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For those that have been under a rock for the past few decades CES is the International Consumer Electronics Show that every year is held in Las Vegas in January. I have been attending it for about 15 years, my purpose? HDTV, but also hi-end audio.

After 6 days and 80+ meetings of product/exhibitor appointments the short answer is: maybe for you not anymore for me, much less as a press attendee, and especially considering I have been footing the cost from my own pocket since the 90s to help the readers and the magazines I work with.

Do not get me wrong, CES was and still is a good opportunity to see in one event most of the new products and manufacturers of the HDTV industry under one (very large) roof without having to attend individual press invitations in various cities when companies announce/introduce their new products.

But quite frankly, CES does not allow anymore for adequate viewing of TV technologies. In order to get to view them plenty of walk and time needs to be invested. Comparative judgment becomes mostly subjective even when returning to the products several times to been able to intelligently respond to questions like: which of the two 55” OLED images was actually better and why? Often the experience feels as isolated as seeing the products in different events.

During my 6 days I had to come back to repeat views of OLEDs, 4Ks, 8K, 3DTVs, etc. several times to evaluate their image objectively. In some cases it was until the very last day (2 press, 4 show) that I realized I may need to change my mind about some products I thought they were super on the first day, but on the 6th day I detected some image artifacts, or some softness, or over-saturation of colors, or image aberrations when displaying geometric objects and diagonals, or when displaying real objects of known color and shape, or when angling my view, from the bottom, from the side, or both, in a way I was not able to see on the first 4 or 5 days of repeated viewing because of the crowd or the chosen content, or because I entirely missed the observation. How would the white SONY logo displayed on an image appear to you as pink? It did, and that surprised me.

What was especially surprising to me was that products that appealed to me initially for their uniqueness and beauty, like OLED, were more revealing when I was able to isolate my mind and ears from the CES zoo and concentrate in what I actually see, ignoring the dozens of people crossing in front of me or the questions.

Yes, OLED looked attractive; who wants to hear that is over-saturated to the point of color bleeding over the edges of the flowers shown on an incredible black background? It may not have been noticeable to thousands of “expert” bloggers in the Internet, until someone opens the subject.

OLED offers a very striking image, perhaps too striking to be natural, an image that may be begging for ISF calibration to tone it down once the set gets home so one can watch it more than 5 minutes without visual fatigue. Frankly, I rather have an image that offers more extension in contrast, brightness and color, because hopefully I may be able to calibrate the set down to my taste (and for my eyes not to bleed), rather than been stuck with the reverse scenario.

HDTV Technology Review

As you may be aware between 2002 and 2007 I produced an annual HDTV Technology Review for magazine readers, it started to be 100+ pages released about 3 months after each CES, but by 2007 it grew to 560 pages and 9 months of work (the book offered by Display Search as an industry edition).

I stop doing that because it took too much effort to produce by a single person, and because the HDTV industry moved faster than what I reflected in my content and its intellectual value shifted from the original purpose, now that the majority of households have an HDTV.

The part of the content dedicated to technology, standards, DTV implementation, satellite/cable/over-the-air/IPTV, and industry advances still maintained an historical value, but not the major effort in detailing features, specs and reviews of hundreds of HDTVs, DVRs, video processors, and TV hardware in general, their shelf life is very short.

CES People

CES with 153K (unconfirmed) people was no different than the 140K+ people of previous years in that it is an overcrowded event that cannot allow me to perform my objective efficiently, much less as press attendee, with lots of people cutting in front of every step you make, pushing you around, or stopping/turning suddenly blocking the walking areas. One may think that walking miles is a healthy exercise, it is, but the constant push and pull to get to any exhibitor made the interrupted walking disturbing and stressful.

This year it was noticeable the abundance of people that were unrelated to the TV industry blocking the view of a TV demo, a demo the real industry related people/press needed to evaluate. While observing a set I was interrupted many times by others asking questions that made obvious their disassociation with the industry or product in front of them (what is an OLED? should I wear the 3D glasses?), and their curiosity became rather obstructive to my objective.

