Belkin Conserve Smart Power and Conserve Insight

One of the problems of owning a big stack of AV equipment is that our brains haven’t evolved past the “turn off the TV and everything is turned off” stage. If you hit power on the TV remote, sure the TV goes off, but your AV receiver, PlayStation 3, PVR, Blu-ray player, etc all stay on.

And they chew serious power. A decent system will sit and consume 300 watts of energy, even though you might not even notice it’s still on. Clearly, we need something to fool-proof this.

Enter Belkin’s new line of ‘Conserve’ devices. The two we’re looking at here simplify the switching-off process (the Conserve Smart Power) and also reveal the terrible truth about how much juice your AV rack is sucking down (the Conserve Insight).

Features

The Conserve Smart Power bar is functionally the same as a regular power strip or power board, but it has a Master plug and four Controlled plugs. Switch off the device that’s plugged in to the Master socket, and all the devices plugged into the Controlled sockets will be switched off too. Handy!

There are two ‘uncontrolled’ sockets on the Smart Power, which is useful for devices that you do want to be always on or always available, such as a heater, lamp, PVR or Foxtel box, which need to be always-on to receive programming information.

The Conserve Insight is a simple power usage monitor that goes between your devices and the wall socket. It gives a constantly updated read-out on the amount of power being drawn from the wall, and maps this usage to estimate total cost of using this power, and amount of CO2 generated.

Setup

Quite literally, these are plug and play devices. The Conserve Smart Power board (above) asks you to choose which device will be the Master – typically it’s the TV or AV receiver – and may need to undergo a quick ‘learning’ sequence, which involves holding in a button until a light stops flashing. However, the wide range of devices we tried the board on (including a fish tank) didn’t need to undergo the learning step.

The Conserve Insight is also plug-and-play, though you do need to tell it the cost of your power per kilowatt hour (it’s on your bill) – setting this is much like setting a clock radio, so it’s very simple. There are three buttons on the front of the Conserve Insight to display current power usage, estimated cost per year, and estimated CO2 output.

Performance

Both these products do reliably what they say they’ll do on the box. The Conserve Smart Power board is a handy beast indeed – though it does take a few seconds to switch off the controlled devices once you switch off the Master, which can make you think it’s not working the first time you try it.

The display on the Conserve Insight could be a little clearer — sometimes someone will come past and check out the “cost per year” option, and then when you come by again you’ll panic for a second that your table lamp is using 847 watts of power… even so, it’s sobering to think that leaving an iPod charger plugged in will cost $150 a year, thanks to its constant two watt draw.

Another thing about the Insight, it doesn’t have the functionality to know the difference between off-peak and on-peak rates. We set ours to the peak rate: better to budget for a bigger bill than you’ll actually get!

Conclusion

If these products cost $20-30, why wouldn’t you buy them? The premium price does give pause for thought though. You know that your giant TV and 600 watt surround system uses a lot of power, so don’t you already switch it off at the wall when you’re not using it? And remember, even using the Conserve Smart Power will cost around $100 a year because it draws a couple of watts – it’s always in standby.

And the thing with the Conserve Insight is that your AV gear uses a pretty constant level of power. Once you’ve seen that it draws 485 watts, do you really need a device that tells you that, all day every day?

Still, for some people that constant reminder will make all the difference when it comes to cutting the power bill. And if nothing else, devices like Belkin’s new Conserve range make you wonder: are Australians really ‘struggling’ with rising electricity prices… or are they just living in houses that pull 1000 watts from the wall constantly because they forget to properly turn off all their toys and gadgets?