Home Technology Blog

Surge Protectors Get Smart

December 9, 2014 | Comments

Power strips are practical little devices. In addition to providing a place to plug in a half dozen devices, they keep power cords tidy and encourage you to get rid of unsightly extension cords. In some cases, power strips - or more appropriately, "surge protectors" - provide some degree of protection against potentially damaging lighting strikes and electrical spikes and dips. But beyond that, the common power strip is fairly unsophisticated.

Still, it pays to peruse the packaging to find out what, if any, level of protection a power strip offers, keeping in mind that some so-called "surge protectors" don't actually have any protection capabilities. You'll find terms such as "clamping voltage," which specifies the voltage threshold at which protective circuitry becomes active; a "joules rating" that defines how much energy the device can theoretically absorb; and "response time," which specifies (in nanoseconds or microseconds) how long it takes for protection to kick in when there's an electrical event.

As you move up the price ladder, you'll notice that some models even offer a warranty. Read the fine print to see what's covered.

If you're willing to spring for a high-performance "power center," expect to receive a higher level of protection for valuable AV gear and office equipment as well some interesting and useful smart features. Here's a glimpse of the kinds of connected capabilities you can expect to see:

Energy management. Several options are possible, including the ability to kill power to TVs and AV components when they're not in use - like in the middle of the day or during the wee hours of the morning. Ordinarily when components are in standby mode, they still draw residual power.

Some power centers come with monitoring software that enables you to see how much juice an amplifier (or whatever) is pulling and what it costs you to operate. Once you're able to analyze power consumption, you'll be surprised how much electricity certain devices gobble up. Portable heaters and compact refrigerators, for example, can be real power hogs - especially if they're more than a few years old.

Controlled power-up. Some power centers are smart enough to bring a downed AV system back to life in a controlled, sequential manner - turning on the amplifier before the receiver or preamp, for example, to protect your speakers from the dreaded "pop."

Self-diagnosis. The smartest of smart power centers can sense when an Internet connection is lost and automatically reboot the outlet feeding your modem or router.

Remote control. Some power centers can be controlled via a smartphone so you can "reboot" a specific outlet when you need to reset a frozen router that's giving your kids an excuse to avoid their homework. By the same token, you could play poltergeist and mysteriously turn off the TV to ensure homework gets done without distractions. All this from your office.

Remote notification. Imagine receiving an email that alerts you of a power outage and another one that notifies you when power is restored. Yep, a smart power center can do that, too.

To learn more about products that protect and enrich home technology, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.