In my case OLED, 4K, 3D 4K, and 8K were among the subjects of interest for me, I came to CES to evaluate new efforts and improvements in 2D and 3D image quality, but when trying to review a technology or product to form a judgment about image quality, it was like a competition to find a spot to cleanly see a product without people constantly crossing in front and pushing each other around, not to mention if I tried to take a clear photo of anything. Did you ever try to get a good spot on the habitat window of the just born baby Panda in the zoo, the other zoo, on Sunday?

In addition CES has expanded the definition of actual Press to apparently allow almost anyone that may write a paragraph blog about CE in their personal website. According to CEA, 5000 media and analysts attended; if they were, 90% appeared to be bloggers, and 10% real press professionals that know well the technology they work with.

The abundance of writers may certainly help CES publicly, but makes very difficult my job. I also observed that most come to the show wearing shorts, jeans with holes, T-shirts, dirty tennis shoes, unshaved, apparently unshowered, wearing baseball hats to meetings with people with business attires, you name it.

They cut in lines in front of an actual press person in business suits that was waiting for an hour (me) like no one would notice or mind. They look like they are just an organic extension on their keyboard and cell phone, isolated from reality and probably writing about a product they may have not even seen in the floor but read about in the other blogs, like many do from their kitchen chair without even going to CES.

They add their own single paragraph at the end of copy-and-pasted text obtained from similar Internet luminaries, but using the opportunity to express their opinion based on their twisted interpretation of facts (if they research facts) because "their readers might be waiting and eager to read about the blogger’s professional review". 

Meanwhile, the real press, the ones that treat their jobs professionally and in business suits, the ones that actually need (and know how to properly) review the products and technologies, cannot even get closer to them due to industry unrelated bystanders and bloggers. Although I noticed an improvement at the exhibits: we can now communicate in English in many demos, and, surprisingly, we can get a response in English as well; in the US! This is progress!!     

Although press day may appear to be best chance to see any breakthrough technology or product before the zoo arrives, it is actually deceiving. Sometimes it could happen if one can wait 1-hour-lines and cancel the before/following press conference meetings. 

So one better guess right which manufacturer (LG, or Samsung, or Panasonic, etc.) may announce a breakthrough product that one may not want to miss. Should LG’s OLED be given priority and miss Samsung’s OLED presentation? Or should one go to a (growing trend of) other hotel exhibitions (like OLED by LG Display) and miss a couple of hours of the other valuable press presentations? (Have you even tried to move around in Vegas?) About missing Sharp’s new pixel adventure, or their new TV as big as a small car?

Having a VIP pass for shorter lines was not the answer either for me. I greeted familiar faces of “actual” press colleagues of main publications waiting in the same VIP line, all of us complaining about the same struggle.  And even then I had to miss part/whole meetings due to a tight press conference schedule that does not have consideration for the excessively long waiting lines. 

So what is the solution? Skip CES and attend CEDIA with about 1/6 of the crowd? CEDIA is held a few months before CES and is dedicated to the Home Theater industry. There one can usually see many new products CES will show a few months later, like Sony’s and JVC’s 4K projectors in CEDIA 2011, although the OLEDs and the 4K 3D passive 84” LG LED panel were not shown there. But who cares, we can all get the expert reviews from the kitchen bloggers typing in their pajamas.

I have been saying this to myself every year, but it feels this year CES gave me the strength to reach a decision point of ignoring it next year, unless CES finds a way to separate the crowds and exhibitors of major industries, such as audio and video areas not allowing unrelated attendees, such robotics, computers, photo, phones, car related products, etc.

In other words CES could still have 153K people but by grouping the attendance and related press (even on press day) to only the corresponding industry the event may maximize the productivity of professionals of every industry and still get the coverage CES wants, the benefit would also be that press coverage of every industry would be made by the real experts on their domain, rather than a blogger of cell phones writing about 4K and OLED.

Image Evaluations

Now, do you really want to know my evaluation of Crystal LED from Sony, OLED from LG and Samsung, the 8K panel from Sharp, the 4K passive 3D 84” panel from LG, Toshiba’s and others Glasses-free 3D? Keep yourself tuned.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, February 16, 2012 7:42 AM

More in Category: Events & Tradeshows

About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.