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Bringing our US electrical devices to the UK / also NTSC-PAL question
February 18, 2014 2:48 PM   Subscribe

It's generally advised to leave as much behind as possible when moving abroad, but my wife's employer is paying to have a decent amount of our household stuff transported from the US to the UK. And why would we want to waste money buying duplicate items if it isn't necessary and we probably won't be staying more than a couple years? So I'm trying to figure out which of our electronics and appliances might be made to work overseas. I am aware of the voltage difference and the line/mains frequency difference between the US and the UK and I'm considering buying one or two good-quality step-down voltage converters for things that aren't universal voltage compatible. But I have some questions that my Google research has not cleared up.

First, would our TV be able to properly display a PAL signal? I'm assuming we'll be using an HDMI connection to a cable or satellite box. The TV in question is a Sony Bravia KL-32BX300 bought in the US in late 2010 (it is compatible with UK voltage). Here are the specs. Is the fact that it has a 60Hz refresh rate going to be a problem when PAL is 50Hz? I don't see anything in the menu that lets me change the refresh rate, but maybe its hidden. What about the fact that the spec sheet lists the color system as NTSC and the digital tuner is ATSC? I thought in the digital age that the PAL/NTSC divide wasn't such a big deal, but this information makes me doubtful.

Second, we have a sound bar - a Sony HT-CT260. This is not compatible with UK voltage. So let's assume I plug it into a step-down voltage converter. And let's assume that either our TV works with a PAL signal or we end up buying a PAL-compatible TV in the UK. Will this sound bar have any incompatibility with the audio signal it's receiving from the TV over an optical audio cable?

And is it OK to use a step-down voltage converter over a long period of time for things that are used frequently like the sound bar and its wireless woofer?

Lastly, would it be ok to bring a couple of infrequently-used appliances such as a blender or hand mixer (400 watts or less) and to use them with a step-down converter rated to 1000 watts? I've read that the 50Hz mains frequency in the UK means some US electrical motors will run slower and it could potentially damage some appliances.
posted by theory to Technology (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You don't want to take electronics that you will need to put on mains converters. It is really more hassle because it cuts the lifetime of the product in some cases by up to half. I have lost a lot of electronics this way but I can find almost everything (including waffle irons and hand mixers) at very reasonable prices at places like Curries, Aldi, Lidl, Asda, Lakeland, and Tesco.
posted by parmanparman at 3:00 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Having done this before, I have two contradictory thoughts about it.

1. Most major appliances these days are dual-voltage, with built in electronics that can sense and deal with both the voltage difference and, more importantly, the frequency difference. We brought our (stupidly expensive, early days) LCD TV back from Australia to the US and used it without any trouble until we replaced it with a much cheaper, much bigger new model. (The refresh rate is not tied to the line frequency, don't worry about that.)

2. That said, it would be easier by far to put things into storage in the US (a family member's basement, maybe?) and buy new stuff at the other end with the intent of re-selling them when you leave. We did this with most things (except the aforementioned TV) and in my opinion, that was worth the saved hassle.

The power output from converters is likely to be noisy and spiky unless you shell out a lot of cash - I wouldn't do that.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:02 PM on February 18


And why would we want to waste money buying duplicate items if it isn't necessary and we probably won't be staying more than a couple years?

For one, it is likely that your new home will be fairly smaller in the UK than the US.

First, would our TV be able to properly display a PAL signal

PAL/NTSC doesn't really exist any more, because it defines an analog signal which no one broadcasts any more. The spec sheet is listing these for the analog inputs of the TV (for instance, component in).

For historical reasons, European countries broadcast at 50 frames per second and American countries broadcast at 60 frames per second. Sometimes you will see 1080/60i or 1080/50i (for 1080 pixels wide resolution, interlaced at 50/60 fps) to distinguish these two. The spec sheet does not indicate that your TV can receive a 50 fps signal, so I assume it can't. TV manufacturers have historically not been inclined to include multi-country functionality in their products to avoid people taking advantage of lower prices in different countries.

What about the fact that the spec sheet lists the color system as NTSC and the digital tuner is ATSC?

ATSC is an exclusively digital broadcast mechanism (and is only used in the Americas). NTSC is an exclusively analog broadcast mechanism (again, only used in the Americas). This is why the terrestrial tuner is listed as NTSC/ATSC but the analog system is only listed as NTSC. Again, these don't point well towards usage in Europe.

Will this sound bar have any incompatibility with the audio signal it's receiving from the TV over an optical audio cable?
I don't know.


And is it OK to use a step-down voltage converter over a long period of time for things that are used frequently like the sound bar and its wireless woofer?

