based on the new protocol description language.

Variables Driver. This driver doesn't support a device, it just exists to allow you to define any driver fields you want. The driver will then create this list of driver fields, and you can use them as network wide variables which can be used in your macros to maintain state information above and beyond device state information. For instance, you might want to define a 'mood' for your control system, and have all of your macros react to the current mode. So you could define an enumerated field in the variables driver, with say values of Party, Night, Day, and Evening, and you can set this field any time and any subsequently invoke macros can react to the current mode by reading this field and adjust their actions appropriately.

Volume Control Widget. The user drawn interface system has a new rotary volume control widget which allows you to adjust the value of numeric field with small ranges (32 to 128), such as volume fields. It works like a standard rotary volume knob, with a small red LED that you can drag around the center of the knob to set the value.

Because CQC is inherently secure and account based, you can also set per-user type limits on the volume control widget. So you can allow, for instance, system admins and power users to have the full range of control, but limit normal and limited users to a max of -5db. This kind of account based security is a powerful feature of CQC not found in other products. Access to drawn interfaces is also controlled by user account type.

There are also some important bug fixes and smaller improvements, but those are the highlights. If you have any questions, please let us know. We always want to hear your feedback, even when brutal. Feel free to take advantage of the trial period to download it and try it out. The uninstaller will remove the product without any danger of destablizing your system, because CQC does not install or modify any system files. So it is safe enough to try out.

If you are interested in using CQC, but find that even the new protocol description language is more than you can handle, consider shipping us the devices you want supported and we will do the driver for you in exchange for being able to get the device under control. We will normally need it for a couple weeks plus shipping in either direction.

In terms of coming attractions, here are the items currently on the slab:

Device Drivers. There are a number of devices currently in the queue to be supported. These include:

  • Theta Dreadnaught which has a serial control option that can be installed
  • Tira/Tira-2 IR device
  • Centerstage CS-2
  • Anthem AVM20 or NAD T762, according to which one the customer buys
  • Powerlinc USB X-10 controller. CQC currently supports the serial version of this device, but the USB version is also in the list of things to take care of.
  • ZenSys Z-Wave wireless appliance/lighting control. We continue to work with ZenSys to support their technology, which is a wireless and robust replacement for the troublesome X-10 technology currently available for no-prewired appliance and lighting control. The first USB based Z-Wave based devices should be out after the end of the year and we will be working with them as soon as possible.

Features. In terms of upcoming features there is just one big one for the next release (1.2), which will be a new optionally purchaseable feature. This will be a subsystem for controlling GUI applications, which is commonly required by HTPC owners. Currently CQC has a passthrough driver for Girder to allow people to use CQC while maintaining their investment in Girder software application control, but as of 1.1 CQC will be able to manage this functionality itself.

CQC's powerful and elegant architecture for external devices will be extended to software applications, so that a single and consistent mechanism can be used to control applications and devices in a seamless way. You will then be able to benefit from CQC's highly integrated and network distributed front and back end services, big picture control and automation architecture, and provide your HTPC front end, all in one powerful, network distributed package with a single price and a single point of configuration and management. YOu won't have to struggle to understand multiple packages, or struggle to understand how to integrate multiple systems that were never designed to work together.
Dean Roddey
Explorans limites defectum

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