Expert Viewpoint: Powering the Home Theater

Power management helps meet expectations for high-end home theaters in luxury condos. 9/01/2008 8:00 AM Eastern

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.

Panamax MFP-400

Power-management systems such as the Panamax MFP-400 ensure protection for high-priced AV equipment against disruptive, dissipative, and destructive power disturbances.

Factories and other older buildings that have been converted into luxury condos come with a high price tag and thus attract high-end clientele. For such a unique, distinguished home, the inclusion of a home-theater system is understandable — and discerning clients will expect nothing but the very best audio and video quality, as well as maintenance-free performance.

For the AV professional, installing home theaters in old buildings and meeting user expectations raises a number of architectural and power-based issues. Renovation of an old building in general tends to involve a full restoration of the electrical system, because old buildings will often provide no ground wire and will have aluminum instead of copper wiring. That being said, installers must be concerned with protecting the performance of the system, shielding components from the power fluctuations that plague older buildings, and working around architectural challenges to install remotely located components in an aesthetically pleasing manner — all while avoiding inconveniencing the homeowner with regular service calls.

All of these issues can be addressed by using proper power-management solutions.


For AV professionals, optimizing the performance of home-theater components in any residential installation is a primary concern; component longevity is often the defining issue for the user. The goal for the installer is to meet both objectives: providing the best sound and video quality, while protecting equipment from power anomalies that can damage or even destroy electronic equipment.

The challenge in achieving this goal lies in the fact that the power coming out of electrical outlets is not 100-percent clean and stable, especially with older buildings being even more susceptible to power fluctuations than newer structures. And while the ultra-sensitive circuits in today's professional AV equipment are technologically superb, they are also very fragile.

Therefore, when installing a home-theater system into an old structure, it is imperative to employ an advanced power-management system. A comprehensive power-management system will filter out the AC noise present on the line for improved component performance, while at the same time protecting connected equipment from spikes and transients that are all too prevalent in today's utility systems.


Power is contaminated with noise from a variety of sources, one of which is the proliferation of noise that is produced by computers and microprocessors that receive power from a switched-mode power supply (SMPS). The list of sources in the household containing these small devices is endless. This noise severely impacts AV performance by masking much of the detail needed for the best possible sound staging and video image resolution, and it can affect the reliable operation and longevity of today's sensitive equipment.

To significantly improve video and sound quality, a power-management system acts as a filter, reducing much of the undesirable noise on the AC line and thereby preventing it from interfering with AV signals. There are two fundamental types of noise: differential mode (asymmetrical noise from appliances) and common mode (symmetrical noise such as 60-cycle hum from ground loops and RF noise). When filtering AC power, it is important to reduce the level of noise linearly (evenly) — which eliminates common symptoms of AC line noise, allowing equipment to perform at full capacity for an optimal home-theater experience. If an AC filter is not designed for audio and video components or linear in its filtration type, resonant peaking can potentially add additional noise to the AC line, as if no AC filtration were present in the first place. Isolated outlet banks on a power-management system prevent any noise generated by a component within the system from contaminating or back-feeding noise to other equipment plugged into an adjacent outlet bank.

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.


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.

Want to read more stories like this?
Get our Free Newsletter Here!
Past Issues
October 2015

September 2015

August 2015

July 2015

June 2015

May 2015

April 2015

March 2015