Many pundits had wondered what impact tough business times would have on CEDIA UK's annual Expo as it returned for a fourth consecutive year to London's massive ExCeL convention center in late June. With the disclaimer upfront that your author is a long-time presenter for CEDIA UK and a former member of the CEDIA board of directors in the U.S., it is fair to say that despite a smaller exhibitor count, the more than 5,000 delegates who made their way out to the Docklands got a tremendous lesson in business success. Adapting to the tenor of the times, there was much to be learned at CEDIA UK Expo '09, both in the courses and from the exhibit stands, than ever before.
To truly appreciate how thin JVC's new ultra-thin LCD set is, compare the thickness (or, if you will, "thin-ness") of the set in the foreground to the one in the background.
More than anything, a large lesson learned by delegates was that trade shows continue to be a critical place to learn about new products hitting the market and new applications for products that you may already be familiar with. A good example of this type of combination was the attention from a number of the manufacturers of flat-panel display mounting systems to products specifically designed for use with new thin LCD displays. After all, what good is a thin display if the mechanics used to mount the display to the wall are twice the thickness of the display itself? That more than one supplier had new or updated "thin-mount" systems more than validated the desirability of the displays shown at Expo, including a new ultra-thin model from JVC.
CEDIA UK was the jumping off point for Philips' unique 21:9 LCD display.
Architects and Interior Designers Welcomed
Among the delegates was a special group that also points to how savvy design/installation firms can plan for survival in hard times. Along with the BIDA (British Interior Design Association), CEDIA hosted more than 110 architects and interior designers at this year's Expo. The programme included both a seminar specifically aimed at design professionals on integrating audio, video, lighting, and home control systems and a guided tour of the exhibit floor. Following some of the designers and architects as they set out about the Expo floor, listening to the questions they asked and the products and systems they enquired about, it is clear that this critical group places high value on what we do. What was the key lesson from Expo on this one? I would say that it was about extending your prospecting to the design community and understanding their view of what are, in truth, your mutual end-consumer clients' needs. The desire is there if you make it look smart, act smart, and meet the budgets. The design community is not your competitor; they should be your ally.
Training and Trade Show Floor
Yes, along with these special courses there was the usual range of training seminars. Having delivered a few and listened to others, I can say that the information was extensive and valuable. Those who were there now have a considerable leg up on the competition. Those who didn't attend would be wise to think again about being penny-wise and pound foolish about not attending CEDIA training when it is available.
Of course, beyond the training and seminars, to many the core of an event such as Expo is the trade show floor. I have already noted some of the items shown, but a few others merit attention.
The 21:9 LCD Video Display
On the display front, along with the trend to thin sets and more large flat-panel displays, of note was the 21:9 LCD display from Philips. No longer a "science project," it is now a commercially available product. Its ultra-wide screen is a perfect match to many theatrical features, though it does take some getting used to. While not as unique as the aspect ratio, the inclusion of access to "cloud content" Internet services is a pointer to what you may expect to see in more high-end displays going forward. That, along with another display-world trend to "200Hz" is part of what will give you the product differentiation needed to set the products you offer and the way in which you offer them apart from the big-box retailers, warehouse stores, and 'net-based merchants.
One more aspect of displays that began to peek out from behind the back rooms at CEDIA Expo was 3D video. There have already been some high-profile sporting events shown in 3D in the UK, Europe, and North America, but be warned that we are still some time away from a unified standard for distribution of these programs to the home, let alone for how they will be displayed on-screen in the home. Thus, although there certainly some 3D projection systems shown at Expo, perhaps the larger lesson learned is to keep up to date on the developments in 3D technology and to at the very least query your vendors about their plans for 3D-compatible products moving forward.
KNX and Longer HDMI Runs
Elsewhere throughout the UK Expo, the numerous stands with products compatible with KNX goes to show the need to continue to become familiar with that system and the products that accommodate it. Also shown on a number of stands were various means to distribute HDMI beyond normal limit-lengths, either through the use of specially designed cables at distances at or over 10m, or through conversion to topologies that allow HDMI to be transmitted over UTP infrastructure such as Cat-5. Some, such as the new system from Smart-e, go even further to mix additional signal types for distribution of the home infrastructure.
Who says the English are stuffy? We don't recommend trying this yourself in a real tub, for safety reasons, but this proper gentleman showed an extreme example of "Internet access everywhere."
LED backlighting for LCD displays was there in both edge-lit and full-array with local dimming configurations. Look for this trend to continue. Media servers were also at Expo, providing another trend that will expand for video and audio as the year moves forward. If you were looking for iPhone applications, there were many worth examining. In-wall, in-ceiling, and other "architectural" speakers also were at every turn of the Expo floor aisles. Some with new acoustics, some with new mounting options, but all worth considering, particularly given the way we saw the aforementioned design pros gravitate to them.
The bottom line is that despite the sluggish economy and fears of "where will the jobs come from to continue to fill my order book?" CEDIA UK Expo 2009 showed more than ever that market intelligence is your number-one key to survival, and CEDIA is a vital component of where that knowledge may be obtained.
Michael Heiss is a contributing editor to Residential Systems magazine out of Los Angeles, California.