Unlike parmanparman and RedOrGreen, I have never heard of component degradation from using transformers with systems that don't have motors. I've lived in the UK off and on for quite a while using American audio-visual systems with transformers. Also, as a professional electrical engineer, it's not clear to me what could cause lower reliability from using a step-up transformer. The only drawback I know of is that larger transformer devices tend to be somewhat loud.

Lastly, would it be ok to bring a couple of infrequently-used appliances such as a blender or hand mixer (400 watts or less) and to use them with a step-down converter rated to 1000 watts? I've read that the 50Hz mains frequency in the UK means some US electrical motors will run slower and it could potentially damage some appliances.

Indeed, this can be the case for some motor-driven systems. However, if you are talking about <400W devices, you are probably talking about relatively cheap blenders/hand mixers, so I might suggest chancing it.
posted by saeculorum at 3:13 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


If it isn't dual voltage, don't bring it. If you want to know how much a thing will cost to replace new, check Argos.co.uk. If you want to know how much it will cost to replace used, check your local Gumtree. If you want to know if the prices are crazy, note that in general, if you would pay $175 for something in the US, you should expect to pay £175 for it in the UK as a simple rule of thumb.

Also note that in the UK, it is very very easy to rent things like TVs and major appliances. However, also note that if you are not buying a property, it is much more difficult to rent an unfurnished flat or apartment. Therefore, a rental will likely come with a TV.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:13 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Assume that your TV is US only. Leave the sound bar with it. Even though you're having relocation costs paid this time, are you sure that you'll be given them for the return journey?

would it be ok to bring a couple of infrequently-used appliances such as a blender or hand mixer

Appliances with electrical motors or heating elements are the biggest no-nos, because of the frequency difference and the risk of burnout.

On that note: you'd want to check with your home insurance company in the UK whether you need to declare any appliances you intend to run off a transformer; if your blender sets your house on fire and you haven't mentioned that it's a US model, it may cause you problems. Declaring those appliances may also raise your premiums in a way that makes it cheaper to buy UK-voltage ones.
posted by holgate at 3:19 PM on February 18


why would we want to waste money buying duplicate items if it isn't necessary and we probably won't be staying more than a couple years?

Not so much for electronics, which tend to be smaller and not last as long, but for moving things like large heavy irreplaceable heirloom furniture you might want to consider who will be paying your moving costs when you leave.
posted by yohko at 3:43 PM on February 18


I think it very likely that it will be cheaper to buy the household products in the UK than transport them. Check out Argos, which sells cheap (and pretty reliable) household products. You can get a blender for something like £10 and a toaster for probably £4, etc. Even without trying to figure out what can be plugged in overseas, the hassle of transporting it all would be enormous, especially if you're moving back in a couple of years. Could you ask your wife's employer if he would be prepared to give you some of the money to spend in the UK on cheap refurnishing rather than hauling everything over, only to haul it back?
posted by ClaireBear at 3:46 PM on February 18


I also just wanted to add, do you have a commitment that the same "decent amount" of stuff would be transported back from the UK to the US when you are done? I ask because I know of US couples who moved internationally for a job and got a nice relo package paid the first way, but when they left to take another job back home the new employer did not have nearly as generous a package, so they had to self-fund the difference (and consequently dumped A LOT of stuff pre-move rather than have to pay for it themselves). If this is all intra-company transfers perhaps you don't need to worry, but you don't know what might come a couple of years down the line and whether you might be switching companies as well as changing locations. So, there's a lot to be said for leaving things in storage, if you can do it cheaply, and either renting or buying with the plan to sell in the UK. I would also nth that homes in the UK will be smaller, so your TV/etc might be too oversized for the space you find yourselves in.
posted by handful of rain at 3:55 PM on February 18


I think it's a 32" TV which is fine.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:13 PM on February 18


Are you sure the TV supports 230/240 volts and 50 Hz? The spec sheet only mentions 120 V/60 Hz.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:29 PM on February 18


Are you sure the TV supports 230/240 volts and 50 Hz? The spec sheet only mentions 120 V/60 Hz

Yes, on the back of the TV it says 110-240V ~ 50/60Hz 135W

I think many of these answers have already swayed me towards biting the bullet and buying new stuff when we get to London. I did forget to ask about bringing our HP laser jet printer to use with a voltage converter. It's one of those things that would be a little expensive to replace and it's relatively easy to transport. Any potential printer-mechanism specific problems that I should be wary of?

FWIW, when I say "a decent amount" of stuff I'm speaking in terms of a small 1-bedroom New York apartment and not bringing much in the way of furniture. And, though it is likely that we'd get a relocation package to move back, I suppose it's not a certainty.
posted by theory at 4:41 PM on February 18


RedOrGreen: "We brought our (stupidly expensive, early days) LCD TV back from Australia to the US and used it without any trouble until we replaced it with a much cheaper, much bigger new model. (The refresh rate is not tied to the line frequency, don't worry about that.)"

