Crestron vs Savant – Comparing Control Systems

Derek GoldsteinArticles23 Comments

Casaplex Crestron vs Savant - Comparing Control Systems image 2

Crestron vs Savant – which system should I buy? This is the question that most clients who have done their homework usually ask. The reason this is difficult to answer is because it really depends on what the client is looking for. In addition, only a solid integrator can make either of these platforms perform to their full potential.

I also would like to preface this blog with the disclaimer that technology changes extremely rapidly, and both Crestron and Savant are doing a great job of keeping up right now. However, at any given moment, a slight shift or advancement in the control systems field may cause either brand to fumble.

My second disclaimer is that I have experience with Crestron since 2004, and I know the product line in much more detail than Savant. My only exposure to Savant programming has been at trade shows, and my only experience with the user interface has been a few visits to dealer showrooms. I like to think that I have a fairly extensive knowledge of the electronics industry, but if anyone has issues with what I’ve written below, or think that I am not being accurate, please leave a comment. I WILL be editing this blog in the future to make clarifications and this may be the first of many comparison blogs as new developments come up.

Crestron vs Savant – Their History

To kick off the comparison, one first needs to look at the history of both companies. Companies with a long track record of success in the technology world are typically built on solid core values and are able to weather the storms that disruptive technology creates. Younger tech companies and startups are the ones who create these storms and shake up the industry, as they bring fresh perspective and don’t have to carry the weight associated with maintaining the longevity of their older products.

Crestron has been around since 1969, when its founder created and then started selling wireless controllers for slide projectors. Over the years, there have been several generations of control processors, touchpanels, keypads, and recent integration into third party touchpanel systems such as the iPhone and Android tablets. Mr. George Feldstein, who has been the sole owner of Crestron since the beginning, has a strong engineering background, and to this day continues to tinker with electronics and think up new ideas. To have evolved since that point to become one of the leaders in control systems technology is no small feat, and his vision and passion in engineering is what drives this. I see this ability to evolve as a huge plus when choosing a control system to invest in.

Savant was founded in 2005, making them one of the younger companies in the control system world. Pivotal to their success in such a short period is a combination of (A) – the guidance of their engineer-minded founder, Robert Madonna, who has proven his ability to lead a business to success, and (B) – Savant’s strong alliance with Apple products. At this time, it is too soon to know how Savant will react to technological developments to come. Having a product line tied so closely to another company’s product is a risky proposition, as Savant’s success long term may trend with Apple’s success or failure in the next decade. As we move into 2013, at a time when Apple is seemingly on top of the world, and iPhones/iPads are close to having half of the market share for smart phones and tablets, trending with Apple is not a bad thing at all.

Crestron vs Savant – Hardware and Software

Crestron – Kings of Hardware, Open-Ended Software

Crestron has done a terrific job over the years at selecting the top hardware in the industry, improving it, and integrating it into their line. What has always amazed me about Crestron is their ‘planned non-obsolescence’ Very few brands in the industry allow for a touchpanel which was created 20 years ago to integrate with all the latest technologies. I have seen in the past how brands typically ‘re-invent’ themselves and don’t spend the money to ensure that their new products still work with their old product lines. I understand there is a cost associated to ensuring this ‘backwards compatibility’, which is an easy cost to cut when a manufacturer is trying to reach a certain price point. However, this ends up hurting the end user, who constantly has to re-invest during upgrade cycles if they want the latest and greatest.

Crestron’s hardware is not only backwards compatible with almost all previous generations of their gear, but it is also mainly bulletproof. I’m sure they will admit to a few product failures in the past, and I can name a few myself from experience, but their core product line consists of products that are stable enough to run government and space station command centers for decades without failing.

Crestron currently employs over 350 full time engineers who work on developing their own hardware. These engineers work day and night to create new products from scratch and innovate, which is an expensive but fruitful endeavor. In the control system industry, there are few other companies that even come close to this level of dedication to hardware engineering, which is why I strongly feel Crestron hardware will remain as the number one or number two hardware manufacturer in the industry for years to come.

