Z-Wave Making a Move for Home Energy Networking?

Could proprietary Z-Wave be gaining ground on standards-based ZigBee in the home energy networking space? Here are a couple of recent developments that indicate Z-Wave could have a role to play.

AppleTV 2.3.1 Released with Network Test

Apple TV

Sometime between last night and this morning, Apple (s aapl) released a minor update to the Apple TV. The new software version is 2.3.1 and includes a new network test function and other fixes that haven’t been listed by Apple as of this time. The update, just like all previous updates, disables Boxee and other hacks, but these are easily restored by running the patchstick again (more notes on that at the end).

When you run the network test, it will ask if you’ve been having trouble with slow downloads from the iTunes store. You can answer Yes or No to this question and it will still proceed to run the test. It then asks you what download speeds you expect to get from your Internet connection and begins a download test, probably similar to the various speed tests available on the web that simply download a file of a known size and then track how long it takes to complete the download. The test is a little dissatisfying because it doesn’t tell you anything — all the information from the test is sent to Apple and you never know what kind of download speeds you were seeing.

Restoring Boxee was as simple as running the patchstick update again. I had an additional problem on my own Apple TV in that my external USB drive wasn’t seen after the update. I was hoping that a quick reinstall of nitoTV would fix everything, but the USB drive was still not showing up when I ran “diskutil list” from the command line. I rather like having a 1TB Apple TV, so I’m off to restore the box from factory settings and make sure everything is working. I’ll let you know what happens in the comments below.

That said, I wouldn’t let my experience scare you away from the update. The new network test will be useful for anyone that is experiencing problems with downloading purchased or rented content from the iTunes store and there may be other fixes that Apple hasn’t announced yet. Some users on other forums are reporting improved responsiveness on the iPhone Remote app, which would be a welcome benefit.

Let me know how your upgrade goes in the comments.

Sigma Designs Buying Smart Network Chipmaker Zensys

California chipmaker Sigma Designs (s SIGM) is getting into the smart device and energy management market. The company announced today that it signed an agreement to buy Zensys, which makes wireless mesh network chips for residential and light commercial building control systems. Sigma, which makes multimedia chips for TVs, DVDs and computers, said it’s an all-cash deal but did not release the financial terms of the agreement.

Zensys, also based in California, makes single-chip radio frequency (RF) systems using its proprietary Z-Wave communications protocol, which Sigma says has already been used in more than 250 smart products around the world. Wirelessly networked devices can be monitored and controlled for energy management, helping to lower energy costs by controlling lighting, heating, cooling and other systems in buildings.

Many other startups in the smart energy device market, including Trilliant, Tendril, and Adura Technologies, are using the ZigBee protocol, part of an industry-wide collaboration. ZigBee is a formidable competitor for Z-Wave; today, we hear that CenterPoint Energy has received approval from the Texas Public Utilities Commission to roll out 2.2 million ZigBee-enabled smart meters. And in late July, the Texas PUC approved a similar plan from Texas utility Oncor, which will add 7 milliion ZigBee-enabled Landis+Gyr smart meters by 2012. Read More about Sigma Designs Buying Smart Network Chipmaker Zensys