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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Brief Visit To NAB 2009

I made the long drive out into the desert yesterday to the land of fantasy - Las Vegas - for a quick look around at the National Association of Broadcasters NAB 2009 exhibition.

In truth, I was there more for meetings than to take a deep look at every new offering from the wide variety of audio, video, radio, television and satellite manufacturers on hand, but I did get to see most of the show at least briefly.

More than any other year, there seemed to be an air of quiet evolution in the new products, perhaps because of stifled R&D budgets, so there wasn't much that caught my eye. But as always, I have some general observations about the experience in general.

1) Las Vegas seems on the upswing from when I was last there in January. On the way into town there were a few billboards that were empty, but these were pretty far out of town and not in optimal locations. In January at CES, even many of the brand new electronic billboards were dark.

2) The traffic was back and it was pretty akin to the good times in Vegas. There was a long wait to get to the convention center and a long wait to get out of town at rush hour. In January, traffic was as minimal as you can get. That being said, parking was pretty easy and the main lot in front of the convention center never filled.

3) This year the NAB show itself contracted by 25 to 30%, in my estimation. There were just a few empty booths, but the show floor space was artificially walled in so it seemed more compact. Many exhibitors also downsized their booths, getting by with a 10' x 10' where 20' x 20' or more was the norm before the downturn in the economy. Even Panasonic, with arguably the best position on the show floor, reduced it's size by about 20% and their booth was pretty sparse as compared to other years.

4) That went for attendees too - I'd say down by 30% or so. The show was not crowded but it was busy. Every booth had someone in it, but no lines waiting to speak with a factory rep. This turned out to be a good thing for business though. As one factory sales guy put it, "We're having a great show. Everyone that's here is a buyer!" Indeed, I heard a few stories of big sales in the audio hall ($100k plus) off the show floor on the first day, which doesn't normally happen.

5) The party and swag biz was way off. Swag first - there was none except for cloth carry bags. At least they're good for the environment. Big lavish parties seemed to be a thing of the past according to all reports. There was only 1 event all week (the Sports Video Group) at the plush Studio 54 and I was told that was booked on a deep discount. Canon backed out of a big party there at the last minute, but other than that - nada. It used to be that there were so many great over-the-top parties that you couldn't decide which one to attend.

6) Forget the free magazines this year. There were only a handful (maybe 6 or 8) at the free book racks at the entry to the show. Other years it was more like 50 or 60. What does that tell you about the print business?

7) This year IPTV was a given. In previous years it was a flag that every manufacturer was flying, but this year it was just assumed that if you did anything near that space, your company was involved in it.

8) The coolest product that I saw was ioDrive by Fusion iO, a solid state drive that connects directly to your system buss, bypassing the bottleneck of the normal PCI I/O architecture. As a demonstration of how fast it was, 16 servers were accessing a single drive, which output 64 MPEG-2 files of DVDs to 16 screens all at the same time. That's 1024 DVD streams ALL AT ONCE! Wow!!

Fusion iO ioDrive




Video wall driven by ioDrive - 16 screens with 64 DVD streams each (and they all looked good too).




9) Another cool product wasn't ground breaking at all but it was very practical. PC Prompter turned an iPhone or iTouch into a teleprompter with their software and hardware mount. For such a small display it was very usable. The PC Prompter guys told me that most field reporters that are only a one man or two man team use these all over the world and I can see why.

10) An finally, the audio guy in me picked up on these new Genelec tiny computer monitors (model 6010A). We're not talking your $49 Fry's model here, we're talking seriously high quality in a package that easily fits beside your monitor or laptop without getting in the way. For those of you who don't already know, Genelec is one of the top manufacturers of powered monitors in the audio business, catering to pro audio, TV post, home theater and hi-end consumer. Now there's a desktop model too.

Genelec 6010A Computer Monitors






The volume control (that round thing next to the mouse) for the 6010A's.



I wish I had more products to report but as I said, most of my day was filled with meetings rather than roaming the floor.

11) Finally, after speaking with journalists, exhibitors, attendees and industry sages, the general feeling was that there's a lot of shaking out about to take place in this market. A lot of old-line, bloated companies will not make it despite being perennial market leaders and general 800lb. gorillas. The companies that are lean, virtual, and provide both great products and services will be the winners, but we knew that already, didn't we?

My general feelings after gauging the temperature of the show? The economy's heading in the right direction but it's going to be a slow road getting there. There'll be lots of dead companies along road on the way. Be careful out there!


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