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Top 10 CEDIA EXPO Memories

A week from today, I will be walking off of a plane and stepping into the (hopefully) welcoming bosom of Indianapolis for the annual CEDIA EXPO. (Love ya, Indy, but, can't lie, looking forward to going back to Denver in '13!)

A week from today, I will be walking off of a plane and stepping into the (hopefully) welcoming bosom of Indianapolis for the annual CEDIA EXPO. (Love ya, Indy, but, can’t lie, looking forward to going back to Denver in ’13!)

This will be my 14th EXPO and it is my favorite of the conventions for all of the reasons listed in my “Why I love CEDIA’s EXPO” post.

But with the event right around the corner and with many people attending the convention for the first time—or at least for the first time in years—I thought I would share some of my top CEDIA EXPO memories.

#1 Sciacca CEDIA Virgin
My first EXPO was in 1998 in New Orleans. And, as New Orleans is prone to do, there was a rainstorm and the city totally flooded. Like *feet* of water coming into hotel rooms and streets and stores closing. Everywhere you went, there was water. (And also liquor. Because it was still New Orleans.) But once you made it into the EXPO hall, it was all good. I had never seen so much amazing gear packed into one building. I tried to hit every demo, see every product and collect a little bit of ALL of it to bring home. My staff called me “pack mule” and dumped all the literature gathering duties on me, meaning that I returned home with a suitcase packed with hundreds of pages literature, mini screwdrivers, flashlights, pens and other bits of random. But it didn’t matter, because I’d tasted EXPO and it was good.

First Timer Pro Tip: Triage the literature grabbing and bring a backpack or similar to haul around your load on the showfloor. Also, if you want to know more about something, have the exhibitor scan your badge for a post-show follow-up and ask if they have the information on a USB drive instead.

#2 Most Memorable Classes
Every year EXPO offers an amazing amount of education opportunities where you can learn from other giants of the industry. The variety of classes offered this year covers almost every topic imaginable and whether you are just starting out or are an industry vet, EXPO has a class that would benefit everyone. My first year I took classes on surround sound and high-end home theater design from Lucasfilm’s Tom Holminson and Russ Hirschelman who was the superstar home theater installer for many years. It was awesome to sit in the room and soak up the knowledge of these greats and to hear their personal stories of jobs and projects they’d worked on.

First Timer Pro Tip: It’s tough to balance class time with floor time, and your three days at EXPO are going to whiz by. Don’t sign up for so many classes that you don’t get to spend some time on the floor, but don’t shortchange your education opportunities either.

#3 Most Insane Demo
The demos are by far one of my favorite parts of the EXPO experience. Here you can learn some tips on how to give a demo, check out some new scenes that you might use in your own demos, and just sit back and enjoy the full awesome of some 6-figure cinemas. I have seen some awesome demos over the years, but the one that STILL stands out in my mind is the Polk Audio/Cinepro Raptor demo. If you saw this, then you’ll remember it. The demo clip was the airplane takeover scene from Air Force One and even though you KNEW the gunshot was coming, everyone in the room JUMPED at the intensity of that first shot because the system had such insane dynamics that it truly sounded like someone had just fired a gun off right next to you in the room. The sound of the metal slide racking back, the explosion of the gunshots…just…AWESOME.

First Timer Pro Tip: Some demos get quite a line and it sucks to spend your time on the floor waiting. If you really want to see a demo, find out when they start and head their first thing.

#4 Best Booth
Runco used to partner with other companies and build these giant booths that were like miniature cities. They had themes and a whole different vibe and atmosphere. Plus they would show off like 6-figure projectors and quarter-million dollar audio systems, making it a demo that people will wait in line for literally hours to see. Another stunning booth was put on by the short-lived Life-Ware group. (Also an amazing example in how — if you have enough money — you can buy a GIANT splash into this industry.) Life-Ware built not a booth but a HOUSE that was fully furnished and decked out with tech. They would walk groups through the home demonstrating the technology in an actual lifestyle environment. The title of best booth at EXPO last year (in my opinion) goes to Digital Projection. They had tons of giant, ultra-bright images beamed onto multiple screens, and a way cool take on digital projection signage and a virtual, constantly changing backdrop when you walked in. Who will have the best booth this year…?

#5 Discovering Technology
CEDIA is the place where you will find the next generation of gear that will fuel your business. If it is going to be happening in tech, automation or integration, then it will be at EXPO. The EXPO is the place where I first saw HD (give an old-timer a shout-out if you remember “Texas Wild”!). It’s also where I saw my first demo of Kaleidescape. And where I discovered Sooloos (at the bottom floor in this tiny little space, but drawing a big crowd that meant they were on to something). And where I saw my first demonstration – from Runco – of anamorphic front projection.

First Timer Pro Tip: Ask other attendees about what they’ve seen that is cool. This is a great way to start up a conversation and to keep your finger on the pulse of EXPO.

Sciacca Pro Tip: If you see something that I need to see, shoot me a tweet at @SciaccaTweets!

