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Massive CES Now A Collection Of Trade Shows

With some 2,500 exhibitors occupying more than 1.6 million square feet of exhibit space that filled all the halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center and spilled over into the Las Vegas Hilton’s exhibit hall, the Sands Expo Center and the Alexis Park, it was practically impossible for any one organization — let alone individual — to fully cover this year’s International CES.

Let’s say you were the only retail buyer from your organization attending the show. How difficult would it be to get an overview on your own? Over its four-day run, CES is open just 37 hours, or 2,220 minutes. Not even allowing for travel time between venues or exhibits, a dealer would have just over 53 seconds to spend visiting each and every booth.

In reality, CES isn’t a single-entity show like Toy Fair or MacWorld or the International Housewares Show. It’s a collection of shows of different types of products, and exhibits are grouped by category making it possible for dealers to focus on areas of the most interest to them.

Even so, the show is gigantic; even for those with narrow interests, it is spread out enough to be physically stressing.

One welcome major change at CES this year was the need to register for all the keynotes and conferences. This eliminated the usual crush of bodies rushing for seats at the bigger events. One big miscalculation, however, was underestimating attendee demand for transportation between the Convention Center and the Sands Expo. The plan was for one bus (capacity 55) in each direction every 10 minutes. At one point on opening day it took more than 90 minutes for a one-way trip. The situation was corrected on Day 2 by having a continuous flow of busses (fill ’em up, head’ em out). But even with that, Vegas traffic being what it is, a run to the Sands took about a half hour.

Dear to my personal heart was that CES was a major TV product event, though to a visitor of say 1996, the sets on view in 2006 would appear to be strange and wondrous. Except at the booths of small off-brand vendors, picture tube models were few and far between. LCD and plasma displays and thin rear-screen projection sets dominated, and screen sizes, particularly for panels, were bigger than ever. But it was clear, even to an old traditionalist like me, that consumers are indeed embracing digital TV and HDTV.

Much less clear is the future of high-definition DVD. Some are comparing the coming market battle between the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats to the Betamax-VHS war. Personally, I see it more analogous to the S-DAT vs. R-DAT digital audio recording standard conflict. In the latter case, consumers already had a very acceptable format and were unwilling to pay big bucks for the right to back one unproven format over another. Cheap DVD players with progressive scan outputs that play all DVD titles may be too tough a hurdle for incompatible high-definition formats to overcome.