Q&A: Power cleaning

Q: I was thinking of getting a 42 inch plasma TV for my family room. During my initial trip to the store they talk more about the add-ons then the TV. One thing they keep talking about these fancy �power bars� which regulate the power flow to ensure there is no spikes which (they tell me) is a must have and are much better then the normal surge protecting power bar. I was wondering if such things are really worth it. The minimum price one is $150 which seems a lot for a power bar. Do you use such things on your TV?

A: Yes, it is a real issue… No you don’t need to spend $150 on it. Plasma screens are quite sensitive to power spikes, but there are easier (and cheaper) ways.

Get a good quality UPS, from a brand like APC and you will be fine. Basically, the power supply charges the battery, and the battery powers the TV, so the TV is isolated from the power supply. A UPS will also protect against “brown-outs” where the power doesn’t go off, but the voltage level reduces.
A 350VA APC UPS sells for around $60. Don’t expect it to run for hours during a blackout (or even minutes), but it will protect the TV from surges. If it doesn’t, it’s got a $75,000 Equipment Warranty.

Comments

  1. John T says

    While a UPS is an excellent idea for a plasma TV (sudden power outages stress the light in the display), a UPS will not neccessarily give you the power protection that you’re looking for. Many do not offer the higher end protection that a good power system will offer and if you’ve got a home theatre there’s a temptation to plug the receiver, sub and so on into the UPS. The problem is that UPS supplies don’t usually isolate outlets or banks – so noise (or even surges if things go wrong!) from the plasma might affect the amplifier, for example.

    In addition, the UPS might not completely clean the power supply. Noise on the power system (micro surges, power drops and so on) generated by the grid or by other devices in the home (lighting, washer, fridge) might translate through the UPS, despite the battery.

    I recommend multiple approaches to resolve this problem:
    - As suggested, buy the UPS for the plasma TV
    - Add a high quality power bar (with both surge protection and power cleaning / filtering) – you don’t have to spend a fortune (names like Monster cost more than they should), but don’t skimp on it either – especially if you have a home theatre
    - Add inexpensive ($60 to $400) whole home surge protection on your electrical panel in the basement (get a qualified electrician to install it if you don’t know what you’re doing) – this will protect you against the most common kind of surges and will protect everything in the home, not just the home theatre (your $150 cordless phones are often on the charging based, plugged in to the wall, for example)

    For more home theatre or home technology advice, contact us through our website.

  2. joe says

    I knew you’d chime in on this one John! :)

    A couple of questions for you then:
    You can get a UPS for $60-80, while a high quality power bar will set you back about $100. Would it make sense for people to get two UPS’s, one for the plasma, and one for the tuners and audio equipment?

    Secondly, wouldn’t the whole-home setup (sounds cool by the way), have the same issues with your fridge or laundry machine sending surges within the house?

    Interesting stuff.

  3. zettl says

    these devices serve different purposes. the whole home surge protection is a great way to protect your entire home from severe spikes coming from your electrical suplier – this is the first line of defense, and will help protect all of your devices (fridge, washer, dryer, etc) from surges. when you turn on a hair dryer, or fridge, or dishwasher, it can send noise over all of your electrical wiring which can degrade picture quality and sound quality on your home theatre. this is where the ups on the home theatre can help. but, if you’re going to do this, you really need two ups’ – one for the audio, and one for the video, plus you still need to filter your cable lines and phone lines (yes, surges can come in over coax cable and phone lines). Most good home theatre power filters will isolate the different components, plus provide filtering for all of the incoming sources.
    Having a Surge Protector on your whole home is a great start. Adding a UPS and a good power filtering device between that UPS and your equipment is a great idea. And, with the low costs of a UPS, you’re looking at an easy and inexpensive way to help protect your sensitive and expensive home theatre equipment.
    Yes, if you go to a big box shop with a 19-year-old “home theatre specialist”, you’re going to have that person spending their time trying to sell you an overpriced product because of the great margins on them. But, there are other, better products available at similar price points that offer much better protection and better filtering. They’ll also try to sell you an extended warranty or service plan, but that’s for another time…
    Don’t overlook a good power filter. And don’t overlook the quality of cable used to hook up all your equipment. Both can make a huge impact on your entertainment experience. And, when you upgrade your equipment, the power filtering and cables will already be good quality ones that can continue to be used with your new equipment.
    While the brands being sold by the big box stores are generally overpriced, their functionality is something that should be considered.

  4. John T says

    Just to followup and explicitly answer Joe’s questions.

    1) As I mentioned, a UPS won’t necessarily offer good protection and power cleaning. The battery in between and the circuitry that controls it might translate noise through whilst connected to the outlet. Of course you could unplug the two you buy and watch 15 minutes of TV at a time… In addition, the battery output isn’t neccesarily a ‘clean’ power signal. It might have peaks and troughs and ‘noise’ as the battery level drops, etc. My advice in a nutshell: don’t rely on a UPS for power cleaning and protecting a set of home theatre components (not even two or three UPS’s).

    My current client is installing a $1k power system on his $12k home theatre. Less than 10% of the cost is going into protecting the power supply to the rest of the system. This is great protection, and would be somewhere around ‘best’ on the good, better best rating, but I would put a UPS below ‘good’ for such a home theatre. It really depends on what you’re installing as to where the protection falls. A UPS might be better than ‘good’ for a $800 “home theatre” (LCD screen, all in one package of speakers and DVD for example – yuck).

    2) Yes, the whole home surge protector would really only protect you from the grid, not from in house problems (though it might help). But to be clear, the whole home setup is just to give some basic protection to the rest of the sensitive components in the house that we normally ignore (phones, the bedroom TV, clock radios, etc) and to even help de-stress your more expensive home theatre power cleaning.

    Whole home protection is a bit like putting a chain or a small bolt on a front door. It won’t stop anyone serious about coming in, or stop anyone getting out of the house who came in a window, and you wouldn’t use it instead of a lock at night time (well, I wouldn’t), but you may as well have one cause it’s cheap and slows someone down a bit. Not the greatest analogy, but you get the idea.

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