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Expert Viewpoint: Powering the Home Theater

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Marshall Currier

Power management helps meet expectations for high-end home theaters in luxury condos.

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According to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), a surge or transient is a brief over-voltage spike or disturbance on a power waveform that can vary in intensity from just a few volts to extremes of tens of thousands of volts. These disturbances are not as rare as one may think — and they can damage, degrade, and even destroy home-theater components.

NEMA cites three types of effects that transients have on electronic equipment: disruptive, dissipative, and destructive. Disruptive effects are usually encountered when a transient enters the equipment by inductive coupling, where a magnetic field — created by electric current flows — extends to a second wire and induces a voltage. This leads to equipment malfunction as electronic components try to process the transient as a valid logic command. Dissipative effects are associated with repeated stresses to integrated circuit (IC) components. The materials used to fabricate ICs can only withstand a certain number of repeated energy-level surges. Destructive effects include all conditions where transients with high levels of energy cause equipment to fail instantaneously. Most often, there is physical damage such as burned or melted electronic components.

One of the leading causes of AV equipment damage is prolonged over-voltages, such as those that come from wiring faults or accidental connection to 230VAC. These over-voltages can last anywhere from 2 seconds to several hours, devastating electronic equipment. For home-theater systems, particular power-management technologies completely disconnect AC power from connected equipment in the event of a catastrophic surge, while integrated coaxial protection circuits prevent electrical surges that travel over cable, satellite, and antenna lines from damaging equipment. In select solutions, circuitry monitors the incoming AC power and disconnects power to connected components in case of an unsafe over-voltage and under-voltage. Once the voltage returns to safe levels (between 90VAC and 140VAC), the system restores the power to the connected equipment.



Another challenge when installing home theaters in renovated buildings is the structure itself. Many older facilities consist of brick walls, which can make it very difficult to hide unsightly wires for a clean look. So the issue becomes one of how to supply clean power to remote components, such as displays and ceiling projectors, without running cords all over the place. In addition, older buildings also typically consist of large, open rooms. When utility buildings and factories are converted into condos, “inside walls” composed of drywall are added to break up the space into bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. The right solution for remotely located devices depends on the availability of these inside walls.

If there are no inside walls available where the display will be located, the simplest approach is to use compact, slimline power-management products that can be discreetly mounted on the back of a display.


The flatpanel-display business is here to stay. New flat, slim, and elegant TVs are replacing their larger and much less sophisticated grandfathers. These new flatpanel applications require special power-management solutions. Some benefits of the slimline solutions are that the products are out of sight and are not a permanent fixture. They can be easily moved, and they are quite simple to install because they are designed for such an application.

If inside walls are available, the ideal solution would be to remotely power the display through an in-wall product, which allows you to route power from a more robust power-management solution in the rack that may offer better filtration and protection. A comprehensive in-wall product should not only protect connected equipment, but it should offer noise filtration built into outlet receptacles for improved audio and video quality.


While installers are primarily concerned about performance, they must also keep the customer's convenience in mind. Service calls not only mean system down time — they also mean the customer has to set aside time to meet the installer at their home. In addition to protecting components from voltage transients, one way to avoid these service calls is through remote diagnostics via Internet Protocol (IP) communication.

With an IP-enabled power-management product in a home-theater system, installers can monitor the connected components remotely and can see what the devices are experiencing in terms of voltage and current draw, as well as which outlet banks are enabled or disabled. For very common issues, such as problems receiving satellite TV signals, the installer can reset the outlet pairings for those banks remotely. Because this sort of issue can arise quite frequently, the reduction in service calls is dramatic. Furthermore, with an IP card and an Internet connection, the unit will send email alerts to the user and/or installer automatically following a power failure from a line fault, over-voltage, or under-voltage.

In addition to these benefits, remote diagnostics are better for the environment and for the installer's bottom line. Fewer service calls mean less time on the road, which reduces resource consumption and emissions while saving money on fuel. Proper use of a power-management device can save energy and potentially reduce a homeowner's electric bill. Powering down outlet banks on a power-management product keeps attached components from using standby power for reduced energy use.

Marshall Currier is a national trainer with Panamax, a leader in innovative power-management products. The company, based in Petaluma, Calif., sells through an international dealer network and select retail outlets.

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