Crestron’s software is where the debate really is. Anyone who has had a bad experience with a Crestron system has really only been burned by the integration company who programmed it. Crestron’s platform is so open-ended that it allows programmers the ultimate freedom in creativity. For those truly gifted programmers who understand user interfaces, user experience, and usability, Crestron is the portal to control anything in the world through any method you can think of (I won’t get technical here, but I could go on for days). For those programmers who don’t get it, the road to failure is very short. I always tell clients that Crestron’s open-ended programming platform is both their blessing and their curse.

The combination of rock solid hardware and open-ended programming are 2 of the main factors which make Crestron the preferred platform for tech-saavy programmers and clients.

Savant – Software Heavy, Working on Getting the Right Hardware

Savant is currently in my mind, still a software company. They developed the first ‘serious’ native iPhone application that tied into their home automation platform. Their programming tools are up to date, and honestly are what I expected Crestron programming to be like when I first starting learning about control systems. (I do think that SOME of Crestron’s programming tools are out-dated, although they are heading in the right direction these days.) I think Crestron could probably learn something from Savant development tools, although I also feel that there is some value in having Crestron be more difficult to program. If it were easier to program, then more inexperienced integrators would have the opportunity to design, sell, and program systems, which would lead to more poorly executed system installations.

When it comes to hardware, Savant is still new at the game. They chose to have a Mac Mini be their main processor, which is a bold move, putting the core of your system in the hands of another company. I fully respect Apple, and think they are an incredible company who makes great (and revolutionary) products, but I think that there is more horsepower and complexity in their Mac Mini than is needed for an automation system. It will be years before Savant catches up to Crestron in the hardware field, which is only going to be shortened if they continue their acquisition of existing brands. We should wait to see how Savant’s acquisition and integration of Lite-touch pans out before we pass judgement.

Conclusion – Crestron vs Savant

In the end, I am glad that both Crestron and Savant are healthy competitors in the automation world. Savant is the newcomer who has the resources and intelligence it needs to jockey for one of the top slots in their market. I’m sure they will slip and fall on some product launches, but it will be how they recover from these rare cases and treat their partners that will lead to their success.

Crestron remains the leader across many of their markets. It is tried and true, and won’t let you down, provided you choose the right integration company to design, program, and maintain your system. They will remain a leader as long as they take care of their partners and clients as they have done over the years.

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23 Comments on “Crestron vs Savant – Comparing Control Systems”

  1. I think your analysis is pretty accurate. We operate on the residential side of things, and have pretty much moved over to Savant entirely. However, I certainly think Crestron has it’s strengths as well. Again, all my thoughts relate to residential. Commercial / government work is another animal.

    Savant – Great fit for most residential applications. Not very customizeable. When it comes to the user interface, what you see is what you get. With that said, I think the UI is great as is.

    Crestron – Most people’s first comment is about how much “custom” Crestron can be. And it’s entirely true. However, custom for custom’s sake isn’t necessarily a good thing. As you alluded to, the fact that Crestron is a much more open platform means that the qualifications of the integrator are hugely important.

    Different tools for different jobs. Great write up!

  2. The one thing that is often overlooked when comparing the two is what each piece of hardware really is. The Crestron hardware is a microprocessor designed to run their code 24/7. It’s designed with low heat creation and components that are designed to last for a very long time. The Savant hardware is an apple mac mini. It’s a consumer grade computer. It’s designed to be thrown out after 5 years when the hard drive fails and the Apple software upgraded so many times that no new software will run on it. They generate a lot of heat so you can’t put it in an enclosed space. The power supplies are not designed for decades of use and the software will always need upgrades. It’s not a 24/7 for a decade piece of equipment. They’re the same otherwise but I would trust my entire house to a box designed to run forever not to a glorified personal computer.

