If you watch mainstream media like CNN, Fox or read any number of national-scope newspapers - you can't help but get caught up in the hype and myth of the Consumer Electronics Show every January. Live from Las Vegas comes hours of coverage of gadgets, electronics, appliances and even a few audio-video components. We did our own CES coverage for home theater, video enthusiasts as well as audiophiles that is targeted to the needs of our readers, but more and more people ask me what CES is really like. Respectfully, the Consumer Electronics Show is just not as glamorous as the media makes it out to be. Thankfully for consumers who are true enthusiasts - the CEA allowed a certain number of non-industry people into the show on its final day this year so they could experience the show for themselves. For the first time, I am sure the show is overwhelming and without question - something that cannot be seen in one day even with an air-tight plan, a chartered helicopter and very comfortable shoes.
The fact is the Consumer Electronics Show is the largest trade show in the world for any topic. Since merging with the COMDEX computer show after the dotcom bust in the early 2000s, CES has gotten bigger and bigger. It's less of an audio and video show and more of a show about AV convergence. Intel, Microsoft and Motorola are as big sponsors as, say Sony, Panasonic and Samsung. The show has expanded its reach well beyond home theater into cell phones, gadgets, car audio, appliances and much more. It's a strong international show also, with buyers, press and dealers from every country that you have ever heard of as well as a few countries you likely have never heard of. The show's scope is massive. It's perfect for Vegas. It's big. It's glitzy and it's over-the-top with the newest, most tricky new technology.
Myth No. 1 - CES Is Glamorous
The Consumer Electronics Show is not glamorous. It's a logistical nightmare. While brands like Panasonic pulled off fantastic feats like inviting Darth Vader to do their press conference at the show - there is a lot more that is mundane about the show than there is fabulous. Walking from the Hilton Towers and the North Hall to the South Hall can take 20 minutes if you walk outside. Through the entire convention center - this walk can take well more than an hour. Lines for taxis can be 60 minutes long or longer. The addition of a monorail is a good trick for CES newbies, as you can get back to the strip through Harrah's (next to The Venetian) for $5 and with little delay. Once you get to The Venetian you can expect to see elevator lines that are 45 minutes for the right to jam yourself into an elevator with 25 other audiophiles looking to head up to the specialty audio displays. When you are done at the end of the day with the audiophile demos - expect another 60 minute wait for a taxi back to your hotel. Savvy show people stay walking distance from the show at places like The Mirage, The Wynn and Treasure Island. Buyers beware for those who try to save money by staying at the Imperial Palace. The HTR staff nearly resigned en masse over their decision to once stay at this fine establishment. Hookers won't stay at the Imperial Palace and they are right to stick to their convictions.
Myth No. 2 - CES Is The World's Best Audiophile Store
While there is more audiophile gear on display at the Consumer Electronics Show than at any other trade or consumer show I know of worldwide (perhaps Munich has more pure high end audio gear), it's not the best place to actually hear equipment. HomeTheaterReview.com's editor, Andrew Robinson, talks about "show listening" which puts in perspective how to judge products on display at a distracting and noisy show like CES. At a recent CES, Wisdom Audio had a high end sound pressure level meter in their room (not a Radio Shack one) that was reading 77 dB before the music came on. Ironically, more than one person at the show who paid good money to display their gear with an active demo told me that the 85 dB rule in the CES contract was being actively monitored in the hallways of the show, both on the bottom floor and higher up in the suites. That means that you get a sum total of 10 dB to resolve your $100,000 plus audiophile system when you factor in the background noise. Don't get me started on the people talking in the rooms. The fact is - CES is good for a first look at equipment, but to really evaluate equipment at the high end - you need to have it sent for review. It's just not the best place for a pure audiophile demo unless you can sneak back into a room after the show closes.
Myth No. 3 - CES Is a Healthy Show
While attendance numbers are high at CES for the 2011 show - the health I speak of is completely different. With people attending the show from every corner of the world and packing every strand of flu that you haven't seen, heard of, or built up any immunity to yet - the chances that you will not come home with something (and I don't mean from the girls that walk the streets for money) are slim. People are coughing, snotting and doing revolting things all over the place. Even if you use Purell, wash your hands hourly and never touch a doorknob - you still are in danger of bringing home the CES flu. I am 4 for 4 on the CES flu. Andrew and I both were rocking the 103 degree fever. The phone install guy that I use also came home from CES with the same flu, as did many of our clients and industry friends. It's a brutal price to pay. Make sure you get your flu shot well before you go and even that might not be good enough.
Myth No. 4 - The Weather In Vegas Is Great
The weather stinks for CES compared to someplace you might go for a vacation in the winter. I have seen it actually snow in Las Vegas during CES. I have been stuck in Vegas because the 15 was closed down between Las Vegas and Southern California. You're certainly not sitting outside by the pool during the show in early January. While the weather in Las Vegas is often better in January than the east coast, it's no tropical get-away - unless you spend a lot of time in the garden lobby in the Mirage.
Myth No. 5 - The CES is the Porn Show
CES isn't the porn show but it runs at the same time as the AVN show, which is in the Sand's Convention Hall - down the hall on the bottom floor from The Venetian. You need your own credentials to hob-knob with Jenna Jameson and Sasha Grey - which can be had - but buyers beware. These girls don't look the same in person as they do on video. The soft filter is a kind thing - let me tell you. Most of the porn girls are very nice if you meet them in person. They are great with their fans and very down to earth. They will take photos with you and will sign whatever you like, but consider this your warning - these fantasies are best kept in your Firefox or DVD player.
What's Good About CES?
There is a lot that's good about the Consumer Electronic Show, which is why I've attended for my seventeenth straight show. When I first went to the show with my then boss and now personal friend, Christopher Hansen (of Christopher Hansen Ltd. in Beverly Hills), the audiophile show was held in the Sahara "Bi-Level" and was RIGHT next to the porn convention. There was a certain mystique back then. More domestic dealers came and wrote POs (purchase orders) and it wasn't as much of an international show.
Today's CES in Las Vegas benefits from being held in the absolute best restaurant city in the world right now. That's right - I said it - Las Vegas is the best food city in the world right now. Better than Paris, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. While most of the restaurants in Vegas are copies of ones around the world - they are often 85 to 95 percent as good, and there is a higher concentration of them all right here.
CES is also a wonderful business opportunity. To this day as it still attracts the top executives from the top companies all in one city at one time. There is clear value to that if you make your living selling ads as I do.
Technologically, the biggest news breaks at CES. You can see the newest and coolest technology. You often can see things that are months if not years away, which can be a blessing and a curse.
With all of the hype that CES gets in the media and all of the questions that I get about the show each year - the high points and low points of the show need to be addressed. It simply isn't the audio-video Shangri-la that the enthusiast and mainstream media make it out to be. With that said - its grandeur is spectacular. It's the biggest trade show in the world with all of the glitz that Las Vegas should and does command.