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Ballasts are designed to initiate, and maintain the arc responsible for the light in HID lamps. Without this piece of equipment, the out of control arc would cause the bulbs to explode. There are many different manufacturers of ballasts, but the main two types are magnetic, and electronic ballasts. Electronic ballasts are generally cheaper, but offer more control over light intensity and many are able to control both MH and HPS with a flick of a switch.
Magnetic ballasts are much more old school, but release no detectable radio waves and are built to last. Both ballasts work great for controlling the arc of HID lighting so it ultimately comes down to personal preference on these items. Would you rather the control and affordability of an electronic ballast? Or the longevity and radio-scanner invisibility of a magnetic ballast?