  3. Great analysis. It essentially comes down to the application when deciding which product to use.

    As an integrator of both systems, we’ve found Crestron for the very demanding environment and custom work that goes beyond the level of the average residential client. There are so many residential integrators who employed poor programmers that Crestron’s customizable and open-ended method has become more of a curse in our city than a blessing. I disagree with Derek that Crestron being more difficult to program adds any value to it by deterring bad programmers; In our experience there seems to be more bad Crestron residential programming out there than the theory would suggest.

    Savant, on the other hand, is not very customizable. The entire GUI design system is based on theme development. Of course any design one can think of can still be deployed by designing a new theme. But the theory behind this is developing a GUI that is easily repeatable on future projects. Instead of dragging in graphics and adding actions to each object, it’s defining the character of each graphics and what types of services they integrate with, so that for the next project a simple click of “Sync UI” will automate the entire process. Therefore, if a custom GUI is only to be used on one project, and consistency is not a factor, it is not worth developing a whole theme over it.

    Because of these differences in interface design, I believe Savant will emerge as the king of residential automation, simply because a client can have several systems in a various houses, vacation homes across the world, even friends/relative’s houses, all integrated by different companies, but the interface has consistency.

    p/s: Paul, consumer companies do release frequent upgrades. It doesn’t mean you have to install them! We’ve found the mac minis to perform well and stay cool in a dual 1U rack enclosure for years. But yes, I would feel more comfortable if Savant moved onto more proprietary hardware.

  4. Thank you for the reviews and comments shared. You sure provide a nice window into your industry practices. Quite frankly, I think all of your assessments on the future of the industry are wrong. The winner in the residential industry is the one that removes the Integrator. Sorry folks, I know it is your livelihood but the fact is home-owners who pursue this technology are DIY’ers who don’t want to pay you for something they should be able to do themselves. The only sustainable market for Integrators will be the commercial market.

    1. I agree to some degree – the winner will be the one who eliminates the pain associated with typical ‘integration’. By typical integration, I mean headaches associated with unpacking boxes in homes, building racks onsite, programming systems over and over again in the same way and then having the customized programming go stagnant without change for years to follow.

      However, there will always be a market of buyers who don’t want to do it themselves, and thus hire architects, designers, and GCs. As far as the mainstream market, there will always be homeowners who don’t want to run cables and figure out how to program the systems, no matter how easy it becomes.

      Look at the security alarm market. Something as simple as plugging in a security panel, and attaching door contacts and window contacts with double sided tape in some cases. This is the lower end tier of the market, but the mainstream and higher end markets are still keeping security companies (large and small) like ADT and many others in business and employed.

      In the end the winner will be the company who can create a codebase that will evolve over time and be used by it’s entire client base – just like the apple iphone app revolution. This will have to be done on a solid platform that has long term staying power.

      10 years out I would say things may finally be plug and play – however even then there will be a massive market of retrofit jobs and people who don’t have the time to deal with those nuances. At that point, there will be other technologies in play in our homes which will be more complex to install than your average DIYer can handle.

  5. An excellent assessment. While I know know nothing of Savant beyond their name, I have a pretty good handle on Crestron having been a CAIP for the last 5 years.
    The comment that their programming platform is both blessing & curse is quite true. When I went to my first Crestron programming classes I was told, “The only limit is your imagination.” I dismissed this as the usual marketing BS hyperbole.
    My bad.
    Five years down the road, I realize that the ‘blessing’ is that it is absolutely true. The ‘curse’ is that Crestron takes the hit for systems that are dysfunctional because the programmer has very little imagination.

  6. Interesting review.

    1 year plus from the writing and the landscape has changed. Savant is offering a Linux based host at a much lower cost. C-4 is now public and has momentum and things like Nest and Sonos are driving development decisions in the industry.

    I think the reality is this is a programmer/integrator based discussion but the decision will be made by the consumers.

    Crestron is a set of tools to build anything you want, Savant is a Services based system designed to do specific things.

