For better or for worse, and I’m disinclined to think it’s for better, the Consumer Electronics Show has become the preeminent, predominant, premier emporium of “the electronic lifestyle” in the country—maybe the world. Literally. The tradeshow floor opened before any other this year, on January 4, barely enough time to overcome the hangover of the season preceding, and with formal events occuring two days earlier. It used to be Macworld that ushered in the year, but perhaps in empathy for all who attend, the organizers ran it the second week of January in ’06. Things are changing in the show business.
The CE show’s predominance could be an inheritance from the old COMDEX, which, although staged in November, still represented an escape to the desert in the winter. The Las Vegas part of the desert, probably the best town in the Western Hemisphere for holding a convention. It keeps getting better, too.
Last year we sampled the monorail, which glides past the convention center and several major hotels. The cabbies say nobody uses it, but a New York boy like yours truly understands the significance of a mass transit system in a town that strangles when the show floor closes. There must be ten thousand people to remove, and the length of the cab lines is absurd. Meanwhile, Las Vegas’ best-kept secret, the municipal bus that stops all up and down the Strip for two bucks, upgraded this year to double-deckers. It’s still two bucks a ride, though you can buy an all-day pass for $5.
Las Vegas Monsters
It was a monster show like COMDEX that made Vegas a winter pilgrimage for the high-tech crowd, although that show finally collapsed under its own diffuse weight. It had everything computerific, more than any one person could want to see even if they were able to in one short week. It was more than one person could walk through, which some have to do in a hurry. For some attendees, a tradeshow is about strolling the aisles and admiring the exhibits. For others, it’s dashing from meeting to meeting, learning secrets, making deals.
The CE show this year reached the same level of sprawl and general discomfort as COMDEX in its prime. It seemed to fill every nook and cranny, from the Hilton to the south wall of South Hall, plus the two enormous halls in between, plus a very large chunk of the Sands Convention Center. As the LVCC itself has enlarged, so has the infrastructure at its boundaries. There is more parking for the hotel buses, the various shuttles, the taxis, and possibly an improvement in the frequency of arrivals and departures. But the atmosphere along these plazas seems as frenzied as always, hurried, confused, at times ridiculously overcrowded—and with waiting lines reaching back to the building wall, curving around again and entwining with others, it becomes remarkably easy to discover you’ve been standing twenty minutes on the line for the No. 4, while you thought it was for the No. 5.
What may keep the CE show from imploding as its predecessor did is its focus. You could find computery things of all descriptions at COMDEX, and to an extent you still can at the CES—but to a lesser extent. The CE show being the temple of “the electronic lifestyle,” it has a primary guiding light that COMDEX didn’t.
And what is “the electronic lifestyle?” It’s a modality we first heard about from some Sony guys in the eighties. But how is it defined, exactly?
Electronic Lifestyle 101
Its definitions are imprecise, but presumably it means the use of electronic devices, many of them for a profusion of purposes. Who practices the electronic lifestyle? Presumably, everyone who is making minimum wage or more, and quite a few who aren’t. How pervasive is it all? It stretches from automotive audio systems to everything-phones, music-downloading and -playing appliances, recording media and media content, novelties and toys, games, tools—no matter where you are or what you do, you can spend every waking hour, and every sleeping hour, too, in the presence of something electronic. This couldn’t be said in 1986.
The headline-getters this time were whatever had to do with high-definition television—wide screens, high-resolution digital projectors, enormous-capacity video discs. By the tenets of the electronic lifestyle, the home theater has replaced the family rec room as the locus of social intercourse.
Into this room, using many of its appliances, goes the camera, of course. It wasn’t true more than a decade ago, but it’s indubitably so today—the snapshot camera is a consumer electronic, and one of the most popular at that.
Before this turn of events, photography shows were where new cameras were introduced. There were a dozen or two at this CE show. And there were good reasons to notice. For at an electronics show, more so than at a photo show, you can look at complete photography systems.
Photography’s Big Picture
Computers and disk drives are required for digital photography, and they were all over the CE show. We generally don’t find them at photo shows. Their manufacturers are certainly interested in the photo market, and had much to tell us. Maxtor was showing its 1-terabyte drive and home-network-compatible storage solutions that all picture-takers would want to hear about. Seagate, Kingston, and Western Digital were all discussing back-up strategies—something to think about in a day when a moderately priced drive holds 200 gigs of pictures and more. They all have important stories to tell Joe and Jane Foto, and they’re eager to tell ’em. But they go to electronics shows, not photo shows.
Is one computer likely to be better for photographers than others? Not as discernibly as it once was, but yes, to an extent. For those who shoot and process their pix on location, Panasonic still makes the Toughbook, ruggedized for the task. Among desktop computers, even entry-level models outperform the minicomputers of a decade ago, so it’s harder to say which have special abilities that photographers need. Harder, but not necessarily impossible.
At the CE show you find gamers’ computers, and who needs to process data faster than gamers? Graphic data at that? A lot of these are really hot boxes, transparent so you can watch them blink and flicker. One drive manufacturer even showed me a disk with a window in it, so gamers could watch the heads dance. Could photographers use all that video RAM? You bet. And at the CE show, they can find out all about it. They won’t at most photo shows.