Now that most of the dust has settled from the frantic Las Vegas shows, it is time to take a look back and see the direction both mainstream consumer electronics and the audiophile industry are headed. During both shows i asked a wide variety of manufacturers, distributors and show attendees various questions. To protect individuals with their very candid comments, a promise to keep their names out of print was made by yours truly. This allows a very direct, honest appraisal versus the polished and politically correct quotes from industry professionals seen in other publications. At this time i would like to thank the many people who shared their time with me during the Las Vegas shows; and for being very upfront about the facts as they saw it concerning both the mainstream and audiophile industry plus CES versus T.H.E. Show.
CES: Its Not Just Another Show
As many of you know, this is where everything from Microsoft to Motorola and Meridian can be found. Sure Bill Gates was touting the new Vista operating system (OS) and Office suite (see Sunday's CES coverage), Motorola had various cellular phones, and can you believe Meridian announced their new HD DVD unit plus their new MV-D1 iPod dock that outputs 1080p to HDTVs! On the audiophile side of things, the change of venue to the Venetian had many of us within the industry learning our way around this new venue at first, followed by some of the best overall sound experienced at CES in well over a decade!
There were many gripes from manufacturers and distributors concerning the very substantial price increase as compared to the previous Alexis Park location. Once all the dust was settled, it appears the new venue was a success! Foot traffic look as if it was on the upswing as the Venetian is part of the main venue where non-audiophile companies and seminars resided. This meant audiophile exhibits were now a 'part of' versus being sanctioned far away from the main event. Add to that, the high-end audio rooms were opened an hour before the main show booths, so there was added time for both the dealers, worldwide distributors and press to get a head start and not lose any time to cover more mainstream products if one so desired.
Another fact was that CEA, the organization that operates the CES, were doing an impressive job at making all attendees aware of the new venue for high-end audio. This was not just in brief announcements during seminars, it also included the usual on-screen slideshow before seminars and within the official show directory. Time and time again you sensed that CEA was very much helping the high-end audio industry make a big splash by making everyone aware of the new venue and how excellence is sound reproduction goes hand in hand to HDTV systems.
The first opinion by many within the industry before the show began was of the appalling price increase, approximately double, for an exhibition room as compared to the year before at the Alexis Park. Towards the end of the show i once again asked the same folks their opinion and they seemed less adamant, perhaps due to the large showing of both attendees and press alike. In general exhibitors appeared to enjoy the new venue, added exposure, and great sound they were able to achieve in their room.
The overall sense was that with the obvious increase of consumers spending vast sums of money for flat panel displays that their audio system would soon follow suit. They could realize the same benefits achieve from improved video by choosing products offered by high-end companies. And with that said, dealers were looking to enhance their ability to fulfill their customer's desire plus worldwide distributors were seeking to add new manufacturers to their current offerings.
T.H.E. Show: The Other Venue Of Choice
This is the offshoot show, unlike the CES that caters to many consumer electronic market segments, where only high-end audio manufacturers and distributors are found. The awareness of this event was apparent to many CES attendees. The truly telling moment was while traveling to my hotel room one person asked what is T.H.E. Show, as i was wearing that show's badge, and before i could say a word his friend said it is where you find all the high-end audio exhibitors. Ok, perhaps this one situation does not make for an overall assessment, yet it was interesting to note that after many years of T.H.E. Show taking place in Las Vegas during the CES that many attendees were aware of this audiophile-only event.
At first T.H.E. Show was a bit slow during the early hours of the first day and you could see great concern within the eyes of various exhibitors. CES' previous venue, the Alexis Park, was directly next door to T.H.E. Show's St. Tropez hotel. With the move by CES to have high-end audio at the Venetian, the St. Tropez was now miles away from any of CES' chosen locations. Therefore, those interested in high-end audio had to take a taxi miles away or a shuttle bus. Many of T.H.E. Show exhibitors were concerned if this situation would spell disaster. Advantages of T.H.E. Show included what some felt were a more common sense exhibition room pricing, more organized delivery of their products to their room(s) for setup, and overall catering to the high-end audio industry in particular.
So did T.H.E. Show survive the CES' change; and how was attendance by retailers, the press and distributors looking to add product lines? As the days progressed everyone was more at ease as attendance seemed to quickly ramp up from the nearly ghost town early morning hours of the first day, with quite a nice amount of foot traffic with each passing day. Everyone appeared to be very satisfied with T.H.E. Show and were very much looking forward to another successful Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), a public show that caters to high-end audio and is possibly the best public show within the United States for both attendees and manufacturers/distributor alike (see 2006 coverage here).
While the CES had large parties in vast meeting halls, T.H.E. Show is a more intimate affair (like the RMAF) with various parties that would spill out onto the center lawn. My favorite party was at the NFS (Not For Sale) Audio room on Wednesday night, as the food and beverage were free flowing and great music could be heard far away. A wide variety of partygoers included not just manufacturers and distributors, but also some amazing personalities including the President of Shelby Automobiles! The party reminded me of why i became an audiophile in the first place, its the music stupid! Funk, great jazz, and rock could be enjoyed and we danced to all night long! This may be exactly why many people enjoy the RMAF in Denver. It is a place to make contacts. We all conduct business during the day while after hours the parties went on all night long.
The $1,000,000 Question...
Am sure if you are within the industry you are asking yourself which show is better, T.H.E. Show or CES? That all depends on how one defines 'better.' It was business as usual, with both venues appearing to receive good foot traffic, press coverage, and most important of all business contacts. At this time i am hard pressed to choose a winner, as each show appears to have done well on many, if varied, fronts. Unlike the two competing public shows, where the industry appears to be choosing the RMAF judging by the immense growth each year, am at odds as to if the CES is better, equal, or less than T.H.E. Show. Perhaps in the coming weeks as i ask more exhibitors from both shows will this industry realize a clear winner.
The great news is the continued demand for better sound systems by consumers. The obvious trend of high-resolution video is benefiting the high-end audio industry. Dreaded home theater in a box (HTIB) packages are finally giving way to proper audio products. With better video displays comes the desire for increased audio enjoyment. Now if we could just get the mainstream consumer electronics industry from constantly fighting with each other over different formats. Specifically, Blu-ray versus HD DVD. This fight is worse than Sony's proprietary SACD versus the accepted industry standard DVD-Audio.
Format wars only hurt the industry and it appears Sony constantly decides to unleash whatever they choose and subsidize content owners/creators with the ability to support Sony's newest format. The shining star is Warner Brothers who, as reported within our Industry News page, will release titles in the company's Total HD format, which is claimed to have both Blu-ray and HD DVD layers. Another bright spot is LG Electric, who has a dual format Blu-ray and HD DVD player. Both choices this early in the game show the ability to relieve consumers of the format wars and buy a single piece of software or hardware that will work. We can only sit back and wonder what the next generation of software and hardware has in store for us all to enjoy. The preliminary news concerning sound quality of either format is very promising. As always, in the end what really matters is that we all....