Jun 3, 2010 12:11 PM, By Kent Morris
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the American landscape is home to more than 10,000 electricity-generating power plants with a tentacle-like distribution network of 157,000 miles of high-voltage lines. As impressive as these numbers appear, the real story is the thin margin of headroom available in the North American grid. Thanks to exponential increases in demand to power electronics, HVAC, and IT data flows, the grid is now experiencing a doubling of line losses from 1970. As with any device, operating the electrical grid at its capacity creates degrading side effects. For AV contractors and integrators, the results are sporadic dropouts, annoying signal interruptions, and even component damage. Professional power conditioners go beyond the typical consumer power strip to deliver safe, reliable AC to sensitive AV devices. Through intelligent application of monitoring systems, fast-acting protection circuits, and safety clamping schemes, power conditioners can make the difference between a successful installation and a technician’s nightmare.
A proper power conditioner must accept incoming electricity in any state and present it to the connected components as “clean.” Though the North American electrical grid is among the most stable and reliable in the world, the signal can be sullied in its journey from source to destination. A multitude of transfer points from station to substation can cause voltage swings, while cross-contamination among connected devices can lay interference on the line before it reaches the AV system. The conditioner’s first line of defense is to employ an array of filters plus shunting techniques to isolate and suppress the line noise. In addition, most products perform double duty as surge and spike protectors, guarding against slow-moving surges as well as highly transient current spikes in both modest and extreme ranges. Finally, some models also provide voltage regulation to output a continuous stream of energy within preset limits even when the incoming power is above or below the norm.
Schneider Electric’s APC brand of protection products is well-known in both residential and commercial environments. The company’s S20BLK is a 3RU model with an extensive list of features and functions. As an integrated web server, it is able to provide remote technicians with management and control over its situation, making a site call to determine status unnecessary. The S20BLK also delivers an impressive battery backup system with an early warning monitor for battery fault condition, making it possible to know in advance that the pure sinewave backup system will operate as intended when it is needed. In addition, the SL20BLK boasts 4080 joules of surge protection and a full-time multipole noise-filtering design with a zero-clamp response time. For voltage regulation, it relies on an automatic step up and down circuit to keep voltage within adjustable limits. To protect data lines, the unit has RJ-11 four-wire, dual-line modem and fax connections as well as cable and video coax points. A multifunction LCD control panel provides local interaction and distinct alarms for battery mode, and overload conditions allow it to call attention to itself when necessary. With a quiet 46dBA noise rating and an unlimited lifetime equipment protection policy, the APC S20BLK brings reliable, discreet protection into any rack situation.
ETA Systems is now part of Mitek Group, the parent of Atlas Sound, and it is enjoying an influx of engineering resources the larger firm brings to bear. One result of this product renewal is the ETA-C15D, a 1RU, 15-amp power conditioner with digital voltmeter and a dimmable front-mounted LED light plus a rear port for an optional gooseneck lamp. Improvements can also be found inside the casing where Dual Clamping Suppression (DCS) technology is applied to the incoming AC mains as well as on both output sections, each with a 1 nanosecond response and 2 millisecond hold time. In place of the typical single front-panel AC inlet, the C15D brandishes two grounded connections along with eight more on its rear panel. Voltage protection includes both under (<107VAC) and over (>128VAC) alerts through the abnormal voltage LED and automatic termination of power to connected devices under extreme circumstances. The UL 60065-certified C15D also has individual indicators for wiring fault, AC fault, and breaker open situations.
For Exact Power’s EP-WSC-15R, common-mode and differential-mode line noise present no problem. The company’s Wideband Filter technology is designed for front-end gear such as media players and preamps. It incorporates multistage, heavy-duty filters with a second set positioned as an additional line of defense against AC noise and RFI. The EP-WSC-15R filters are able to reach lower into the spectrum than standard units and thus provide better rejection on the order of one million to one in differential mode at 200kHz. The result is near elimination of externally generated noise as well as feedback protection from switch-mode power supplies. The EP-WSC-15R also has a five-stage high-voltage surge protection system, custom-wound large toroidal inductors for lower load impedance, a trio of coax in/out protection loops, and an RJ loop for surge protection of network and phone devices. Of the 10 grounded rear outlets, four are dedicated to low-draw wideband applications, two for reverse-filtered switch-mode power amps, and four for standard power amps. At 40lbs. in a 2RU chassis, the EP-WSC-15R represents a solid option in the quest for system protection.
Furman Sound, a name well-considered in power conditioning circles, is showcasing the IT-Reference 15i, a handsomely finished rackable unit with a contrasting silver/black front panel. Behind the beauty lies a wealth of power conditioning prowess including Furman’s Discrete Symmetrical Power for elimination of hum bars and noise-induced ground loops, dual-screen transformers to improve bandwidth, and Linear Filtering Technology (LiFT) for reduced noise under varying conditions. The IT-Reference 15i is able to deliver stable power to media devices while simultaneously handling the higher reserve requirements and low impedance needs of power amplifiers through the firm’s Power Factor Technology and its 55A peak charge. The 15i has a total of 11 outlets, is ETL-approved, is rear-rail-mountable, and carries a limited five-year warranty.
