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A Look at Trends and Innovations Driving the Power Management and Conditioning Market
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Can you imagine plugging a $100,000 home theater system into a simple power strip or home outlet and revving it up? The gasp that would accompany such an act of lunacy is indicative of how far both consumers and installers have come when thinking about power management, as well as how innovative and sophisticated home electronics have become.

Its no secret that we are living in an increasingly digital world. Ironically, the power grid system that all of us rely on to run everything from HDTVs to HVAC systems has not made any such technological leaps, leaving modern electrical components open to surges, spikes, and AC noise.

Power management products can best address the inefficiencies and challenges of our power grid problem by reducing AC line noise to improve audio and video quality, said Dave Keller, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Panamax and Furman Sound. Additionally, they can provide voltage regulation and UPS backup, which protect components, and compensate for the irregularities and deficiencies in the power supply.

For manufacturers in this technology segment, product developments have been moving along at a steady clip, even as the number of players entering the field has grown. Several manufacturers have said that their innovations have been fueled by installers with an increased awareness of the value-added sales potential of power management products.

As both sales and competition has increased for power management companies, said Kit Driscoll of Monster Power, they have invested more money in R&D and developing products to capitalize on new market opportunities in the home theater marketplacewith a focus on providing protection for AV components and helping to maximize the customers home theater picture and sound experience.

There are four key aspects to power management: surge protection, electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency filtering, voltage regulation, and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). Of the quartet, UPS battery backup and voltage regulation have become the most popular items for installers as they look to protect components from voltage irregularities, brownouts, and blackouts. However, as Michael McCook, senior principal of SurgeX points out, there is something more critical to protecting all of that expensive gear.

What we found from our empirical data is that the source for disruption for our modern integrated systems is power line surges, he said. That is the single-most definable problem that we face. They are happening all of the time. They are happening on a small scale with a building, generated by motors, HVAC, and pumps. All of those devices are creating surges within a building. Then you have more catastrophic-level surges, such as lightning. There can also be power-line faults, grid switchingthings that can be traced back to power generation companies.

SurgeX manufactures a range of power products to combat surges and are coupled with EMI/RF filtering. Most notable is the SX1120-RT, which is best suited for use in AC power distribution systems and is 20-amp load capable, and features eight grounded AC receptacles and one front-panel courtesy receptacle.

Richard Grays Power Company has developed and patented the RGPC Parallel Power Delivery system, which Jeff Lubitsky, vice president of sales and marketing, says is effective because it stores energy in a magnetic field that allows the power products to release the energy as the load demands it. For surges, the company uses a dual-stage suppression system where the majority of spikes and surges are suppressed by a massive iron core inductor (choke) before reaching the metal oxide varistor (MOV). Should the power surge have enough intensity and duration to somehow saturate the core of the choke, only then will the surge be passed along to the virgin MOV hidden safely behind the choke, Lubitsky explained. Then, like typical power line conditioners, the MOV will self-destruct in order to save the components plugged into the RGPC unit.

Furman Sound has introduced proprietary Series Multi-Stage Protection (SMP) technology into its second-generation productsincluding in its Reference i-Series power management range and Elite i-Series of linear filtering AC power sourceswhich combines three filtering and protection circuits that reduce line noise, and is said to improve performance of connected equipment.

Furmans sister company, Panamax, has included linear filtration, isolation transformers, balanced power, and ground isolation in its Max EX and Pro products. The range offers Automatic Voltage Circuitry (AVM), a patent-pending technology, which continuously monitors the incoming power displayed on the LED voltmeter. Of note is the swappable communication card port for either RS232 or TCP/IP in the new Max 7500-PRO, which allows for web-based remote diagnostics and power cycling.

Similarly, Tripp Lite, whose cache of power products include something for every aspect of the segment, has issued affordable UPS systems that feature local or remote (TCP/IP) management and control over power to all components as well as e-mail notification alerts for power outage of a clients system, remote diagnostics, and the ability to reboot the system from your office. What we are doing is constantly reinventing how were bringing the automatic voltage-regulating UPS, and pure sine wave UPS, to the marketplace, said Dennis Mariasis, AB business development and brand manager for Tripp Lite. To take that one step further, we are working with other manufacturers who are writing drivers to work with our products.

According to Driscoll, Monsters newest PowerCenters include power protection and Monster Clean Power noise reduction circuitry, as well as built-in IR control and distribution technology. This technology ensures a customers IR remote control signal reaches their AV components and also allows customers the ability to hide their AV components behind cabinet doors or in remote locationsracks or closetsand still retain full control over them, he added. These PowerCenters are fully compatible with Monsters new handheld controllers and can now be turned on or off with any universal remote control.

As an expanding field, power management and conditioning still has other areas in need of plowing. Several manufacturers are keeping a close eye on the increase in home theater installations, within both retrofits and new builds, which will need their services. As the convergence of IT and AV continues, we can expect to see more complex systems with much greater power demands, said Richard Grays Lubitsky. To help with this, it will become necessary for manufacturers like us to introduce whole-house battery back-ups that can keep an entire home up and running with a clean supply of power during outages or when there is a brown out in the neighborhood. A power delivery system that can benefit the entire house, essentially taking it off the grid will be a major development for installers.

Installers, who have long been complaining about reduced profit margins due to price tumbles of several key products, stand to benefit too, as Keller noted when he said, The protection and filtering provided by power management products is crucial in delivering the best home theater experience possible, and it is up to installers to sell the importance of this technology to their customers. As they do so, the installers revenue will increase, which means high-margin products. Their customers will have a more enjoyable home theater experience, which leads to increased referrals. And, the number of maintenance calls will drop, which can lead to increased profitability.

Llanor Alleyne is managing editor of Residential Systems in New York City.

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