Power Protection - Power Protection - Implementation Tips and Checklist
Updated: December 10, 2012

Home Theater Power Protection
Implementation Tips and Advice

Power Equipment Ratings, 'What-to-look-for' Tips,
and a 'Before-you-buy' Check-List

Unfortunately, many do not have the necessary knowledge to come up with a most suitable solution to protect their equipment from power surges, voltage fluctuations, and noise on the different system inputs and AC supply rail. The result is often an inappropriate solution that leads to a false sense of security; you see, failure to install the right protection may eventually mean no protection at all.

Help is here! Coming up with the right solution should not be that difficult; just follow through the tips and advice detailed in this guide to discover more!

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Power Protection Selection: A step-by-step guide

Selecting the correct power protection gear is in itself a process that should be done with due diligence. Your choice will eventually determine the effectiveness of the selected protection/power conditioning gear with respect to your home theater setup.

Do not try to under-rate the importance of this process. Remember that the electricity in your house is not your friend; it’s dirty and often lacking in power when your amplifiers need it most. Even more important is that any unconditioned supply might very well shorten the life-span of your electronics. It is true that there is a price to pay for power protection, but...

Do not be tempted to plug any part of your system straight into the wall power socket; worse still, do not plug your equipment into a cheap power strip. Why?

'Dirty' power directly affects your system components by starving them of the power they require to operate efficiently and in the way they were designed to. By choking a component’s power supply, you make it work harder to overcome the dips and sags in the AC line, thereby shortening its life-span and degrade its system performance.

Insufficient power on the AC line will significantly degrade the video and sound quality. HDTVs and video projectors may fail to achieve the required level of brightness when handling predominantly bright scenes. In a similar manner, power amplifiers and AV receivers may fail to deliver the required level of sound especially when operating the system at concert volume levels.

At these relatively high volume levels of music, amplifiers demand instantaneous high currents especially when handling huge bass transients. If your power supply fails to deliver what your amplifiers are asking for, the result would be a compressed response especially at the lower frequency extremes, leading to a loss in the much desired depth and dimensionality of the soundstage.

The use of complete home theater power plants with elaborated line conditioners, separate noise reduction and protected connections for AC line, phone and TV coaxial connections, represents the ideal approach. Unfortunately, these systems do not come cheap; typically, you should allow close to 10% of your home theater budget for a suitable power conditioning/protection solution.

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Deciding on Power Handling Requirements: A first step in power protection design

If failure to supply the right power levels may lead to a deterioration in system performance and a reduced product life-time, then a most important first step towards designing a correct protection solution, is to determine the total power handling requirements to drive all your system components.

An underrated protection solution may also lead to frequent tripping of your protection gear whenever your home theater equipment starts demanding more instantaneous power than that supported by your power line conditioner, automatic voltage stabilizer, or whatever you are using as a power protection solution.

At this point, it is important to realize that for an effective protection solution, you need to plug all equipment constituting your system in your protection device. Do not reason out that if some system component is not expensive, you may leave it out of the power protection equation. Your power protection solution is as effective as its weakest link; any unprotected gear forming part of your home entertainment setup may eventually transform costly power protection into zero protection.

Determining Power Handling Requirements: How much power do you need?

To determine the total power rating for your protection solution, you first need to determine the total peak power requirements for each of your system components; look at each component specification sheet and sum these together; the result would represent the minimum power handling capacity you should aim at for your power protection solution.

A few words of caution here:

Discrete Blu ray/DVD players, pre-amplifiers, etc., normally consume insignificant power with respect to your audio power setup and video projector/HDTV; therefore, a marginal allowance of 100W to 150W should normally suffice. Ideally however, you should get these calculations right off the product specs sheets for each of the respective system components.

In a similar manner, the power requirements as specified on HDTVs and video projectors specifications sheets can be taken to represent the maximum power when operating the TV or protector at typical high brightness levels (which is what consumes most electricity).

Unfortunately, the situation is not that straightforward with power audio amplifiers and AV receivers. Often, the AC power ratings as listed on amplifier specs sheets do not always reflect the total AC power required to handle sustained peak volume levels of music. A simple check is to sum the maximum RMS rating for each of the amplifier audio channels and see if the result is significantly less than the AC power requirements detailed on the specs sheet. If it is so, then you may very well assume that the AC power requirements specified on your amplifier are correct for the purpose of this exercise.

If not, then you have to do your own calculations. Exact calculations are not required, and in any case, these would be extremely mathematically involving. However, with a few approximations, it is possible to arrive at a result that should suffice for our purpose. Ideally, you should have a basic understanding of audio amplifier specs.

