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Do you have surge protection?
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Whole-house surge arrestors should not be looked upon as the end-all solution, though. Only about 20 percent of spikes and surges are attributable to lightning or power-company problems.

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The rest of the damaging electrical anomalies are often homegrown, generated by our own energy-intensive air conditioners, dehumidifiers, furnaces, refrigerators, sump pumps and other major electrical appliances. And to counteract these, consumers should outfit their homes with suitable surge-protected power strips and UPS devices.

Don't forget home entertainment centers
Just as PCs and their peripherals benefit from appropriate protection, so can the sensitive audio-visual components of modern home-theater systems.

"Computer owners, as a group, are pretty good at protecting their stuff. ... but people tend to forget that they have a lot more invested in their audio-video equipment than they do in their computer system," says Patrick Donovan, senior product manager at American Power Conversion, or APC, a West Kingston, R.I., firm specializing in power solutions. "A flat-panel plasma or a large-screen, rear-projection TV with a complete surround-sound system ... well, here you're talking about a substantially bigger cash investment than a computer, which runs about $800 today. Yet this equipment is just as sensitive to power surges and spikes, and it's often left totally exposed."

Although AV-specific surge protectors have a lot to offer, today's increasingly sophisticated audio-video gear benefits most from an AV-specific UPS. Not only does this more-robust unit protect components from spikes, surges and sound-and-picture degrading electrical-line noise, it also prevents damage from under- and over-voltages, as well as blackouts.

"Over- and under-voltages are the most common problem folks see with fluctuating AC voltages," says Donovan. "When line voltage goes low, your equipment has to draw more current to stay powered, and this puts a lot of strain on the power supply. Fluctuating voltages, unfortunately, can literally destroy equipment over time, and a basic surge protector is going to do nothing for you."

To correct fluctuating voltages, a UPS with line conditioning is important because it can deal with such fluctuations and provide AV equipment with stable, clean power that doesn't cause video or sound distortion.

Unexpected power losses are also a major concern, because they can be especially damaging to expensive AV components. Digital light processing, or DLP, rear-projection TVs and video projectors, for example, use an expensive bulb -- one that needs to be cooled by a special fan so that its filaments don't become damaged. If power is cut off abruptly, that critical cooling process won't take place, and the bulb can die prematurely as a result. Replacing it can cost several hundred dollars.

"Hard drives are also becoming more and more common on today's AV equipment," said Donovan. "It's not uncommon, in fact, to find people using a Windows XP Media Center PC in their entertainment stack, or even a dedicated, networked, multimedia server or a TiVO. And if you lose power at the wrong time, it's possible that you could not only lose everything that was found on a hard drive, but you might even corrupt the hard drive itself, maybe damage it irreparably."

 
 
Next: Buyers will want to ensure that ...
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