    End users in Residential don’t really need to do much beyond the following services;
    Audio and Video Distribution,
    Security and Camera Integration,
    HVAC Integration
    Media Management (Pandora,XM,Itunes,Spotify,Netflix),
    Pool and Pump Control,(Jandy-Pentair), Lighting and Shade/Drapery Control.

    That’s really about it. The real competition residentially now is a half dozen independent apps instead of 1 unified app.

    Programmers and Integrators tend to get wrapped up in the Software designs that they have spent often over a decade perfecting in a Crestron or even AMX environment. They have ego’s and personal blood sweat and tears involved but end users just want it “easy” and reliable for the most part.

    As you said early in your comparison Crestron’s open ended architecture is it’s blessing and it’s curse.

    On the reliability issue i would comment that yes there are Crestron (and AMX) systems over 15 years old out there still running well, but there are far more systems that never worked completely correctly, or the flow was to complex for the end user to understand. That last 5% of the job can be a challenge on the open ended system. Also, there are some features and product integrations that just never worked. How many of you have played the ” add this new firmware for this device and roll back the firmware on these 2 other devices, oops now a 4th device broke” game?

    Savant’s success has been partially based on the Apple excitement but also many dealers and end users have become frustrated with the open ended software business model. To many end users don’t want another Home Automation system based on their previous experience.

    I believe we are headed quickly to an application based environment for Residential based automation. It may be the current players that take the lead or it may be someone completely out of left field.

    Commercial based systems are a whole other animal that move far more slowly and does have more truly custom based needs.

    My last thought; I am old enough that this whole discussion reminds me of hearing engineer types argue how stupid Windows was when DOS was more flexible and quicker once you memorized a 100 or so shortcuts.

    1. Great points. I agree that the landscape is rapidly changing, and it is probably time for an update of this blog (although I will probably wait until the end of this year before giving a renewed opinion).

      What the industry really needs is a company with a usability focused software team to create a de facto standard UI for standard homes. I have faith that the market leaders will realize this, and it will be hard for someone to come out of left field to take the lead in the industry.

      I already sense an evolution taking place where manufacturers realize that creating a generic UI handling 90% of what users want is the way to go. However, I think we all agree there will always be a place for the custom UI for specific features which certain customers won’t be able to live without. A platform that can do both of these things with the same hardware seems like the winner.

      Your last comment makes me laugh because I remember those days. =). The big difference is that both DOS and Windows were made by the same company, and both were very flexible in their own way. Windows is also extremely customizable, as shown by the wide variety of programs available today which each have their own UI and flow. I would compare this industry more to the mobile phone industry, which was eventually won over by a superior piece of hardware which had a superior user experience – the iPhone. It really will take both superb hardware and well designed software to win this game.

      Let’s hope that a lot of innovation takes place in the home automation space in the next year or two. I’m already planning a blog to cover the race from the bottom to the top. There are a number of companies I have been observing for a while. Stay posted.

    2. I have one of those Crestron systems that is very unstable due to poor programming. How do I find a company with an excellent programmer?

  7. I have just had savant installed throughout my new house in Sydney which controls environment, lighting, air con, blinds and of course extensive av including a significant home cinema. The rather generic control system in my mind is a strength. Everyone thinks they have some special need to customise that no one else possibly could but at the end of the day I would rather have an interface that any decent smart home installer can maintain rather than be held ransom to the availability of a certain programmer who is the only guy who understands his unique interface. This was my previous experience when choosing AMX on an earlier home we built. Furthermore, I am very happy to pay 400 bucks per iPad mini and throw these throughout the house than get stung thousands for the branded units that crestron and AMX forced onto us.
    I personally don’t care much for apple so will be utilising the android app on my galaxy s5.
    For me the hardware either works or it doesn’t. It has to be reliable. Far more important is the ease of use of the interface, the cost to keep it up to date and the ability to pass it to another tech supporter.
    Savant have succeeded in supplying a product that uses generic equipment to do a relatively simple task. About time too.