#5.1 Best…3D…EVER!
While this could have gone under the “discovering technology” heading, I figured I’d give it a separate mention because, well, I needed 10 things. It’s no secret that I am not a giant fan of 3D. I find it *very* eye fatiguing and often gimmicky and usually not adding to the movie watching experience. But EXPO is where I saw a 3D demonstration that changed my mind in the form of the Runco D-73d double-stack, passive 3D projection system. Last year Runco upped the ante with the D-113d projector with an image so awesomely-bright that it inspired me to write:

“This is the brightest projector that Runco has ever produced, capable of blasting out 11,570 lumens and probably incinerating any flying bugs that might foolishly cross its beam path. Even on this giant 215-inch screen — and showing perhaps the only CEDIA demonstration of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ever — the image was like an awesomely ultra-bright, double-fisted retina punch! I fully expected to see people that stupidly turned around to look back into the supernova sun blast of the lens to have their eyes catch on fire and burn out of their sockets Raiders of the Lost Ark style. (Best…Press…Conference….EVER!) This thing was AMAZINGLY bright. How bright? How about 100 foot lambers on that 215-inch screen bright! Imagine if there was a 20-cell Mag-Lite. Then imagine if you focused that beam down until it was like a lightsaber of light intensity. That would still probably not be as bright as this. Oh. And PS: it still had awesome contrast and black levels.”

Will anyone be able to outdo that at this year’s show? Well, I look forward to finding out!

#6 Meeting Celebs
You know you’re truly a nerd when you consider someone a celebrity who works in the AV industry, but if you’re in this game, this is probably a big part of your life and there are “celebrities” to be spotted at the show. Some of the people that I’ve had the privilege of meeting at EXPO include: Sam Runco (Runco), Noel Lee (Monster Cable), Sandy Gross (co-founder of Polk, Definitive Technology and now GoldenEar Technology), Matthew Polk (Polk Audio), Joe Kane (video guru and man behind Video Essentials), Theo Kalomirakis (called “the father of home theater”), Bob Stuart and Allen Boothroyd (Meridian), Don Stewart (Stewart Filmscreen), and Joel Spira (Lutron). It’s pretty awesome to be able to walk up to the person that founded the company whose products you sell. Introduce yourself and thank them for the great work they’ve done.

The EXPO is also a great place to meet the writers of a lot of the AV news and reviews you probably read. At this EXPO you could run into wordsmiths like The Internet’s Geoff Morrisson, The Darryl Wilkinson, Dennis Burger, Brent Butterworth, Rob Sabin, Adrienne Maxwell, Al Griffin, Julie Jacobson, Robert Archer, Steven Stone, Grant Clauser, and, of course, all-around-nice-guy, Jeremy Glowacki. I can assure you that any one of these folks would be flattered if you walked up to them and said that you read and enjoy their stuff.

First Timer Pro Tip: Don’t be a time hog. If you get a chance to meet someone at the show, be respectful of their time. A quick hello, handshake and thanks will put you in good stead.

#7 Dinner Scene
Some of the best memories at EXPO happen off the showfloor. (And I don’t mean “off the showfloor and in the classroom learnin’” either.) Hanging out with other integrators and manufacturers and shooting the breeze and talking shop over some (sushi, steak, pizza, pasta, beer, scotch, absinthe…) is a great way to end a day. I’ve attended some amazing dinners at CEDIA courtesy of different manufacturers. Some truly standout moments include having fresh wasabi (scraped from a root tableside on a sharkskin) with Mike Detmer (previously) of Niles, a spectacular multi-course wine tasting feast celebrating Escient’s anniversary, another amazing wine-feast with Sandy Gross, watching sunsets at The Fort with Russound, and selecting from an insane beer list with URC.

First Timer Pro Tip: If you don’t get a dinner invite, don’t worry! There are tons of parties going on almost every night! Check with your reps to see what parties you can get an invite to!

#8 Rockin’ up and down the block!
There are parties and then there are *events*. Companies have rented out movie theaters and pool halls and bowling alleys and karaoke bars. Meridian held a cool event where they had an after-hours party at the Atlanta Aquarium. Microsoft had a private luxury box at the Rockies for a ball game (with personalized shirts for people in attendance; I still have my “SCIACCA” jersey.) SpeakerCraft turned downtown Denver into a carnival! But the best event I went to was none of those things. Nope. The best CEDIA EXPO event for me was Kid Rock. Girls in cages, DJ booth, giant screen of Joe C, girl on the drums just beating those skins and Kid “straight out the trailer” Rock. I believe the show was sponsored by SpeakerCraft and Life-Ware and it was *awesome*. He rocked it hard for like 90 minutes, played all his hits, was a great entertainer and showed exactly how to party at EXPO.

#9 Becoming a member of the Press
Walking into the Press Room for the first time with a badge that said “PRESS” on it was a pretty awesome moment for me. And – I’m not gonna lie – you do get a little bit of extra attention when you walk up to a crowded booth and you have a “PRESS” badge on. (You also stand a decent chance of being “back doored” into a crowded demo.) Of course, it also comes with the extra bit of responsibility of having to spend many hours on your feet, going to early press events and way-late dinners and then writing about all of the stuff that you saw, boiling it and condensing it down to some entertaining chunks. But, it’s totally worth it.

#10 Rolling with the Pack
At last year’s CEDIA, I met up with the writing powerhouse trio of Darryl Wilkinson, Geoff Morrison, Dennis Burger, and Brent Butterworth and together the four of us breached the showfloor before it opened and—in my mind—we were walking four abreast, totally slo-mo and cool like the opening scene out of Reservoir Dogs. (I don’t know about everyone else, but Wilkinson was *definitely* Mr. Pink.) It felt very cool to be a part of a pack of guys who’s writing I respect and who have earned such a place in the journalism side of this industry.

First Timer Pro Tip: Traveling the EXPO floor with a buddy or partner is a great way to cover the show.

So, those are some of my favorite CEDIA EXPO memories. But the great thing about memories is there is always room to make more. The EXPO begins next week, and if you haven’t signed up yet, you’re gonna miss out! The coolest kids are gonna be there checking out the coolest stuff. Don’t you want to join us and make some memories of your own? 

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.