By Kevin Hunt
SPECIAL TO THE TRIBUNE
February 17, 2008
You know the major offenders -- the refrigerator, the electric clothes dryer and, in the summer, the dehumidifier -- but we're taking on "recreational" electricity here. It's the hi-def televisions, DVD players, audio-video receivers and iPod speaker docks.
Watts Up?, from Electronic Educational Devices of Aurora, Colo., comes in four versions: a basic $96 model to the $236 Watts Up?.net, which transfers data over the Internet. The entry-level Watts Up? I tried works much like another power meter I tested about eight months ago, the $20 Kill A Watt. Plug in the meter to a wall outlet, then plug your HDTV or iPod dock into the meter's outlet.
Though both produce similar results, the Watts Up? is better on several counts. Where the Kill A Watt requires the user to do some math to figure out the monthly electricity costs of your equipment, for instance, the Watts Up? does the computation. All you do is supply the cost per kilowatt hour -- how the electric company measures power -- from your latest electric bill.
So I knew immediately that if I left my monster 60-inch plasma on the entire month, it would consume 337 kilowatt hours and, at 18 cents each, cost $60.60.
This plasma might look great, but it'll never get Energy Star approval. A Toshiba HD-A30 HD DVD player, however, earned its Energy Star rating by consuming only 0.7 watts in standby. Compare that to the 5 watts sucked up in standby by the Oppo DV-981HD DVD player.
But in full operation, the Oppo (12 watts) would actually cost less per month than the Toshiba (17.75 watts). With that information, I would turn off the Oppo completely (no standby) after each use but leave the Toshiba in standby mode.
The Watts Up? also measures cumulative cost -- how much you've spent on power since you first started testing the HDTV or DVD player -- and can detect when your equipment has exceeded a designated power threshold. If you suspected a refrigerator was using too much electricity, the Watts Up? could tell you how often it uses more than, say, 100 watts. Excessive power consumption could mean a bad motor or low freon.
Best of all, the Watts Up? is easily accessible with its power cord and compact-console design. The plug-in Kill A Watt, though tougher to use, is still the best deal in power meters.
Turbocharge Your TiVo: An HDTV paired with a TiVo Series3 HD DVR, which stores up to 32 hours of hi-def programming, is a knockout combo -- at least until the TiVo runs out of storage. But you can hot-rod your TiVo with a 1-terrabyte upgrade kit from Weaknees .com. The $449 kit replaces the TiVo's existing hard drive with the 1-terrabyte version that stores 144 hours of hi-def programming.
A 2-terrabyte kit, which includes separate internal and external 1-terrabyte drives, stores up to 292 hours of HD. (Isn't that a single season of "American Idol"?) That kit costs $799.
If the DIY route makes you queasy, Weaknees.com will do the upgrade if you send in your TiVo. The service starts at $49.
If you really want to save the programming on the original TiVo hard drive, an add-on drive is available but not recommended because this dual-drive system ultimately fails.
Plasma vs. LCD: Where did it go wrong for plasma? Everyone wants an LCD set now. Not me. In the 42- to 50-inch category, plasma still has the better hi-def picture.
LCD beat plasma to 1080p and convinced consumers that the higher resolution is automatically better. Under 42 inches, LCD is the way to go. In a bright room, LCD is the way to go.
But a plasma's picture, with deeper blacks and better depth perception, remains the best.
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What: Watts Up? power meter
Hot: Versatile electricity sleuth
Not: Doesn't store information like the other Watts Up? meters
Alternative: Kill a Watt ($20; p3international.com)
Available: cableorganizer .com