While they are probably well acquainted with power failures, most homeowners are not aware that power management technology exists at all. This equipment, however, not only provides them with a sort of insurance policy that prevents quality degradation or outright damage to their systems, it also serves to reduce the number of house calls a custom installer may be forced to make.
There are a number of entities between the source of generation and your house, and many people think of a power company as some quasi-governmental agency that dips a ladle in a golden lake of power and pours it into the ends of the wires that go into their walls, observed Bob Smith, vice president of Panamax in Petaluma, California. When it comes to power distribution, he added, its not so much a question of making it, but managing it.
While residential systems are growing increasingly sophisticated, this doesnt mean that sensitive electronic equipmentno matter how advanced it may bewont fall victim to the power surges, spikes, brown-outs, and black-outs that occur for any number of reasons. Those living in Florida, for example, are accustomed to a stormy climate, and the ensuing power outages that result. Even residents in the most temperate of geographical locations run the risk of seeing at least some fluctuation in their power, as utilities struggle to keep up with demand. Just ask any Californian who grew accustomed to going without air conditioning during the brown-outs, or those who were in the Northeastern U.S. when the entire grid went black.
Smith acknowledged that initially, the main concern for power management systems manufacturers was to deal with power irregularities. There were spikes and surges, and the main concern was preventing damage to the equipment. We created point-of-use surge protectors for sensitive circuits like microprocessors, he said. However, as audiovisual gear became more prominent in the home, the focus shifted to dealing with power irregularities. As the A/V world came into being, we moved into conditioning powereliminating signal impurities off of the power line so that the picture and sound would be as the manufacturer intended the equipment to produce.
Michael McCook, senior principal and co-founder of SurgeX in Pipersville, Pennsylvania, summarized the demands on power management technology developers in this way: What has been important will continue to be important. [Its about] the removal of power anomalies from the AC power line, such as transient voltage surges, EMI/RFI interference, and the ultimate protection of the equipment that is being utilized by the consumer, he said.
SurgeX recently celebrated its sixth North American patent for Advanced Series Mode technology, which is a follow-up to the companys Series Mode technology. This type of product has typically been known as a surge suppressor, and prior to our technology coming along, was dealt with by surge diverters; surge energy would appear in your building, and a device would divert it or attempt to move it to the ground rod, or to Mother Earth, McCook explained. Our technology blocks, contains, and manages that energy, and what we have removed any artifact of that surge net.
Furman Sound has also been putting hard work on filtering technologies to combat AC line noise, which it sees as the bane of already outdated overtaxed power grid system. Furmans filtering technology reduces noise linearly across an extremely wide bandwidth, explained David Dilitkanich, marketing manager for the Petaluma, California, company. This linear-filtering technology results in an un-masking effect where low-level audio/video signals that were previously covered by noise are revealed resulting in a crisper picture and clearer sound. Additionally, through a unique technology called discrete symmetrical power which utilizes very large (50-60 lbs) transformers, were now able to not just filter, but completely eliminate any noise on the AC lineeven ground loops.
Tripp Lite, a longtime player in the power management arena, has also begun to address what it notes as a key issue in the A/V industry, namely the increased application of DLP, LCOS, and other micro-display devices that use high-intensity bulbs. Power surges, sags, and dropouts all shorten the life of the bulb [in micro-displays], noted the Chicago-based manufacturers executive vice president, James C. Folk. Often the single replacement of the bulb will cost more than the Tripp Lite UPS that protects the bulb from these types of power problems. Our biggest challenge continues to be in educating the users of audio/video electronics on the quality of power and how it effects their systems performance. Patrick Donovan, senior product manager at American Power Conversion in West Kingston, Rhode Island, pointed out that as home entertainment systems move to the network, battery back-up becomes an important part of the power management scheme. Most A/V systems feature hard-drive based components, he said. If you lose power at the wrong time, you can lose everything on the hard drive, you can corrupt the files, or you might lose a scheduled recording. The same goes for home automation systems, where presets may be lost in the event of a blackout, often requiring a custom installer on site to reprogram them.
Donovan said that he views power management and backup as relatively inexpensive insurance for expensive equipment. Many people have homeowners insurance that might cover some of these things, but not all of them will, he said. For a few hundred dollars, you can protect an investment that cost thousands of dollars without having to worry about contacting your insurance company and going through that hassle. Its a matter of making people realize how much money they have invested and for a small fraction of the investment, they can protect that equipment.
Its up to the custom installer, therefore, to clearly relay the importance of power management. Dilitkanich said that he encourages integrators to do research and learn the different technologies offered by power management manufacturers. Of course plasmas and projectors may be more interesting, but there is some amazing new technology in AC power management that can make a big difference in a system, Dilitkanich said. Plus its great insurance against down time and service calls. A customer who spends $30,000 on an A/V system will not be happy if the picture distorts every time the neighbors air conditioner cycles on. Its a real service to your clients to spec in a power conditioner into every job. And, as an added bonus, theres some great margin to be made in attachment sales.
Smith suggested that by placing these power management tools near the top of the proposal, the chances of them being eliminated from the final system are decreased. If you put it up front at the top of the proposal, the custom installer has shown the customer that he considers it an important part of the system, and it doesnt come off of the invoice, he said.
Dick McCarthy, president and co-founder of Richard Grays Power Company in New Orleans, Louisiana, said that he believes that top lining power management on the spec sheet contributes to a custom installers reputation. Customers rely on professional installers to deliver them quality solutions and expertise beyond what they can find at a traditional retailer with limited services, he said. It doesnt do their customers or themselves much good, and can even cause harm to their reputation, if they do not spec in power delivery products on every system. No matter how good the equipment they sell or install, if it doesnt get good, clean, stiff power delivery, the components cannot operate to their maximum performance.
In doing this, custom installers minimize the risk of dealing with an unhappy client down the road, who may then not bother referring the company in the future. Its incumbent upon the custom installer to make sure that its in there just because the system should stay up and running, and remain undamaged, Smith declared. A job grows less profitable with each service call, he adds, and clients are reticent to refer your firm even if you solved the problem.
Smith points to booming sales in flat panel technology as a reliable meter by which to measure the continued growth of the residential market. Plasmas, however, will continue to drop in price, reducing margins even further, making power management technology a more profitable bet for installers. It behooves the custom installer to include power management, not only because it protects the equipment and gives the customer a better picture, but for their own profitability they need to include higher-margin accessories like power equipment.
Carolyn Heinze ([email protected]) is a freelance writer/editor.