Sunday, February 12, 2006

Electrics & Electronics

One issue, when moving from the UK to the USA is the problem of electrical/electronic compatibility between the countries. This is a potentially expensive problem. I thought I'd outline what we did. If you're thinking of making the same move, perhaps you can make use of some of our good ideas or learn from our mistakes.

The main issues, as I see them are:

  • The US mains power supply is 110 volts, with a frequency of 60Hz, while the UK supply is 240V and 50Hz.
  • US colour encoding uses NTSC and the UK uses PAL.
When making the move, some people sell everything in the UK, then buy all new stuff in the US; but that is an expensive option, so we decided on a compromise.

We decided that the frequency difference should not be a problem for any devices that do not involve timers. Anyway, buying frequency converters would be more expensive than just buying everything new in the US. We took many of our electrical items with us because we decided that buying a few transformers would be cheaper. We gave away small, cheap items -- clock radios, kettle, toaster and that sort of thing.

There were some items that we did not want to get rid of:
Emily and Lauren's micro systems that are in their bedrooms

They wanted to keep these because they were birthday presents and fairly new-ish. One small transformer for each of their bedrooms sorted these out. The plan was to plug their bedside lamps into the same transformers, but they're still in a box somewhere.

Our computers

The laptops were fine -- they are all 100-240V and 50/60Hz, but the desktops and peripherals were a bit more problematic. Mark's desktop had a switch that allows conversion between voltages and frequencies, but mine did not. The peripherals were also a mixed bunch. I didn't want to get rid of my desktop even though it's a bit old and slow by modern standards (only 1G Athlon CPU) because I've done a bit to it -- added an extra CDRW, a firewire card, an NIC card, an extra hard drive, extra RAM; and I put a couple of operating systems on it (Windows and Linux). It's chunky, slow and temperamental, but it's my baby. If it was just the computer, I may have bought it a new power unit; but as there were other devices with this problem, I decided to buy a single transformer for the study/spare room. Any devices that would work off the US power supply were plugged into the wall (just using UK to US adapter plugs), any others went to the transformer.

A good tip if you're thinking of doing this is to take your multi-point extension leads with you from the UK. I just plugged one extension into the transformer, then everything else into the extension.

Televisions, VCRs & DVDs

We have lots of PAL videos and DVDs, so we needed a way to be able to play them in the US.

Our DVD player was a small TEAC separates system, which couldn't be made multi-regional via a handset hack. We could have paid a bit of money to have it converted, but we decided not to. It was cheaper to buy a DVD player from Walmart and handset-hack it to be multi-regional. We took the TEAC with us anyway, just because we couldn't bear to part with it. It is currently sitting in a box. I may unpack it and use it as a CD player (which will just need a little transformer), even though we can't watch DVDs on it.

Although we could watch both PAL and NTSC videos on our TV in England because both our TV and VCR were multi-regional, we would need a video converter (which would be quite expensive) to watch PAL videos on an NTSC TV. Multi-regional devices are harder to come by and more expensive in the US than they are in the UK. In the UK, you can pop into any electronics shop and pick up multi-regional devices; whereas in the US they're only available from specialist suppliers and are rather over-priced.

We decided to give away our main TV, but take with us a small, portable TV, a VCR and the Playstation. The plan was to set up a little "PAL corner" in our bedroom for watching PAL videos and for playing on the Playstation. This is now up and running. We bought a cheap VCR from Walmart to watch our NTSC videos. This means that we cannot watch PAL videos in the comfort of our sitting room, but the comfort of the bedroom is fine.
So, the state of affairs is that we have a transformer in each room that has UK devices in it. Each transformer has a single extension plugged into it and all the UK devices that are in that room are plugged into the extension. We have a "PAL corner" for watching PAL videos, but region 2 DVDs play through the cheap DVD player we bought from Walmart (after a quick handset hack to make it region 0). This, I think, has been cheaper than it would have been to buy everything new. It also helped us avoid the stress that buying everything new would have caused.

By the way, another little tip is that if you are planning on taking a TV, you will need a transformer that can handle a much greater wattage (about x10 or so) than your TV's specifications tell you. This is because a TV will have a huge power surge whenever it's switched on or off.

1 comment:

Ren said...

I think my mother still has the PAL tv and VCR in her basement. I don't think they'd work anymore (we left Australia 17 years ago) but we have some home videos so that's probably why she's holding on to them. We really need to look into it.