    1. Neal,

      I would argue that when all the older manufacturers ‘forced’ you to purchase their branded units, the iPad did not exist. Just about every manufacturer now has an app which allows you to control their systems using an iOS or Android tablet. While I agree that no one wants to spend more than a few hundred dollars on a tablet these days, I think there is a certain part of the market who would pay a little bit more for a hardwired alternative which can control everything in the event that there are wifi issues. There is nothing more frustrating than losing control of a system and having to wait for wifi issues to be resolved to regain control. This is a definitely a con for a system like Savant, which we will have to see if they address at some point in the future.

      The entire home automation industry is lacking a standard which can be followed – not only for communication between components, but also a basic set of features which any system should have. I have run into clients who take however their system is programmed and are happy with whatever they are given, as well as others who demand that their system be customized in a certain way, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone but them.

      With technology, a ‘simple task’ can sometimes be unbearably complex on the backend. Companies like Savant who add these features to their default programming (non-custom) do their clients a great service. In order for companies who sell Crestron and AMX to achieve this same level of features with a reasonable cost to the client, they have to be able to resell the programming feature to multiple clients. The best integrators understand this and constantly maintain their base ‘code’ which they can re-use and resell to multiple customers as part of their baseline package.

  8. I believe exactly what Neals M says above
    I have a Crestron and I hate it. It seems what i want it to do and whats in the programmers mind are way off or if he just cant program. After spending thousand trying to achieve what seems so simple with savant crestron is not the way to go. If the goverment needs open ended program so let it be they can afford to pay with our tax dollars top programmers 24/7.Home automation needs to be user friendly and simple.
    I would gladly pay for iPads vs the triple costly touch screens crestron charges with half the screen size and capabilities

    1. Ricky,

      Not being on the same page with your programmer is a big issue. The current home automation industry is filled with uneducated programmers who have no formal training in usability. I would love to hear the features that you are looking for, as we are constantly improving our standard set of programming features available on all systems we sell. What are the specific features you’ve found in Savant that are difficult for your programmer to add to your Crestron system? I have encountered many unhappy Crestron system owners over the years, and it really comes down to the programming as well as communication between the programmer and client. Things really should be easier to implement, and I believe we will see a trend towards more owner-friendly modification over the next few years.

  9. i have had nothing but problems with savant. of course some of the issues have been with the integrator Encore Custom Audio and Video.
    The video goes out constantly – Savant has not wanted to fix the issue, (or so the integrator tells me) I have actual video footage of the system video going out- i wish i had gone Crestron. I have had Savant for only 6 months- and it has never worked for a full month without some sort of problem

    1. Ron’s , Can you elaborate on your issue please as I would be very interested to understand what you mean by ‘The video goes out’.

  10. I am not an Integrator, software engineer nor NASA scientist, just an average home owner! We have been very unhappy with the Savant system.

    We have the Savant system in our home and the Creston system in a second home. We have had repeated integration problems with our security system (will not recognize several of the window sensors) and the audio/video system is not at all user friendly.

    If you are a person that walks around your house with your cell phone or iPad, the Savant system may be right for you. I don’t walk around or sleep with cell phone or iPad so changing channels, turning the TV on/off or setting the security system means locating your Apple device as opposed to simply grabbing the old remote. Savant sells a “traditional” remote for their system ($400) but you need to call NASA to show you how to use it!

    I am sure we will eventually replace the Savant system with the Creston system.

  11. Ron, we had the Savant system installed in 2015 in a brand new house and we have had nothing but trouble with the system. Since we installed the system, the security cameras have not worked. Most recently, we have been told one of the cameras will have to be replaced at our expense. It has worked right since the system was installed. But we have $650 for the new camera!
    The people that design the Savant system forgot who was going to be using the system. Unfortunately, we are Electrical Engineers.
    Go with Creston and be done with it.

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