Ignoring the differences between tuners, transmission standards, etc: For some odd reason, US-market sets often don't handle 50Hz-based frame rates and other differences in the video standards used in the UK/EU/AU/etc. Conversely though, UK/EU/AU/etc market sets almost always do handle 60Hz-based frames rates and other differences in the video standards used in the US.

The end result is that, while it's almost never worthwhile to take your US set overseas, it can sometimes be worthwhile to take an overseas TV to the US…
posted by Pinback at 5:30 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Unless you've got a particularly special laser jet (in which case it's probably unwieldy to move) I'd get something like a cheap Brother laser printer over there, or a used laser printer. Printers are not high on the list of things that lend themselves to moving long distances.

A general summary (though it's been 25 years since I messed with transformers): transformers are Nast, ugly and inefficient, electricity in the UK is expensive, moving is a pain, Chinese made consumer goods are cheap.
posted by wotsac at 6:25 PM on February 18


In this case, I'd bring the TV over; it would only cost you $300 to buy a new one in the US, but 300£ in the UK. If you move back in a few years, just sell it for cheap, since it would be more expensive to move it back than to buy a new one in the US.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:11 PM on February 18


I moved to the UK like 7 years ago and I stupidly brought over some kitchen appliances because of similar sentiments - they were almost new and I really wanted to use them and not buy another. I even went so far as to buy a converter.
It was a complete waste of time and space. UK homes are much smaller and it turned out the converter I bought wasn't the right one and I never bothered to buy another because of the hassle. Bring only what you absolutely need, rent furnished and buy what you need as you go. Unless it absolutely works as a dual voltage and all you need is a plug adapter, it's really not worth shipping it over.
posted by like_neon at 11:40 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Sell kit like the TV and soundbar that will date in your absence. Store or sell kit like kitchen equipment. Keep and bring computer equipment.

TVs and so forth are not expensive in the UK. Transporting one always risks damaging it. Buying here gets you a new UK spec TV that can receive Freeview. It also means you don't have the faff and expense of a transformer. When you do the cost/benefit analysis you aren't really losing all that much and you gain a brand new TV made for the UK.

I would not use step down transformers in the kitchen. Again, decent blenders etc are cheap here. We tend to have small kitchens. You absolutely want to minimise clutter and will regret it given that you can buy one of the two Which? (consumer product review) best buy blenders for £25.

For electrical items I suggest getting a £1 trial subscription to Which? online and using their recommendations on the best value kitchen equipment but will also guide you through broadband and phone suppliers, mobile phone and power suppliers. Remember to cancel unless you want to subscribe. Cheap kit of varying quality is easy to find in the supermarkets or at Argos. In my experience electrical specialists Currys/PC World are neither that cheap nor sell the best stuff. John Lewis tends to have the best selection of higher quality kit and is generally competitively priced when their warranties are take into account. There is also Amazon.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:00 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Also: bring a US power strip, so you can plug in all your mobile phone, ipod, camera etc. chargers off one plug adaptor.
posted by Kiwi at 1:15 AM on February 19


My parents lived abroad for 10 years. DO NOT BRING ELECTRONICS. It's too much hassle. Sell your stuff before you leave, buy either new or used when you get to the UK. Also, don't store them, because when you return, you'll probably want the latest and greatest and this stuff is coming down in price all the time.

I'd only bring clothing and art, and buy everything else when I got there. It's just too much of a hassle and a crap-shoot to do otherwise.

And the size of flats and houses in Europe do NOT lend themselves to US sized furniture. Unless you plan on renting a castle or something.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:51 AM on February 19


There is a lot of misinformation in this thread...

Certainly you should bring small electronics that is dual-voltage, no problem there, and bringing a US power strip or two for them is very sensible.

You can run 120V equipment via transformer, as long as the total load is less than the transformer rating. If you buy a transformer, be sure to get one that is rated for 50Hz operation. A transformer rated for 60Hz operation will get very hot.

Your TV sounds like it will be OK, but will need a set top box to access UK digital broadcasts, so you may want to consider if that's worthwhile compared to buying one in the UK.

Anything high-powered [hairdryers, toasters, irons, microwaves etc] you should leave behind, as a transformer for them would be impractical.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:44 PM on February 20


Also: bring a US power strip, so you can plug in all your mobile phone, ipod, camera etc. chargers off one plug adaptor.

But if you're using a transformer, make sure that any power strip that you plug into it does not include a surge suppressor. A surge suppressor plugged into most transformers will fry your equipment (or your transformer, or both).
posted by klausness at 3:59 PM on March 1


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