By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Boosted by the booming home entertainment category and a proliferation of high-tech audio and video products, a greater selection of more sophisticated surge-suppression devices-beyond simple units for computers or televisions-has become available to consumers.
In support of the growing trend toward protecting digital home theater systems and audio/video components from potentially harmful electrical surges and power outages, accessories manufacturers have increased the number of surge-suppressor SKUs, as well as enhanced product technology.
"Consumers who have been using surge protectors with their personal computers are now recognizing that their video and audio components are, in some cases, even more sensitive when it comes to electrical surges and spikes," said Len Coakley, accessories VP at the Zenith Accessories division of Zenith Electronics Corp. "As a result, surge protectors are becoming a must-have component in home theater systems."
To this end, Glenview, Ill.-based Zenith Accessories is offering powerful new color-coded surge protector models in six-, seven- and eight-outlet configurations.
Zenith's entry-level six-outlet model has a $5,000 lifetime connected equipment guarantee and a 3-foot power cord. Three seven-outlet models feature a $25,000 lifetime connected equipment guarantee, built-in color-coded safety caps, 6-foot right-angle power cord and noise rejection of up to 20dB. One model offers cable TV protection, while another provides phone or fax modem protection. Suggested retails range from $7.99 to $29.99.
Zenith's four-outlet surge protectors allow for three AC adapters and offer lifetime connected equipment guarantees of $50,000, $75,000 and $100,000, built-in color-coded safety caps, 6-foot right-angle power cords, and noise reduction up to 40dB. Included accessories are a 6-foot phone cord, coaxial cable and satellite cable. Suggested retails range from $29.99 to $99.99.
Looking to adapt to consumers' changing needs, Clifton, N.J.-based Gemini Industries is introducing Q3, which it calls the "world's only expandable and fully customizable surge protection system."
Q3 is comprised of linkable modular units that can be added or removed to support a variety of customizable protection purposes. These modules include a variety of protection ratings, multiple AC outlets, coax for DVDs and VCRs, satellite and cable box connections, and phone, fax and modem jacks.
Gemini's Q3 starts with a corded base unit with a lighted on/off switch. From there, the user can add the joule rating modules that are best suited for the equipment to be protected, and then the specific connections.
Consumers can literally design a system based on their needs at the time, and as these needs change, so can the surge protector, according to Gemini.
"Q3 is innovative because it can be completely customizable to specific user needs," said Sherman Langer, senior VP of sales and marketing. "Users control the size and function of the protection and can expand the unit as their needs change. Add a module, subtract a module, it never becomes obsolete."
Q3's adaptable design is also said to be cost-effective. "Because the joule-rated protection elements are individual modules," said Q3 system product manager Susan Blessing, "they can be added if more protection is required, or in case of a damaging surge, replaced altogether. Traditionally designed surge protectors do not have this ability. If they absorb a damaging surge, their protection capabilities are rendered useless, and the whole unit must be expanded."
Gemini is hoping to provide a third-quarter package containing a base unit, a 70-90 joule rating and a four-AC-outlet module for $7.99 to $9.99 retail, said Blessing. Retail prices for the individual add-ons have not been established.
To protect connected home entertainment equipment, Jasco Products is offering its GE-brand Home Entertainment Surge Protector, said to be perfect for entertainment centers that include such equipment as DVD players, televisions, Web TV and satellite systems.
Jasco's model SU93916 offers 1,900 joules and provides AC protection for equipment connected to it. It's equipped with two sets of gold coax jacks to provide surge protection for satellite, cable, cable boxes and antennas, and offers phone-line protection for pay-per-view through a satellite receiver modem.
Oklahoma City-based Jasco's Home Entertainment Surge Protector is armed with five standard outlets and three adapter outlets, each offering a child-resistant safety cover. The product has a limited product warranty and $75,000 connected equipment guarantee. Suggested retail is $49.99.
With a focus on designs for areas where larger power units are not convenient, or necessary, Monster Power, a division of Brisbane, Calif.-based Monster Cable, is debuting its PowerCenter 200 series for home theaters. These compact and affordable units feature many of the cutting-edge surge-protection and performance-enhancing features found in Monster's full-size PowerCenters and include three different compact two-outlet wall adapters, each optimized for its intended connected components, said the company.
