Electronics geeks urgently needed in Aisle 4
October 18, 2008 6:27 PM   Subscribe

I am packing my entire house and moving to the UK, and I'm hoping to bring my TV, stereo, and a few smaller appliances with me. Please help me figure out my US to UK transformer and voltage requirements!

Hello, I am about to move to London from the US. My company is paying for the move, and rather than sell my existing TV, stereo, etc., I am hoping to run my US appliances off of a power strip plugged into a US-UK voltage transformer that is designed for continuous use (ie, not one of those small hotel/travel voltage transformers but something substantial enough to power applicances that are plugged into a power strip, and designed for continuous use.

This is the setup I'm envisioning:

|UK power source|<>|UK to US voltage transformer|<> |US power strip|<> |several US voltage appliances|

I don't know much about voltage, watts and amperage. My questions are:

1. Is this possible, or am I dreaming here?
2. Is it safe?
3. Can anyone recommend a moderately priced transformer capable of doing this? I'd probably buy 2-3 of them to have around my new flat, as long as they're not too or awkward. Ideally, they'd be able to work the other way around for when I move back.
4. What are the drawbacks to this setup? Would I be better off just selling everything and starting over with UK appliances? I expect to be there for at least a few years.

As a last resort, I'll just sell my stuff once I'm there to someone doing a UK to US move. But I'd like to hang onto my US TV, etc if I can do it without too much hassle.

Thanks in advance for any advice, and please forgive my ignorance about electronics!
posted by Kevin A to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's no point in taking your TV. The broadcast standards are different, and incompatible.
posted by Class Goat at 6:46 PM on October 18, 2008

Actually, I'm going to take it to use as a screen to watch DVDs.
posted by Kevin A at 6:53 PM on October 18, 2008

Unless you are bringing all of your USA Region 1 DVDs to the uk with you, don't bring the TV.
posted by chillmost at 7:04 PM on October 18, 2008

Really don't. I've done the same move but in the opposite direction. My advice - sell up and replace over there if you'll be there for a bit.

1. Yes it's possible. But a pain.
2. Dunno.
3. Dunno.
4. Everything will get hot. Things won't work reliably. The big transformers are really bulky. And as noted your TV won't work (and even if you just use it for DVDs you'll have to convince the aggressive -erm- bureaucrats at Television Licensing Authority that it can't be used to pick up a TV signal).
posted by TrashyRambo at 7:07 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you're better off using your computer to play your DVDs.
posted by Class Goat at 7:15 PM on October 18, 2008

You can get a multi-region DVD player.
posted by k8t at 7:38 PM on October 18, 2008

Trust me and others, don't bother. Sell them or give them to friends/family and buy something new there. The transformers don't really work for long-term use and overly hot electronics tend to start burning. Not worth it.

You can get by on most smaller electronics that have the ability to work at two voltages (like computers and mobile phones). You can get adapters (not transformers) to use them with foreign outlets.

Seriously, forget bringing the TV, appliances, and stereo. Seriously.
posted by qwip at 7:41 PM on October 18, 2008

I've been running Australian 240 volt stereo equipment in Canada using power transformers like these for 4 years, no problem. Likewise I ran US 120 Volt stereo equipment on 240 volts in Australia using the same gear, no problem. Look at the fine print on the back of the appliance to find the watt rating (ie, 100W, 200W). You'll need a transformer rated at at least that wattage. I currently run several items through a transformer attached to a powerbar as you suggest and have no problem. My approach was to ensure that the sum of the wattages of each of the appliances added to less than the rating of the transformer. I don't know that is exactly right, but it has worked for 4 years.

The other posters are correct about the TV - probably more trouble than it is worth. The TV will only work if you use your US DVD player and your US DVDs. If you plan to buy any new DVDs in the UK they will have a different region code and won't work in your DVD player, or play on your TV. And the TV won't show UK TV signals.

But you can buy multi region (or "world") and multi format (PAL/NTSC) DVD players and multi format (PAL/NTSC) TVs in the UK. These may even work in the US upon your return. Look for "foreign electronics" stores. The rest of the world seems to sell TVs/DVD players that accomodate the US, but the US won't sell you TVs/DVD players that accomodate other countries.

Good luck!
posted by rocks009 at 7:57 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

yeah, sell all that stuff, sorry
posted by matteo at 7:57 PM on October 18, 2008

It is probably not worth your trouble to bring anything that needs a transformer. Stuff with a universal power supply (i.e. says 110-220 V or something similar by the plug) that only need a plug converter you should keep. This may include your stereo. I don't know what other appliances you are talking about.

|UK power source|<>|UK to US voltage transformer|<> |US power strip|<> |several US voltage appliances|

You are going to need one hell of a transformer to safely supply power for multiple "appliances."
posted by grouse at 8:04 PM on October 18, 2008

Forget the TV, get a projector and a region-free DVD player.

