A walk through the high-definition TV section of a local electronics purveyor will certainly take your breath away, as HDTV is one of those rare new technologies that offer a truly demonstrable improvement over previous formats. You certainly don’t have to be a tweaker to understand and appreciate the cinematic quality of the latest plasma, DLP, and LCD models, as images practically jump off the screen with razor-sharp detail.

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Just as the image is a quantum leap better than anything you may have seen in the past, the audio section is usually a quantum leap in the opposite direction. However, both the audio and video can often be greatly improved upon with a component that is as easy to use as plugging a power cord into a wall outlet or power strip.

That component is a quality power conditioner. Though consumers rarely think beyond simply powering up their electronics, the fact is that when it comes to the health and performance of an audio/video system, electricity is akin to blood, and it must be continually fortified if the various components are to function at maximum output and ideal performance.

The “power conditioner” label is slapped on a slue of products, many of which are glorified surge protectors. Sure, they may look impressive in a rack, but generic models do little more than the average power strip, with some providing even less protection due to cheap ingredients like metal oxide veristors that eventually wear out and add noise to the signal.

Wikipedia defines the term “power conditioner” as, “…an electronic device, commonly taking the form of a powerstrip, that smooths out the peaks and dips of common household AC power. They create smooth power for precision electronics, such as sound equipment. Many power conditioners also function as surge protectors…Audiophiles appreciate that electrical signal noise doesn’t come through speakers when a power conditioner is used to condition the electricity powering the speakers.” A bit simplistic, but mostly on target. What the Wiki contributors omit is that, like most of the pieces in your system, that there are definite differences between good, better and best. Audiophiles certainly get it, but so do laypeople who simply want the best performance from their home theater. A true power conditioner offers significantly more than surge protection, with improvements that are at once noticeable and strikingly better. A high performance conditioner offers consistent noise reduction across the entire bandwidth that, when combined with a low impedance power path, results in significantly greater detail, in low, medium and high volume environments, while at the same time do not contribute any degenerative qualities.

Uh, oh. This is starting to sound overly technical when one of the benefits of a power conditioner is its utter simplicity, both in design and function. From the outside, a high performance model will appear to be a, well, sleek black box. There will be up to twelve three-prong outlets, similar to those found on the wall or a power strip, and perhaps a light to indicate the juice is flowing.

Following is the instructions for virtually any power conditioner worth its price tag: plug in the conditioner, plug your component(s) into the conditioner, make sure the conditioner is “on,” and relax.

That’s it. That is the procedure followed by every movie and music lover who incorporates a conditioner into a home entertainment system. But, with myriad products on the market, it is essential to do a little homework before handing over your Visa or Mastercard. For example, value-priced models create what I call a “smear illusion.” By smearing the image or sound across the audience, these products give the illusion of higher resolution when in fact much of the detail is lost. A true high performance conditioner will accentuate the detail while enhancing the natural smoothness of the signal, creating much a much richer soundfield and three-dimensional image.

Visually, you will notice how images practically pop off the screen, with a cinematic quality that even commonplace HDTV monitors can’t match without the aid of a power conditioner. Audibly, you will experience nuances and hear things that you didn’t even realize were on the sound track.

When making an investment in a true power conditioner, be on the lookout for a few key features. First, every outlet should be individually filtered and double-filtered from every other outlet to ensure maximum isolation. This in turn improves low-level resolution and overall dynamics of both the audio and video signals by isolating each component’s noise from affecting other components in the system.

Second, take a little time to hunt around and read the reviews published by leading home theater and audiophile magazines. Even if you aren’t a hardcore enthusiast, it’s always best to check in with the experts before making a purchase.

Every link in your home entertainment system should be the best your budget allows. Think of the power conditioner as the bloodline. Anything less than the best will only lessen the vitality of your system.

John McDonald and the late Richard Smith formed Audience, LLC in 1997. Since then, the company has become one of the most respected producers of high-performance, audiophile grade cables, powerChords, Adept Response Power Conditioners, Auricap capacitors, and Auric Illuminator resolution enhancement treatment for optical discs. For further information, visit www.audience-av.com.