Cable boxes and DBS receivers are often placed closer to the cable jack coming from outside than the main home theater system.
To accommodate this, Monster Power offers the HT200, a cordless wall adapter that includes coax line protection for use with cable TV or DBS satellite cable. It safeguards components from electrical disturbances and surge or pulses that could be carried through the satellite or cable TV. The HT200 has a suggested retail of $59.95.
Monster's AV200 is designed for television or any other audio/video component that is farther than a cord-length away from the main power conditioner/surge suppressor. The cordless unit, at a suggested $49.95 retail, provides filtering for noise-free power to both outlets.
All Monster 200 series products feature a minimum of 1,110-joule surge protection and $50,000 guaranteed connected equipment protection and product warranty. A color-coding system assigns each product its own outlets and matching AC cord label for ease of identification when unplugging components.
At Fellowes Manufacturing, product manager for surge protectors Jim Biele said, "Four, five years ago, consumers didn't realize they could get power surges over the phone line. Today, they are educated to this, and we have seen the sales of surge protectors with phone-line protection rise.
"We are seeing the same trend in home theater-consumers are just realizing that they can get power surges through their coax cables," continued Biele. "Because of this, our Premier 10 is selling well. It is ideal for home entertainment because it offers coax protection, it can mount on a wall, it's nicely styled, and it fits in with the furniture."
The newest surge protector from Itasca, Ill.-based Fellowes is engineered to put a high level of outlets and power in the smallest footprint, and the result, the company said, is a space-saving design with a sleek, contemporary look.
Called the Mighty 8, the surge protector has a 6-foot power cord, phone-line protection and eight outlets for three AC adapters. The compact, yet powerful charcoal-black unit is UL and cUL listed and has 900 joules. It comes with a $50,000 connected equipment warranty and lifetime product warranty. Suggested retail is $19.99, and availability is this spring.
Beyond surge suppression products for the home theater category, surge protector makers continue to gear up their lines with a myriad of eye-catching and hard-working devices.
"The California power crisis, for one, has made people acutely aware of the value of continuous, reliable electrical power for their homes and businesses," said Peter M. Ildau, corporate communications VP at Lake Mary, Fla.-based Recoton. "Such potential loss, interruption or reduction of power is why surge-protection products were created."
Recoton, which offers 15 models of its SpikeMaster surge protectors at different price levels, said its products provide triple-line power protection against damaging electrical current spikes for television, fax machines and computers.
Recoton's SpikeMaster SMG-BB8V, for example, offers 1,665 joules, includes TV protection, and provides space for up to five large AC adapters and eight surge-protected outlets. The unit, which comes with an 8-foot heavy-duty cord and 6-foot coaxial video cable, includes a $75,000 connected equipment warranty and $49.99 suggested retail.
"With more and more power failures becoming an issue, not just in California, protecting complex electronic equipment from rolling blackouts and brownouts is critical," said John Maloney, sales and marketing VP at San Rafael, Calif.-based Panamax.
"We have always designed our protectors to disconnect during a surge. With the new Max 8 Premier Series, we have developed smart surge protectors that disconnect during unsafe voltage occurrences, and then reconnect when the power levels return to normal," said Maloney.
Panamax's MAX 8 DBS+5 Premier Surge Protector is one of six units in the Max 8 series shown at last month's International CES. A key feature in the Max 8 DBS+5 is the company's SurgeGate Plus Circuitry, an enhanced power-monitoring system that protects AC equipment against prolonged over-voltages, as well as surges.
In the event of a prolonged over-voltage, SurgeGate Circuitry will disconnect power to the equipment, then automatically reconnect it once the power has returned to a safe level.
The "+" in SurgeGate refers to its ability to protect against prolonged under-voltages or brownouts, said Panamax. The circuitry automatically disconnects power when either event is detected, then reconnects once it has returned to a safe level.
The Max 8 DBS+5, at a suggested $149.95 retail, features eight protected outlets, all spaced to accommodate transformers for maximum flexibility.
Panamax said the Max 8 DBS+5 carries a lifetime product warranty and a $5 million connected equipment warranty; satellite receivers with single or dual LNBs are covered by an exclusive five-year expanded warranty.
