What’s the Issue? Ever open the doors to your entertainment center, or the closet that houses your audio video equipment and feel that blast of hot air? If you own electronic equipment, you have equipment that generates heat and this is not a new issue but it has become more and more of a problem in recent years. The reason is not necessarily that equipment is producing more heat, but instead more and more components are generating heat and now the accumulation of heat has become more of a problem. Traditionally only the amplifiers and receivers were the culprits but now in days, a variety of components are generating heat and this includes of course the amplifiers and receivers but also cable and satellite receivers, especially high definition units, some DVD players, game boxes, media servers, etc. Individually these do not pose much of a threat for exposure to heat but combined, heat can become overwhelming in a system and cause equipment failure, thermal related shut downs, or simply shorten the life of equipment.

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Bad Trend. There is another trend that also contributes to the problem and that is that more and more homeowners wish to hide their equipment by having the equipment installed in cabinets, closets, or dedicated electronic rooms. Of course when several heat producing components are installed in a closed space, circulation is limited or even non-existent and now a slight issue turns into a major problem. The heat has nowhere to go and accumulates and even if it does not have a noticeable affect, the equipment is being adversely affected and the heat should be dissipated.

What’s the solution? The key is to invest in systems to appropriately circulate air around the components and to also vent the hot air from the enclosures or closets where they are installed. These days, people do not think twice about protecting systems with some level of surge protection but few people think of systems to cool and ventilate their audio video equipment. The difference is that surge protection may protect a system against electrical surges and spikes maybe a few times in the life of the equipment, or maybe never, but cooling products help protect systems every minute they are running. This protection at a minimum extends the life of equipment but it can also prevent systems from shutting down due to built in thermal protection and systems without such protection will simply rapidly deteriorate and fail.

Do you need cooling? So now that you are aware that heat can damage a system, the next step is to determine if your system is susceptible to damage caused by heat. For the sake of time and attention, here’s some generalizations. If you have several heat producing components installed in a cabinet, enclosure, or closet then chances are good that you have an issue with heat. If the equipment is installed on shelving or has plenty of natural ventilation, then your system may be fine without further ventilation or cooling. Another consideration is that generally manufacturers of amplifiers and receivers require at least three to four inches of clearance above the components and you should not stack heat producing components on top of one another as heat will become trapped.

Where to start? So I have a system and want to protect it, what do I need to know and where do I start with determining what cooling products are appropriate for my system? Protecting systems from heat is actually not that difficult. The general idea is to simply increase the airflow around equipment and that can be done relatively easily.

The first thing is to organize equipment logically and this includes determining if you can add spacing between components. If there is no reason to stack components then avoid it and if you do have to, stack components that normally do not produce much heat and then put the hotter running unit on top. You should also avoid placing anything on top of amplifiers, receivers, or high definition cable or satellite receivers as these are the biggest producers of heat and require the most ventilation. If components are installed in a cabinet, try to increase natural airflow and that may include having shelves designed for ventilation or holes drilled so air can flow between the shelves and then also potentially open up the back of the cabinet by removing part or all of the back of the cabinet. If equipment is installed in a closet, ensure there is room for air to flow under the door to the closet but honestly beyond that there is not much to do in closet situations without adding cooling products to facilitate airflow.

If the previous has been done with no or only limited success, then you need to consider adding some specialized products to cool the systems. At this point, consider two different approaches to cooling. The first is to protect the individual components with products designed for this application. This will typically be a unit to simply draw hot air from around the component and circulate that air to dissipate heat pockets that may occur in or around the component. This type of product may be something that is simply placed on the component and can be installed in a matter of minutes. The next approach is to ventilate the system. This essentially means getting the air away from the system as a whole. The previous approach focuses on an individual component while venting focuses on the system as a whole. Venting a system can also be fairly easy and straightforward as there are products on the market that are easy to install and relatively affordable.

One of the best examples is when equipment is installed in a cabinet or entertainment center and then doors are installed to hide the equipment. This is a very common situation but it is also very concerning because equipment is usually installed fairly tight in the cabinet and then airflow is at a minimum and heat simply has nowhere to go. The good part is that the solutions can be fairly easy as the main requirement is to circulate the air around the components and then to ventilate the cabinet as well. It may be sufficient to just ventilate the cabinet if equipment has proper spacing and air can flow through the shelves and different bays in the cabinet. In this case there are a couple of specialized companies that offer products for this application and if air cannot flow freely through the cabinet, consider a unit for protecting the individual components as mentioned previously.

Additional considerations. So far we have covered, and made many generalizations, but obviously there are many variations in equipment and installations so more advanced knowledge of cooling solutions and products is essential. An additional consideration is that noise generated by cooling products can be a serious problem as you may need cooling but don’t want the hum of a fan in the background. Ensure you address this when looking at products and don’t simply fall for marketing materials that state that a product is quiet or whispers as several products on the market make claims of being quiet but are far from it! This probably goes without saying but also consider your budget. If you have a modest system you don’t want to spend $500 for cooling and you don’t have to. There are systems on the market for well under $100 but if you have or are considering a $100,000 system, be willing to add some money to the system budget for cooling protection and this may be 1-3% of the system budget just to provide another generalization. Yet another consideration is to stay focused on the core of the problem and solution. There are some products with ‘bells and whistles’ that may be unnecessary and simply add cost to the systems. This can include temperature displays or other designer features that add nothing but cost to products.

Where to get cooling products? There are two companies that specialize in cooling solutions for audio video systems. Active Thermal Management (www.activethermal.com) and Cool Components, Inc. (www.cool-components.com). Both companies offer a full line of products for most cooling applications and have the knowledge and expertise to provide the right solution for your project. What you do want to avoid though are companies offering cooling products as an accessory to another line of products. These companies have typically attempted to enter a market where knowledge of thermal issues goes beyond their capabilities and in some cases they have copied other products on the market, and seemingly have decent products, but it simply is not their specialty. There are also perhaps some cheaper products or solutions on the market but then you have to be aware of the noise level and quality of the products. An example of this is simply buying a computer fan – this may seem like a decent idea but computer cooling is extremely demanding and usually requires higher velocity fans which also means very loud. Many computer fans are also just cheaper versions of the fans used in the specialized products on the market.

To conclude. So the need for cooling solutions is more and more common with today’s audio video systems but the good part is that solutions are fairly easy to come by. Cooling systems are available for the most modest systems to the grandest of systems and many can be installed in a matter of minutes and require no special tools or only the basics such as a drill and screwdriver. For more problematic situations, most audio video dealers or custom cabinet shops should be able to help with a solution for your system.