Early Christmas presents from Texecom

Without a huge fanfare there have been quite a few very interesting developments and announcements from Texecom over the last few days.

The first is a new major firmware upgrade for Premier Elite panels to v5.00. There aren’t any release notes available as yet that I can see (although I will see what I can find out). There are also upgrades to Wintex (to v7.00) and to the SmartCom firmware (to v2.00).

These all sounds like quite significant upgrades and I’m looking forward to seeing what they add. I suspect that quite a lot of it is concerned with support for the new ‘Texecom Cloud’ service. This is aimed at professional installers and lets them manage a fleet of security systems from an online portal. It looks great although it is not of much interest for me given that I only have the one panel. Having said that, one of the interesting aspects is that you will apparently be able to upgrade the firmware over network remotely – so without the need for the flasher interface.

There has been a good deal of debate about this on the Texecom forums but it doesn’t appear that this will be available to DIY users which is a bit of a shame, although I can understand why.

The other major announcement is ‘TexecomPro‘ which is an app which give access to installation manuals, forums and various other information. This also looks useful (so long as it is kept up to date):

TXCP

So good to see more developments. After a long break I’m hoping to get some time to write more about developments, although the first job is to get the panel upgraded and then go through the box of goodies a bit more.

Micro Contact Installation

Following on from my review of the Micro Contact sensors and following the completion of my kitchen, I’ve now installed two of them on the back doors.

The new doors are made of wood (and were very expensive) so I was a little wary of drilling holes in them, but in the end I did because it seemed ridiculous to have the sensors only fixed on with sticky tape and I didn’t want them dropping off. The holes are only small and will always have some kind of sensor on them.

The results are really nice, the sensors are unobtrusive and blend in well. I wouldn’t have wanted anything any bigger really:

It does of course help that the doors are white and smooth!

I had one slight hiccup when commissioning them, in that I couldn’t get a reliable reading from them and in particular the tamper seemed to be activated all the time. in the end the solution was pretty obvious, in that they were simply too far from the Ricochet box and were therefore not providing reliable readings. The solution (which seems obvious now) was to put another Ricochet device (a PIR this time) roughly in the middle (which I will need in there anyway) to extend the mesh network. Once I’d done this the sensors worked fine.

The test mode was very helpful in making sure the magnets were correctly placed, and you can actually have quite a big gap between the sensor and the magnet and it will still work fine.

Overall I’m very satisfied with how this has worked out and I’d really recommend these if you want unobtrusive and low-profile sensors.

New Firmware for Elite & SmartCom

News broke today that there’s been another minor upgrade to the Premier Elite firmware, now sitting at v4.03. I’ve not seen any detailed release notes, but the email says it includes:

“…an update to improve functionality when using multiple communication devices, and improves the clarity of keypad notifications of low battery warnings from wireless devices. Premier Elite V4.03 firmware also includes additional functional enhancements and minor bug fixes”

So it does sound worthwhile and I’ll need to dust off the firmware upgrader hardware again. I’ll also see if I can find out a bit more info about the detail of the changes.

The other announcement concerns the SmartCom which has also had a minor upgrade to v1.03. This is much easier to upgrade and you can do it via the app which is a big step forward. Hopefully the next generation of Premier Elite panels will have a much easier (and less hair-raising) upgrade mechanism!

I’ve got a SmartCom in the box of goodies, which I really want to get installed and tested. I’ve been preoccupied with work (and hot weather) lately so I’ve not had the chance to get to it but I will hopefully have more time come the Autumn.

Ricochet Micro Contact

As described in a previous entry I’ve got a lot of interesting goodies to look at, and the first of these is a small magnetic contact switch which is suitable for mounting on a window or a door.

As promised I’ve set up a YouTube channel to support the blog, as especially for looking in detail at these items I thought it might be interesting to show them and talk a bit about them. This is a new thing for me and the audio is a bit rough but hopefully easily audible.

However I will continue to write about them as well and share my experiences.

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The sensor is small and simple, and as shown in the photo in comes with instructions and fixings. They come in a range of colours to match various wooden or metal windows.

In operation it is very straightforward – it has a single button, and a coin cell battery. you can put the sensor into pairing mode by holding down the button and then setting the panel to search on a zone (I’ve shown the detail of this in the video). What’s quite nice is that even though the controls are very simple (one button) you can do quite a lot, and it has an RGB LED on it. When you insert the battery it goes into a test mode, which shows a green light when secure and a red light otherwise.