A possible way forward is to compute the sum for the maximum RMS audio output for all the different audio channels and then allow for enough overhead for power lost due to the inefficiencies in the audio system. The latter depends on the amplifier class. Most audio power amplifiers come as Class AB; these achieve a typical efficiency of around 55% (despite a theoretical maximum of 78.5%) when operating at full power.

As a rule of thumb for most Class AB power amplifiers, multiply the computed total maximum RMS audio power for all channels by a factor of between two to three; this should give you sufficient power to handle most of your demanding music listening.

Use a multiplication factor of 'two' if you are after a practical compromise between protection system power rating and power protection solution cost; use a multiplication factor of 'three' if your music listening is often carried out at excessive high volumes.

What-to-look-for when planning a Power Protection Solution

Selecting a power line conditioning and protection solution from the myriad of solutions available on the market is often far from straightforward. We hope that this what-to-look-for checklist will be of some assistance when planning a protection solution for your home theater.

What-to- Look For: 

Discrete filter sections: Look for power filters that isolate the different type of signal components from one another. In particular, high current devices should always be isolated from low current ones.

Protection for other connections: Similarly important, choose a power conditioning unit that includes dedicated protected connections for off-the-roof antenna coaxial TV input, cable-TV and/or Digital satellite services, phone-line protection for pay-per-view broadcasts, and other modem-based services.

'Spec' Grade AC outlets: Spec-grade outlets feature large 24K gold-plated internal copper contact blades; these will ensure a reliable and improved long-term energy transfer.

Fast-acting spike protectors: Never try to operate your gear without some sort of surge protection; its cheaper to have surge protection than replacing your home theater equipment due to some major fault following a voltage surge.

Make sure the selected protection gear employs fast-acting surge suppression circuitry to guard your equipment against harmful spikes, power surges, and indirect lightning strikes. Keep in mind that ordinary circuit breakers are too slow to protect your equipment from dangerous over-voltage events.

Beware of cheaply made power conditioners or protection devices; their surge protection elements may end up to be a onetime use only, leaving your system unprotected after a surge.

Remember that the quality of a surge protector is reflected in the price of the protection unit, but not only. Check the joule rating; this measures how much damaging energy the suppressor can handle. Ratings vary from a typical 500 joule up to 2000 and more; the higher the value, the better. For more inform on surge suppressor ratings, please check our guide to Surge Suppressors

A Before-you-buy Check-list

What equipment should be protected?

You need to protect all gear within the audio/video chain; check also if there is any other ancillary equipment worth protecting as well.

What should be the power rating of your power conditioning/ protection solution?

Please refer to the first part of this article for details.

'Do you need line protection for phones, coax and any other part of the network?

It is highly recommended that anything connected to your home theater system — AC supply, TV antenna, phone line, network connections, etc. — will first pass through your power protection gear.

Is there the need for a whole-house protection solution?

This depends on how your entertainment setup is deployed around the house.

How many outlets do you need?

Count the number of system units you will be plugging in; however, you need to differentiate between low power and high power system components since it is advisable that the latter be plugged into appropriate power sockets designed for the purpose.

Do you need to invest in AC line regulation?

If the AC supply is considered stable, voltage regulation is not mandatory, but it is still recommended since automatic voltage regulation ensures that your system components get the AC supply voltage they were designed for.

How much do you need to spend?

This depends on what is your overall home theater budget; it is recommended to allow 10% of your total budget for a comprehensive power conditioning and surge protection solution. Note however that when designing your power protection solution, do not plan for the short term, especially if you are planning to complete your home theater setup over various phases of implementation. Therefore...

Plan your home theater to its completion and then design your power protection solution around your would-be complete home theater.

Also, keep in mind that unlike audio and video system components, you would not be upgrading your power protection gear that often. It would be cheaper to allow for extra power capacity for your protection gear when first planning your power protection solution than going for a total replacement of your protection equipment later to cover for additional home theater equipment later on.

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 Article Content

Issues discussed in this article:

Blue bullet  Introduction: A step-by-step guide to selecting a power protection solution

Blue bullet  Deciding on System Rating: A first step in designing a protection solution

Blue bullet  What-to-look for when planning a power protection solution

Blue bullet  Before-you-buy power protection solution check list

Power Protection Guides

Additional articles appearing under this section

Power Clean Up: Why is it important?

Surge Suppressors (1): A first line of defense

Surge Suppressors (2): A word of caution

Use of cheaper computer-grade UPS as a protection solution in AV applications

Power Line Conditioners: How-it-Works

Detailed Index of power protection guides appearing on our site is available here.

Home Theater Guides

Recommended Technical Reading

Plasma HDTV Guides:

Plasma TVs: What to look for

Plasma TV FAQs

LCD HDTV Guides:

LCD Response Time: Is faster always better?

LCD Motion Blur Explained

Power Line Conditioners and Surge Suppressors

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