When the protection job calls for a 20-amp device, Juice Goose offers the JG11.0-20A, a heavy-duty version of the company’s stalwart JG11.0-20A model. Sporting 11 outlets (10 rear and one front) and a handy extra-long 5-meter power cable, the JG11.0-20A is akin to a work-ready truck. A front-panel resettable circuit breaker and three-year warranty complete the feature set, but the rest of the story lies inside the metalwork. Simple but effective metal oxide varistors provide voltage spike protection while capacitors filter the AC line against interference. For straight-ahead commercial applications, the JG11.0-20A makes a compelling case for inclusion.
Larger installations call for a device capable of functioning as the power center for a cluster of racks. The IsoCenter from Middle Atlantic Products offers four-branch 20-amp circuits in a same-phase design and is quiet enough (27dBC) and contained enough (no magnetic leakage) to mount directly into a rack. It is a serious attempt to prevent insufficient wiring technique, poor equipment design, and lower-grade components from interfering with multipoint AV system functionality. While not a panacea, the IsoCenter does provide isolation from lighting dimmers and includes a highly efficient (greater than 98 percent) transformer, a well-thought-out reference ground scheme, and automatic shutdown when faced with extreme over/under situations. Connected equipment is protected from voltage spikes and voltage induction on the ground wire feeder thanks to a clever neutral-ground bond point. The IsoCenter is available as both a 208V (ISOCTR-5R-208-NS) and 240V (ISOCTR-5R-240-NS) version, each with 18 3-pin Edison outlets and a NEMA l6-30P unit termination.
The PM series from Panamax has won industry awards and is best represented by the top-of-the-line M5400-PM, a technology-packed appliance with thorough line conditioning, sequential powering, voltage regulation and monitoring, a USB charger, and a front-panel LAN port. Though feature-laden, the M5400-PM has a logical control section with toggle-based arrays simplifying what could have been a congested interface panel. The cool blue LEDs combine with automotive-inspired surround-lit rings to present an elegant face. Lurking behind the curb appeal are five banks of EMI/RFI noise filtration and a regulation system capable of producing steady-state 120VAC from a low of 100VAC to a high of 136VAC. A 3VDC-24VDC trigger input allows source activation of the M5400-PM’s outlets while a set of three coax F-connector loop-throughs provide protection for video and a pair of RJ-45 loops cover LAN and phone devices. Panamax backs the M5400-PM with a three-year product warranty and a $5 million connected equipment protection policy.
Raxxess is now part of Milestone AV Technologies, having joined forces with fellow metal benders Chief Manufacturing and Sanus Systems. The parent firm has retained the PD series of power conditioners including the PD-800L, a no-nonsense 1RU 15A conditioner with dimmable twin pull-out light tubes. Eight staggered rear outlets and one front-panel outlet allow the PD-800 to accommodate wall warts without sacrificing outlets while offering EMI/RFI filtering as well as spike and surge protection across the board. A steel chassis and extra-length 12ft. mains cable complete the PD-800L’s workman-like approach to power conditioning.
In place of standard battery supply standby systems, SurgeX is now offering the SU-1000Li, an intriguing combination of Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) and state-of-the-art surge protector and line conditioner. A-1-1 certification labels the SU-1000Li as a failsafe addition to critical systems while its 10-minute half-load battery supply and included SentryPlus software make it usable for soft stops in complex configurations. SurgeX holds a patent on its Advanced Series Mode surge protection, which is able to withstand 6kV hits a thousand times, meaning it can be installed in trouble-prone regions such as Florida with a reasonable assurance of success. Two of the four AC outlets are battery-backed, and all are included in the protection umbrella.
As part of Tripp-Lite’s Green Solutions initiative, the TLP1210SATG presents a compelling way to protect AV equipment and the environment at the same time. The company’s Eco-Surge system provides a means of eliminating wasted power sent to nonmemory-dependent devices such as amplifiers and DVD players while continuing to deliver power to necessary components. These power-save outlets shut off when not in use and combine with a user-selectable wattage control switch to conserve energy. Rounding out the green approach, Tripp-Lite includes an auto/manual switch for further power reduction. Beyond the ecology angle, the TLP1210SATG is a worthy contender with 3600 joules of surge protection, a dozen widely spaced AC outlets with integral safety slides, complete EMI/RFI filtering, and informative diagnostic and status LEDs. Twin video connectors and a single phone loop are included for system-wide protection. Though not rackmountable, it includes keyhole slots for wall or cabinet mounting plus a lifetime product warranty.
Manufacturers continuously seek to improve the performance of their products. With power conditioners, the goal is to stay one step ahead of the increasingly noisy and dangerous incoming electrical signal. Through advanced technologies and clever application of design, they are producing reliable, safe products the AV contractor can install with confidence. Power conditioners are responsible for the protection of connected equipment, delivery of noise-free power, and as a hub for rack components. They can make the difference between marginally acceptable performance and outstanding results. When compared to the price of their rack mates, their value far exceeds their cost and their inclusion is an effective way to deliver superior service to the client.
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