I’ve paired this up with the panel and it’s working fine – I do need to get in installed on a window now but I’m waiting for my kitchen to be finished. However, I think it’s a really nice sensor and much smaller and neater than some the other ones I’ve have seen. Only think to note is that it is only a contact sensor and does not do shock detection as well. There is a separate sensor for that and I’ll have a look at that in another post.

Flashing upgrades update

There has been a flurry of comments lately on firmware flashing so I thought I would round up a few of them to summarise experiences, and hopefully help out anyone else who encounters problems. Many thanks to yulasinio for some of the pictures here and sharing his experiences.

The problems have arisen largely from the use of 3rd party USB serial cables when flashing the upgrade, and this is the case whether you use the official flashing PCB or the DIY version featured in previous posts here. The genuine USB-COM cable from Texecom uses (like many other devices) an FTDI 232 chip, and the flashing software looks for this specifically. So if you want to use a 3rd party cable or interface to flash you have to find one with one of these chips. They are plentiful on ebay, but many of them are counterfeit (or simply very poorly made) and it is very difficult superficially to tell which is which.

The interfaces do superficially work, and are probably OK if you just want to upload programming data. However for flashing they seem to be very unreliable and fail, often leaving people with an apparently ‘bricked’ panel. The good news is that this does seem to be recoverable with the right interface.

People seem to be having particular trouble with cables like these:

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I’ve had a few of these myself, and although they worked OK at first I didn’t try flashing with them, and after a while they have either stopped working completely or else keep failing with various errors. So I would not recommend these sorts of cables for any purpose. You can get genuine FTDI ones which I’m sure would fine but these are very expensive (£20+).

What seems to happen when trying to flash with one of these cables is that it gets so far and then fails with an error like this:

PremierElite48_FlashingError

If you are really unlucky then the panel may not recover from this and you’ll get the same error if you try to reflash. However, given that it is the verify phase which is failing this is consistent with the idea that something is going wrong with the writing process and it’s losing data or getting corrupted.

The good news is that if you use a better quality interface then you should have no problems. Several people have reported success using small ‘red PCB’ FTDI boards, and I’ve done this myself too:

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So the moral of the story is to use good quality interfaces and avoid those ‘all in one’ cables. Also just to mention that Texecom tech support were very helpful in diagnosing and resolving this issue.

Standby for action

It’s been a while now since I’ve written anything about my Texecom alarm system, which is largely because I’ve not done anything interesting with it or added any bits lately. However, this is about to change. We are having some building work carried out at the moment to extend our kitchen which will give us a completely different space so that will need a different approach to the security system.

Also (and I’m very excited about this) a very helpful contact has provided me with a large box of Texecom kit (sensors, expanders etc) to play with:

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So I will be posting up my impressions and experiences with these over the next few weeks… might even try some Youtube videos to show the detail and how things work.

There may be some interesting home automation angles on the new kitchen so I will post on this too.

Repairing a Sennheiser freePORT radio mic

The Sennheiser freePORT radio microphone was a very popular vocal mic, being inexpensive and good quality. It is very much at the budget end of the Sennheiser range and doesn’t have all the fancy features of the more expensive models but still does a solid job.

SenMic

We have a couple of these at our church which we use for portable use and they get quite a lot of abuse. One of them recently broke so I had a look at it, always being keen to repair rather than replace. The handset had got bashed and there was no audio coming through.

One difficulty with these mics is that it’s not obvious how to get into them. The best place to start it by unscrewing the top of the handset to expose the capsule:

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The problem here is pretty obvious, in that one of (very thin) wires which runs from the capsule into the body of the mic has broken off. So a repair should be a simple matter of resoldering it, although there is no slack available here so the whole wire needs to be replaced.

The next thing to do is to remove a screw in the battery compartment, and the collar at the top which fits on to the pop shield:

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Then you have to remove the shiny black plastic piece which says ‘Sennheiser Freeport’ and covers the electronics. This is much easier if you remove the collar as well:

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I ended up replacing both of the wires on the right hand side of the picture by desoldering them from the board and replacing them with new. The wires are very fine, and I used two cores from a burglar alarm cable which were the thinnest thing I could find. You have to thread them through the collar to get to the capsule. The black wire goes to the pad marked with a blue dot on the capsule. Once done it’s a fairly simple matter of putting it all back together again.

The other problem I have had with these mics is that the power connector on the receiver tends to get worn out. This is also dead easy to replace. So with relatively little effort you can keep this working in spite of some quite rough handling.