What Is a Portable Power Distribution Unit?
Power distribution is a central element of any permanent installation or touring show. Portable power distribution units, also known as portable power distribution boxes, provide a safe source of electricity for all of your stage components including loudspeaker systems, lighting rigs, video walls and projectors, stage mechanics, special effects, and more. They plug into the “house power”—some kind of connection to a building—and then manage and splits (or “branches”) that power accordingly. You can think of temporary power distribution centers as more advanced household power strips—that is, if household power strips could handle up to 400 amps of electricity.
What Size System Do You Need?
Once you go beyond the capability of a couple 15-amp power strips, it’s time to look at portable power supply units. This may occur when going from a simple four-piece band to incorporating lighting and other stage equipment into your act. It could also occur when you’re ready to dive into creating your own production company.
Choosing a power “distro” can be challenging, but it relies on a combination of the following factors: your power requirements, the input connections you expect to have, the amount of equipment you plan to run off of this power distro, and the location of this equipment on stage.
Power requirements: The basic denominations of power “distros” are 30 amps, 50 amps, 100 amps, 200 amps, and 400 amps. Larger systems may use multiple 400-amp distros.
Input connections: There are numerous input connections available for power distribution units, such as stage pin, straight blade, twist lock, cam-lock, pin and sleeve, and 19-pin. In the United States, cam-lock connectors are generally considered standard, while pin-and-sleeve connectors are more common in Europe. You should check if your venue has already established their preferred connection type before purchasing a power distribution unit.
Amount and placement of loaded equipment: Depending on how many speakers, lights, screens, etc. you plan to power off of this distribution unit, you will need to acquire an adequate number breakered stringer boxes. These breakered stringer boxes take power from your distribution unit and split it off into standard 120V/20A outlets (like U.S. wall outlets). They often also allow a passthrough to daisy chain multiple breakered stringer boxes together. How far apart your loaded equipment is may also determine how long these daisy chains have to be.
Portable Power Distro for Live Sound and Stage Lighting
Now let’s run through a few scenarios. Production companies that stage live entertainment like live bands or other events may have a slightly different power-distribution setup, though the fundamentals remain the same. For example, they might have power distribution boxes rack-mounted alongside amplifiers for their loudspeaker system. Using multiple smaller power distros can give engineers a little bit more independence and control over their sound-system power distribution.
In addition to concert power distribution, another use for these systems is in stage lighting power distribution. Stage lights, as we’ve discussed earlier in this blog, can use a ton of energy and therefore require robust sources of power. The main difference between lighting distribution boxes and other distribution boxes is that the lighting ones sometimes include some form of DMX input and output for conventional lights. This allows for dimmer and controller access to the lights powered by this box.
That’s it! We hope that this Gearsupply Guide was able to help you get acquainted with the basics of power distro for live events. If you have a second, you should stick around and browse the current selection of equipment on Gearsupply—an online marketplace where events-industry professionals can buy and sell audio, video, lighting, and stage equipment for ultra-low prices. You can register as a free member here.