I only brought one significant electrical item from the US when I left 12-13 years ago, my professional-grade KitchenAid mixer. It took a long time to find a high-quality, non-scary transformer.
posted by michswiss at 8:12 PM on October 18, 2008

As a follow up, this is the kind of dual voltage & multi-system DVD player you could buy before you go. It would play DVD's from anywhere, and you can use it in the UK and the US.

And here is a multisystem TV you can buy in the UK (you could run it off a transformer on your return to the US).
posted by rocks009 at 8:25 PM on October 18, 2008

This is easier than doing it the other way around (which I tried to do when I came to the USA from the UK. N-thing the sentiment of others, who say that it is not worth taking your TV - TVs draw a high current and it will be more trouble than it is worth to find a high-quality transformer for this.
The good news is that step-down voltage conversion (for 110V devices to work on 240V electricity supplies) is way easier than the other way around. Amazon in the UK sells lots of step-down transformers. But it is only worth getting these for relatively low power devices, as the cost goes up astronomically for higher power. For example, a 1500 VA (watt) transformer will run you 156 pounds sterling (over $300). Look at the power rating of your devices to see what it will cost you to get a transformer for them. Also research whether your current stereo and other devices are already dual-voltage, if these are relatively new. It does not always say on the electricity supply label, but many manufacturers install auto-sensing transformers in devices that are sold to multiple markets. For example, my Philips DVD player and my Lenovo computer both have an auto-sensing power transformer in them. You'll need to research this on the web. If they are auto-sensing, you just need to swap the plug (although the TV will still only work as a monitor, given the different broadcast standards).
At least, you *can* transform the voltage for just about any device you take over to the UK, that will run on a US electric supply. Coming back again, don't try to bring anything that needs over 1850 watts of power to run. UK devices can run up to 3300 watts, as a 240V supply gives you twice the current of a 110V supply. But 1850 watts is the maximum that you can generate from a regular 110V US supply. I discovered this the hard way ... :-)
My advice would be to buy new stuff from Amazon or eBay when you get there. The cost of shipping plus transformers would probably be more than buying new devices. The only exception is
posted by Susurration at 9:18 PM on October 18, 2008

Whoops! I lost the last few words. I meant to say that:
The only exception is for low-power devices, like MP3 players, that are cheap and easy to run on a 240V power supply.
posted by Susurration at 9:20 PM on October 18, 2008

I question whether it is really worth the hassle and expense to research, calculate and buy transformers for those items. The TV for certain is not worth bringing, as almost all PAL TVs will happily display an NTSC signal, so you can watch your Region 1 DVDs on a new UK TV with an appropriate DVD player. Multi-region DVD players are also pretty easy to find in the UK.

If you want your equipment to be safe, I would think you will really need a separate transformer for each item, so you can be sure it is appropriately protected.

Good luck with your move! I did the opposite direction a few years ago, and sold all of my electronics.
posted by Joh at 9:35 PM on October 18, 2008

Count me in the 'sell it' crowd for the hefty appliances. One other potential wrinkle should you try to ship them over: you may find it hard to get them covered by a home insurance policy unless you pay a hefty supplement, and possibly not at all, and if something were to go combustibly wrong, you'd be up the creek.

My other suggestion would be to consider ripping your DVD collection to a big hard drive: I'd have no ethical qualms at all about getting my digital media in a format that travels well. Yes, multi-region DVD players and NTSC-compatible appliances are common, but hard drives are cheap.
posted by holgate at 12:23 AM on October 19, 2008

Moved from the US to the UK (London) in the last 2 years. Sell your electronics and buy there. Yeah, the dollar sucks BUT why take material that will be potentially hazardous and unable to be given away there thus causing more landfill. I blew out what small electronics with me, even with transformers, and the cost of the transformer was as much as the item so, please get your appliances there including your plug in toothbrush and hair dryer. The only thing from the US that worked perfectly on the UK power was my various mac laptops because the plug-in power cord had an adaptor and was designed to work internationally.

DVD players are "cheap" and come region free in the UK. Most appliances in flats are smaller so your big appliances are NOT going to fit.

I would offer to get set up money for the UK as opposed for your company to pay shipping. The only thing is if you have a LARGE book collection and want to take that with you then indeed get the company to pay for that expense.

Now computer hardware is expensive in the UK and that is the only thing I would bring over usually, laptop and yeah, your ipod and iphone 3G if that is what you got.
posted by jadepearl at 3:14 AM on October 19, 2008

I've used transformers with my computer speakers for 4 years. Had to replace one.

Other things to consider - shipping stuff from North Am to the UK is slow. You will be without your stuff for at least a month probably longer.

Also power is freaking expensive here. You really don't want to be wasting any.
posted by srboisvert at 3:24 AM on October 19, 2008

I use regulators like this largely for protecting my electronics from a very unstable line voltage, but a nice side effect is that I can use my American 110v appliances and plugs. I even run my fridge through one (it is a 220v fridge, but the regulator keeps it from burning up.) The main downside: these things are heavy. As for your questions:

1. Yes it is possible.

2. It is safe. Be careful not to go over the rated amperage. But if you do it will just shut off, like a circuit breaker.

