December 10, 2008
| by Steven Castle
Looking for a smart surge suppressor to save energy by shutting down your home entertainment system components completely when they’re not being used?
For the past several weeks, I have been using two Eco Smart surge suppressors from Micro Innovations, the SP1000ESG ($90) and SP2000ESG ($100). They have eight and 10 power outlets, respectively, and will cut power to some of your components when they shut off or when a drop in power below 70-percent is detected. That means no more vampire or phantom power being consumed by a DVD player, receiver, or other components when they are “off” but still plugged in. That helps the both the electric bill and the environment (as most of us still get electricity from coal and gas-fired power plants).
Micro Innovations also touts the units’ X3 ceramic-encased MOVs (metal oxide varistors, which are used in most surge suppressors), as having better temperature control in the event of a surge. That’s nice, too, though I think the real benefit of these units is in their intelligent design.
Three of the rear outlets are for unswitchable sources. That means you can plug a cable box or DVR that you never want to cut power to completely, and those will stay on when the others are off. That helps simplify wiring schemes.
The only other major differences between the eight-outlet SP1000ESG and 10-outlet SP2000ESG are the displays and joule ratings. The SP1 has a small power bar on its front that tells you how much amperage your components are using, from .5 and 15 amps, while the SP2 has a larger display that shows the number of amps you’re using, from zero to 15. (And since we’re used to thinking more in terms of watts than amps, it’s math time: watts equal volts times amps, so in the U.S., multiply the display number by 110 volts to determine how many watts you’re drawing.)
Joule ratings—the higher the better for surge suppressors—are 4,320 for the SP1 and 6,480 for the larger SP2.
So how did they work? Set-up was a matter of simply plugging components in and knowing which ones should go in the switched (or smart) outlets (DVD player, receiver, TV) and which ones go in the unswitchable or “always on” outlets (TiVo and cable box).
Both units could cut all power to my DVD player and receiver when they were “off”—and I know it did this because my DVD player has a standby LED that lights when the player is “off” but still drawing standby power. When that little sucker shuts off, I know the DVD player is not consuming energy unnecessarily. When my components were powered completely off, the Eco Smart surges would not allow my DVD player and receiver to be turned on manually. I needed a remote for that.
And here’s where I ran into some minor annoyances. Any one of the remotes in my family room would bring the DVD player from completely off to standby when used—even when I didn’t want to use DVD player. The suppressor could shut down the DVD player and receiver all night and for most of the day, but as soon as the kids came home and dialed up Sponge Bob, there was that LED on the DVD player glowing in ominous standby.
So I unplugged the TV from the smart surge, but still the surge picked up the IR signal and let my completely off components consume power when I didn’t need them. The manufacturer, Powertech Industrial, insists that the units were operating exactly as they were supposed to. At least they didn’t fully power on the DVD player and receiver unnecessarily.
Both the SP1 and SP2 worked well and would help control electricity use in most family room home entertainment systems. Though returning unused components to standby bugged me. I previously had the DVD player and receiver plugged into a simple switchable surge suppressor, and manually turned it on when we wanted loudspeaker sound, music or a movie on DVD. The SP1 and SP2 were more convenient, but no doubt cost me a little more in standby power.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates