Now that you've bought a big-screen HDTV, it's time to protect your investment.
Summer's villainous lightning, power outages and heat-wave electricity drain aren't the only threats to your delicate electronics. Even an air conditioner's compressor switching on can upset the electrical flow to the rest of the house, potentially damaging or straining home-entertainment equipment.
Interference from microwave ovens, hair dryers and window air conditioners can be just as bad.
When you drop $1,000 or more on an HDTV or surround-sound system, there's no excuse to leave it unprotected. Ever seen a light bulb explode during a violent thunderstorm? Now imagine a bolt from above frying the innards of your new 42-inch plasma.
You need a surge protector. It doesn't have to kill your budget, but it must live up to its name.
A voltage surge lasts three or more nanoseconds. A spike lasts up to two nanoseconds. Get a surge protector with a lightning-quick response -- look for one with a response time of less than 1 nanosecond. That will minimize equipment damage.
Check the energy absorption abilities of the surge protector, measured in joules. Look for at least 750 joules, preferably more than 1,000.
High voltages also enter the house through cable and phone lines. Is your HDTV connected to a cable box? The cable box, and the incoming cable line, must be protected. That goes for a phone line, too, if you use one for TiVo or your network computer. Get a surge protector with cable and phone inputs-outputs.
Above all, don't get a surge protector that diminishes your home theater's picture or sound. Those same MOVs that protect your equipment can also screw up its performance. Here are two that offer protection and preserve (or even improve) performance without costing a lot of money:
The Panamax Max 2 Series (panamax.com): A family of five protectors that plugs directly into a wall outlet. The basic model, which protects two incoming lines, costs $57.04 ($32.29 on Amazon.com). Other models protect phone lines, coaxial lines (TV or VCR) and equipment connected with RCA cables.
Each Max disconnects power completely from connected equipment if hit by a catastrophic surge. Response time is less than one nanosecond, and its energy dissipation is rated at 1,350 joules. Panamax offers a $5 million connected-equipment protection policy. That should cover just about everyone.
Monster Power HTS-2000 MKII PowerCenter (monstercable.com): The HTS-2000 MKII offers protection for a home theater, with 12 outlets, three sets of coaxial-cable connections and a pair of phone-line connections. Six outlets are switched, which means they are controlled by the HTS-2000's on/off switch. Use these for DVD players and other components you don't want to leave in perpetual, energy-wasting "standby" mode.
The HTS-2000, a 27-inch-long power strip, includes 2,775 joules of protection, a diagnostic indicator light and digital meters that monitor incoming voltage and current use. It also offers a $250,000 connected-equipment warranty.
The HTS-2000 MKII retails for $230. Not only does it protect the equipment, but it can also subtly improve the picture on a plasma.
But whatever surge protector you get, always play it safe during a violent summer storm: Unplug all your equipment.
Kevin Hunt writes for the Hartford (Conn.) Courant.