3. The ones I linked are good. You can probably find cheaper models too. I also have a 1000 watt Emkay (can't find them online) that cost me $40. and a 500 watt Airstar (also cannot find it. I assume they are no-name Chinese brands), which was $25.

4. I would do a bit of a mix. If you really like your TV, and you are aware that it will not work for anything but DVDs you bring with you, go for it.

Keep in mind a few things: It is more hassle, but if someone else is paying for the move, it is cheaper to ship things there and back on their dime than to sell and replace them or to put them in storage.

It will always be easier to sell and buy new ones that are designed for the target country.

Bring one continuous-use regulator with you regardless of whether you bring a lot of 110v electronics or not. They are not so much more expensive than a good travel regulator, and it will come up. Friends visiting will bring you things, you will want to purchase something when visiting the states, etc. It might never be anything big, but having a 110V power strip available when you want it will make life easier.
posted by Nothing at 3:27 AM on October 19, 2008

Also, check your cords. Anything with a transformer block on it will list the acceptable input voltages. You might be surprised just how much will work without a transformer. In my case: digital camera battery charger, cell phone charger, laptop, external hard drives, dsl modem, and shaver all work just fine with no converter. All laptop computers should be fine. All desktops too, though you might have to flip a switch (check on this first!).
posted by Nothing at 3:32 AM on October 19, 2008

Just want to add one short comment. CRT-based displays have dependencies on the frequency of the power. The scan rate is based on it and it can affect picture quality.

As a side note, I moved from the northern hemisphere to the southern a few years back. Europe to Australia. No problems with power as they have the same systems, but I had to use the 'degauss option' (can't remember the exact menu item) as several artefacts appeared as a result of the move.

As someone suggested earlier, you should consider "archiving and backing up" your DVDs. I've been doing something similar for a while, but it's time consuming. It's my media and only for my viewing in my own home or on my own laptop. The upside is I can watch my DVDs when and where I'd like with little inconvenience on anything from a SIM2 projector to an iPhone anywhere in the world.
posted by michswiss at 5:45 AM on October 19, 2008

Trust me, as someone who's moved to the UK just two years ago, sell what you can and start over when you move here. It's not worth it. I even bought a transformer, but it's totally bulky and I discovered that it only takes 3 pin plugs and all my kitchen appliances are two pins. So now I have a useless george foreman grill, food processer, hand held blender, rice cooker and slow cooker... which I can't even sell now since I live in the UK.

The exception is if you have a computer/laptop or something that has its own adapter which should work ok with a simple plug adapter you can buy at the airport.
posted by like_neon at 7:42 AM on October 19, 2008

Another UK-to-US mover here, and again, definitely recommend the sell-it-and-buy-new approach.

My company also paid for my move, but only up to certain limitations. The majority of the gear I did bring across with me was computer-related (a laptop, a couple of monitors, a couple of towers, various small networking units), all of which I'd checked in advance was dual-voltage compatible before I left the UK - just about anything modern and electronic will run on switch-mode power supplies that can handle 120 and 240V AC.

I will add, however, that a modern LCD or plasma screen might possibly be worth bringing across, if it's dual-voltage compatible. While it wouldn't function directly with UK broadcast TV sgnals, a digital receiver for Freeview (UK OTA digital TV) should serve admirably and connect via Composite, or alternatively, HD subscription services from SkyTV or Virgin Cable could connect via HDMI - the various HD standards (720p/1080i/1080p) aren't region specific. The UK also has Freesat, which delivers free HD programming via satellite - I assume utilising HDMI equipped boxes, but I don't have any experience. DVRs for Freesat are due before christmas.

You might want to check out UK-based internet suppliers such as Empire Direct or Play.com to get a feel for the cost of various appliances in the UK before you leave.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 11:48 AM on October 19, 2008

A bit late here, but... One thing to watch out for is power strips that include surge protectors. Used as the US power strip in your description, they seem to blow up transformers (or at least blow out the transformers' fuses in a violent way). I moved from the US to the UK and got a bunch of transformers. The first time I plugged a surge protector (a US one, of course, since it was going on the 110V side) into a transformer and turned it on... Whammo! The fuse blew, and the transformer case had a big dent in it (as in, something inside had obviously slammed into the case and dented it). I didn't use that transformer again. But, apparently not having learned my lesson, I tried again with a different transformer (different brand and model, too) and a different surge protecting power strip, and got the same result. I didn't try it again a third time. I'm no electrical engineer (or electrician or anything of the sort), but I think it may have to do with the circuitry in the surge protector that's designed to shunt surges to ground interacting badly with whatever the transformer does with the ground. So I'd say make sure that the power strip you use in your setup is just a plain non-surge-protecting one. It's probably fine to have a UK surge protector on the UK side of the transformer, but not on the US side.
posted by klausness at 8:53 AM on November 2, 2008

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