Although surge protectors can be one of the most important money-saving products consumers can use around the house, the category often gets short shrift at the store level.
To deal with this situation, Tripp Lite launched at CES a new surge lineup called Protect-It, which features bold red letters on the packaging in a call to action that consumers can't miss, the company said.
"It will alert customers to protect their expensive, valuable and necessary equipment, be it computer, appliance or audio/video related," said Steven H. Esser, sales VP at the Chicago-based company. "We believe that surge products, albeit necessary, are passive products by design. For the most part, because they work without the consumer knowing it, they can sometimes be overlooked on a retail shelf, thus the name Protect-It."
Because accessories sales depend on a quick consumer buying decision, packaging on the new line easily guides consumers to the product, said Esser. The symbols for outlets, joule rating, cord length and insurance protection provide a simple road map to the model that meets their needs.
Tripp Lite's model TLP810NET offers eight outlets (five on one side and three on the other to accommodate transformers), a 10-foot cord, child safety covers, a joule rating of 2,518, audible alarm and two-line fax/modem protection. It comes with a $100,000 lifetime insurance warranty, and protects against lightning, whereas many competitive models don't cover direct lightning hits, the company said. Expected retail is $49.99 to $69.99.
Even fashion colors can play a role in surge-protection products. West Kingston, R.I.-based American Power Conversion (APC) has expanded its SurgeArrest family to include surge protectors designed for the Macintosh environment, as well as the new breed of colorful personal computers. The SurgeArrest unit comes with seven matching-colored kick-guard plates.
"We are committed to providing industry-leading power protection to all major desktop users," stated Joe Loberti, general manager of APC's Consumer Network Solutions Group, "and we see the new translucent colors that Apple has introduced as very exciting. The innovative design and colors of the SurgeArrest units complement the look and design of these new desktop computers."
In addition to the translucent hues, SurgeArrest features eight outlets, including three spaced to handle transformer blocks and two always-on outlets for devices requiring constant power. It includes a building wiring-fault indicator that allows users to diagnose wiring problems as soon as the unit is plugged in.
Each SurgeArrest is equipped with a $25,000 lifetime equipment protection policy for repair or replacement of damaged equipment by a spike or surge, including surges due to lightning. Suggested retail is $49.99.
Other surge protectors offer a power-packed lineup of features to move product.
To this end, Belkin Components has introduced its SurgeMaster II Isolated Power Filters (IPF) series that is designed to protect a user's important data and information from power line noise contamination generated from functioning connected devices. At the same time, it prevents the transfer of this noise to other devices that are also plugged into the IPF surge.
When devices such as a printer or scanner are used, said Compton, Calif.-based Belkin, each filter working together ensures that users will not experience computer lockups, data loss, audio static or video interference.
All SurgeMaster II units have Internet-ready phone/fax/modem protection.
Features include built-in phone splitter, diagnostic line indicators, unlimited connected equipment warranty for the six- and eight-outlet models and $75,000 for the four-outlet unit. Suggested retail prices are $49.99 for the four-outlet, $59.99 for the six-outlet and $69.99 for the eight-outlet.
One feature-rich unit available from Necedah, Wis.-based Invensys Power Systems is the Patriot UPS, which ranges from 250-600VA and works like a surge protector with battery backup. The Patriot provides basic power protection for personal computers and POS equipment and offers built-in telephone or network surge protection.
Six outlets are provided, four for UPS backup protection for outages, and two additional outlets with surge protection only. All are controlled from a single master switch and offer LED and audible alarms for status information. Suggested Patriot retails are $119 for the 250VA, $164 for the 425VA and $279 for the 600VA.
The ADSL Line Protector from Libertyville, Ill.-based ONEAC USA is the newest addition to the company's family of OnLine series voice and data line protection products.
Called the best protection for Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Lines by the company, the ADSL protector features ONEAC's SwitchedFilter technology to shield equipment from the damaging effects of lightning-induced strikes.
"The dynamic nature of the Digital Subscriber Line environment means that conventional telephone network protection may not be adequate," said ONEAC product marketing manager David Anderson.
"ADSL protection provides continuous voice and high-speed data communications, while eliminating any electrically based threats."
The OnLine series ADSL line protectors are backed by a five-year warranty and have a suggested retail of $16.
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