What is Surge Protection?
For the purposes of this explanation, first we need to understand the basics of surge protection and those things commonly known as power strips. It is important to note that many, but not all power strips come equipped with surge protection. It is also important to understand that if a power strip is also a surge protector or suppressor, it will be clearly marked as such on the packaging. Some less expensive designs come with lights or a circuit breaker built in to make a power strip look more like a surge protector, when there is actually no special circuitry to protect against electrical damage. If you want to make sure you are protected from electrical surges, make sure you have the proper type of power accessory.
A surge protector (or surge suppressor) is an appliance designed to protect electrical devices from voltage spikes. This is accomplished most often by a special circuit within the power strip which attempts to regulate the voltage by releasing excess current through a ground or blocking any excess entirely, while still allowing electricity to flow. This is a fundamental difference from a circuit breaker that simply trips when the voltage gets too high, as an electrical spike would trip the breaker, but not before the surge was allowed to pass through to any connected equipment.
Now that we understand the basics of surge protection, we can move on to the discussion of Power Conditioners. A Power Conditioner is a special type of power strip that not only protects against electrical surges by regulating voltage, but much like how a water filter removes impurities from your drinking water, a Power Conditioner is specially created to "clean" your power source, providing a more consistent, "softer" current to your connected devices. Generally this is achieved through a combination of a voltage regulator and at least one other function to improve power quality, such as noise suppression or transient impulse protection. By creating a cleaner power supply, your devices will be able to operate more efficiently with less wear and tear on their internal circuitry.
There is no one true definition of what Power Conditioning is, as there are different types for different scenarios and different price ranges. For example, while Phillips makes a basic power conditioning strip that retails for about $35, a higher end Monster Cable or some other premium brand will likely cost upwards of $100. Most commonly, power conditioning is utilized (and highly recommended) for home theater setups, as most modern flat screen TVs do perform better and longer when the power source is regulated and conditioned. Also frequently, audio power conditioners are equipped with surge protection and an electronic filter and surge protection, but not a voltage regulator, as audio quality is affected by unwanted frequency, but not as much by minor fluctuations in voltage.