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The variety of stand-by energy saving devices has increased rapidly in the past few years as people are becoming more and more aware of the need to avoid wasted power usage on appliances that are doing nothing.  A few years ago, I reviewed the Tricklestar master-slave power device. A master-slave power device is based on the idea that there are many appliances that are dependent on a master and are not useful at all on their own.  When the master is not in use, the master-slave power board cuts off all power to the slaves.  Examples are the PC with monitors, speakers and printers, or the TV with XBOX, Playstation, DVD player, set top box and amplifier.  Some of these master-slave power boards have multiple slaves as well as one more constant slots for the items that must always remain on (e.g., the printer if it is also a fax, the recording device for the TV or the amp if you play music on it).

I largely gave up on master-slave devices for a few reasons, outlined in my review of the Future Switch, a device that remotely turns off any power to a socket with the click of a remote switch.  Sometimes, the master-slave devices were quite annoying.

Now the government has latched onto the idea of reducing stand-by power and has given grants to companies to enable them to install stand-by power saving devices free to homes that don’t currently have any such solution.  The scheme allows a household to have four devices fitted by a qualified professional at no cost at all.  The product being supplied is produced by Embertec and there are two such products.  I managed to get a hold of one of each of them and here is my opinion:

The products are called the EmberPlugs AV and PC.  According to Embertec, it is “an intelligent and intuitive device that addresses both standby and active power wastage and you don't have to do anything differently, just connect!”

The main component is called a SmartSwitch.  On the EmberPlug PC, the SmartSwitch is the whole product – you plug the computer into the ‘computer’ socket and a power board for the peripherals into the ‘Power Saving’ socket.  Then you plug the SmartSwitch into your mains.  However in spite of all the talk, this is really just a master-slave power board with one slave and no constants.  The only thing unique about it is that it waits 60 seconds after the master is turned off before turning the slaves off.  This is probably useful if you reboot your PC or if you disconnect the power from your laptop for a moment.  It does look nice and the colour coding makes it easy to identify the plugs for the computer and the peripherals.

The Embertec AV looks similar but is actually very different and it really is smart.  Its two plugs for ‘Always On’ and ‘Power Saving’.  You connect your devices to it, then plug in the SmartSensor to the SmartSwitch and place the sensor next to the TV.  It has two main actions:

1. When you turn off power to the television, it detects the lack of power usage.  The smart sensor then flashes for one minute and turns off power to all devices.  I haven't played with this too much, but it must work by detecting that no power is being transmitted through the 'Power Saving' socket, so if your amplifier is still on playing music, it will not turn off the power.  This most useful feature is actually not even documented by Embertec at all - I have no idea why - they need to hire an advertising agency.

2. The second mode is the one most promoted by Embertec, but I think it is the less useful mode.  They call it Powerdown.  The SmartSensor detects remote control activity and if there has been no activity for 60 minutes, it starts to flash for five minutes.  If you do nothing, it will turn off power to the devices on the ‘Power Saving’ socket.  When you use the remote again to turn on the TV, the SmartSensor detects this activity and immediately allows the remote to work, so that your TV turns on.  I don't really get the point of this mode, as it will only occur in three situations: (a) where you are watching a long movie or show and it is just a pain in the neck; (b) when you fall asleep in front of the TV; or (c) when you leave the TV on by mistake.  For most people the latter two situations never happen.

The positives

There is a lot to like about this device. Basically, you can make it work in a way that suits you:

  1. You can also use it like a simple switch.  If you want to cut off all power manually, just  press the button on the SmartSensor.  It will flash for a minute and then cut off all power to devices.  I have one tip - turn off your TV with the remote before shutting off power with the SmartSensor button (or with any other energy saving device).  It is best to allow the components of the TV to stop ‘naturally’ before being jolted out of action (although I'm told modern devices cope better with this).
  2. You can manually change the Powerdown to 2 hours, 3 hours or completely deactivate it.  I have mine deactivated so it only works in the first mode above (I never fall asleep while watching TV or leave it on by mistake).
  3. The EmberPlug AV also works perfectly with people who are used to using remotes and not turning devices off at the switch.  This is a great solution for a scheme which is only applicable to those with no standby-power devices.
  4. This smart device solves many of the problems of master-slave devices:
    1. One of the issues with master-slave devices for the TV was when you watched a movie and turned the TV off before remembering to take out the DVD.  You would have to turn on the TV just to get a DVD out.   With the Embertec AV, you have a minute to open the DVD (while the light is flashing).  If you are too late, you can still turn the DVD player back on with the remote (the Smart sensor detects any remote activity and turns power back on).
    2. Another limitation of master-slave devices was with appliances that are usually slaves but sometimes work on their own, such as the amplifier.  With the Embertec AV, you can just use the amplifier as normal - the only issue is that you’ll have some standby power going to the TV while you do so (if you haven't turned it off at the switch).

The negatives

  1. It is possible that there are some issues in the Powerdown mode.  I originally programmed the device for 3 hour shutdown.  My children have told me that the device cut off power to their XBOX even though they had not been using it for three hours.  I wasn't there so I don't know what was wrong, but I since deactivated the timer mode and it works fine now.
  2. You do have to press the remote twice to turn a device on - once to trigger the SmartSensor to allow power to devices, and then once again to turn on the device.
  3. The lights on the Smart Sensor will flash for one minute after the TV is turned off.  You will have to learn to get used to this.

Although I love the product, and think the scheme will reduce power usage in homes, I do have some issues with the scheme.  On some occasions, simpler products like the Future Switch or the Eco Switch may be much more suitable.  I would like to have seen the government scheme be based on a range of options, so that the most suitable options for each individual household is chosen.  I’m also concerned with scheme that pay a company an amount of money to give free services to households - it is way too open to abuse.  A simple rebate system would have been far more appropriate.

I also don't understand why they focus on the timer mode (which for most people is useless and just a pain in the neck), when you can deactivate this and still get a great amount of use out of the device, without the hassle.  In fact, with the timer function deactivated, it is a much more seamless process to start using the device.

Many companies are installing the Embertec devices under the Victorian government program.  To get the Embertec plugs, just google ‘embertec’.  


electricity, energy saving, power svaing, standby