2008 CES Gets Juicy

One year after the Consumer Electronics Show switched venues from the Alexis Park to The Venetian/Sands Expo and Convention Center, leaving "renegade" exhibitors at T.H.E. Show's less costly St. Tropez venue isolated from the rest of the action, both shows are back stronger than ever. CES's "high-performance audio" exhibits in the Venetian's Tower Suites have increased to 173 from 122, while T.H.E. Show has expanded to a total of 90 exhibit rooms in the Alexis Park and the St. Tropez.

A number of major companies that didn't exhibit at CES's Venetian Tower Suites last year—including Audio Research, Monster Cable, Wisdom Audio, Ultralink/XLO, and Definitive Technology—have since come around. So have Telarc and 5.1, who have agreed to work within CES's sales constraints and sell products at the Venetian. (Ten other companies that market CDs and LPs will display in the Venetian, but sell only at T.H.E. Show at Alexis Park.) While the major problem of sound bleeding between the air walls of the Sands Expo Center's meeting rooms has motivated a number of companies to mount smaller exhibits in the Venetian Tower suites, 27 large meeting rooms on the Venetian's first three floors remain occupied by major audio, home-theater, and TV companies.

I asked Karen Chupka, Senior Vice President, Events and Conferences, for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which sponsors CES, what kind of feedback she'd received last year. Chupka explained that, besides general delight at discovering how much better the Venetian suites sounded than some had anticipated, people requested more signage and information to help find their way between the meeting rooms and the Tower Suites. In response, CES has undertaken a major education of hotel staff, and made more signs to enable people to find specific exhibitors. They've also changed the show's hours, abandoning the ridiculous starting time of 8am. Hours at the Venetian will be 10–6 on opening day, Monday, January 7; 9–6 on January 8 and 9; and 9–4 on January 10.

CES is also making a major effort to draw home-theater enthusiasts to "high-performance" (high-end ) exhibits. A special virtual brochure will promote the high-performance venues to registrants from both this and last year who indicate an interest in high-performance audio or home theater. Further exposure for high-performance exhibits comes from scheduling CES's Science and Technology Awards and keynote speakers at the Venetian.

CES has also addressed problems of external navigation. To the relief of showgoers and Stereophile staff who, last year, encountered major delays while shuttling through Las Vegas's construction-clogged streets, the Las Vegas Regional Transportation Commission has promised that no construction will be scheduled during CES.

The Venetian has also redecorated the two-level sleeping suites that house most of the exhibits on the Venetian's 29th and 30th floors. (If you click here, then click on the "virtual tour" button on the right, you can see how the standard rooms now look.) Gone are the big, move-on-penalty-of-death TV armoires that took up so much space. While there are still restrictions on what furniture and wall hangings can be removed, there is increased flexibility concerning what can be moved around to accommodate equipment. Members of the press will be delighted to learn of the creation of a separate Bloggers' Lounge, leaving other reporters more space in the dedicated pressrooms in the Venetian Tower and the Sands Expo Center.

Home on the Ranch: Farther down the road than you can flip a silver dollar, Richard Beers is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of T.H.E. Show. "We're trying to show that audiophiles have a home, rather than an upper corner of a building," he explains with his inimitable mix of sardonic wit and competitive spirit. In the spirit of ranch-style living, all but three exhibits will be located on the ground floors of the Alexis Park and St. Tropez: no walking up and down stairs, no elevators, no noise from above. And for those who prefer to sleep in, T.H.E. Show's hours will be a merciful 9:30–6:30.

Home on the fringe also comes with free lunch and live music. During the day, Zu Audio and Daedalus will alternate to provide the music, while nighttime will offer jazz and Dixieland. The Alexis Park's Parthenon will offer CDs and LPs for sale, plus space for wireless Internet. And the Alexis's Athena Ballroom will become home for Swedish distributor Sjöfn and a popular European jazz ensemble.

"I hate convention floors where there's no place to sit, no place to talk, and everyone's pushing," says Beers. "There's going to be plenty of room for everyone. If people want to come back, they have a home."

While many longtime exhibitors remain loyal to T.H.E. Show, a few have bolted. "Audio Research has gone to the dark side," Beers quips, "but Halcro has come back." Other major exhibitors include Kimber Kable (who will supply every room with IsoMike demo discs), Harbeth, Fujitsu, Edge, Escalante, Rockport, and both Audio Notes. Building 6 at the St. Tropez will play host to Asian exhibitors, 90% of them from Japan.

Although admission to CES proper is limited to members of the consumer-electronics industry, and press registrations will be more closely scrutinized than before, T.H.E. Show has been known to admit anyone with a business card. Last year, T.H.E. drew at least 5000 people. With the only other audio shows scheduled for 2008 being the mainly home-theater CEDIA and the Rocky Mountain AudioFest, Richard Beers had better print up lots more Sourcebooks.