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CES: Still The Best CE Show On Earth

The 2003 International Consumer Electronics Show, the 59th CES (or the 60th if you count the Orlando Disaster In Disneyland, which is something we would all prefer to forget rather than count), has come and gone. And, like most past shows, it was bigger, more crowded and more frenetic than ever.

For me this year was a record in that I got to see less of the actual show — that is, the on-floor exhibits — than in any past CES. (And it should be noted that my attending history goes back to the first show in 1967 in New York.) Most of my time, and that of others covering the event for the TWICE CES Dailies, was chewed up attending and reporting on show-related keynotes, press conferences and other goings on.

I also think the sheer physical size of CES at the vastly enlarged Las Vegas Convention Center makes it near impossible for all but the marathon-qualified to cover all of the show floor and in-room exhibits in the time available for most attendees. I’ve been told that few (except for those actually working at the booths) are able to spend four full days at CES.

Not that this is necessarily a drawback, because the show has dramatically changed character. Long gone are the days when CES was a TV-phono-radio event. Now entertainment products are just a part of the scene, along with communications and information devices of all shapes, styles and technologies.

In fact, technology all by itself is a major show attraction.

In those good old days when life was simple, people who wanted to listen to music bought a radio or a phono, or if they were real high-tech, a radio-phono. Today there are well over a couple of dozen choices available or on the way, backed by nearly as many different technologies delivering audio by a variety of systems, each requiring unique hardware.

And I don’t even want to think about video. It was always my specialty, and I find myself staggered by the various viewing, recording and delivery choices — and their technologies — that are available. Are flat panels the wave of the future? Probably, but prices are still much too high, and so volume is low. In fact, it looked to me like Samsung alone had more panels of different types on display in its booth than the entire industry sold last year.

I know the Consumer Electronics Association has been doing surveys of show-goers to learn why they come and what they like and don’t like. I suspect the results show their product interests are far more specific than in the past, and that most attending as customers zero in on just a handful of categories and are looking to get as much information as possible. This would explain why they take valuable show-touring time to pack so many of the CES keynotes, conferences and seminars.

As for the other visitors, well you can stop wondering what happened to all those nerds who used to attend the once-powerful COMDEX show. They now come to CES. How can you tell? They’re the unshaven ones in T-shirts and jeans carrying back-breaking loads of free literature in multiple free shopping bags, or sitting in groups on the floor in corridors or against the walls in exhibit areas eating lunch from brown paper bags.

And who the hell were all those people wandering around with “Press/Analyst” badges? At least a significant number of the analysts came from financial companies I recognized, which is more than I can say for most of the so-called press. I would venture a guess that many were lost sheep from COMDEX hoping that CES would prove to be a happy hunting ground for their obscure online newsletters.

But petty annoyances aside, CES is still the world’s greatest annual showcase for the vastly expanded consumer electronics industry, and I wouldn’t miss it for all the electronics plants in China.

Bob Gerson, TWICE editor-at-large, has covered the industry for over 30 years. He is the founding editor and was its longtime editor-in-chief.