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Fun Products That Wont Appear at CEDIA

In less than two decades, the annual CEDIA EXPO has grown from a show so small it fit into a party tent to one of the top trade shows in the country. Indeed, having outgrown its long-time home in Indianapolis, the EXPO decamps the Hoosier State next year to begin a run in the larger convention facility in Denver.

Why has the show grown to such a preeminent position? The growth of our industry as a whole is certainly a large part or the answer, as is the fact that a visit to CEDIA EXPO enables you to see just about anything you could possibly use as a residential custom installer.

For all of the size and success of CEDIA EXPO, however, there are some things that might be useful for your business that cant be found there. It isnt that EXPO is missing some things, but that some things are missing EXPO!

As the scope of a system designers work expands exponentially, sometimes you need to reach out to products that arent yet in your orbit. Who knows, sooner or later they may well pop up at EXPO, but for now, lets keep these as our secrets.

One good example is the Plus Deck. When you hear that this product is an audio cassette deck you might wonder what the connection is to modern-day home entertainment systems. The answer is that the Plus Deck is more than a simple cassette player; it is a full-logic cassette unit that is configured in a standard 5.25-inch computer drive-bay mount, complete with all the necessary connecting cables.

With analog video cassettes now all but replaced by DV cassettes for camcorders and DVD for in-home entertainment and packaged media, why a cassette deck for a computer? Its actually simple. By adding the Plus Deck into a computer, particularly if it is a MediaCenter model or HTPC, you have the ability to easily convert any old cassettes the client has in drawers or closets into CDs or MP3 files that can later be downloaded to an iPod. Is there an old Party Mix that they want to upload to their server to play at a Nostalgia Party? Is there a training tape, convention seminar, religious tape, or motivational lecture that they want to convert to CD or MP3? Putting a Plus Deck in a computer somewhere in the clients system (or in your shops back room so that you can provide the transfer service) makes this a great idea. No, you probably wont find this one at EXPO, but Ill bet lots of people there can use it.

Another out-of-the-box product is the Auravision keyboard using eluminx technology. Just as you want to make certain that your clients have remote controls with illuminated buttons so that they are easy to operate in the darkened environment of the main theater, so too should it be with any keyboards that they use to check something on the Internet or compete in a multi-player computer-based game on the big screen.

In either black or silver cases, these keyboards are illuminated with a soft blue glow that should not interfere with the atmosphere in the theater, while providing the user with enough light to check their stocks, the scores of sporting events, or to peck away at work while everyone else is enjoying the movie. Its a logical addition to the theater that you should definitely keep in your bag of system option tricks.

When it comes to more serious computer work, other options to consider are the very interesting products from U.K.-based Maltron, available in the U.S. and Canada, through distributors. Designed to eliminate the effects of repetitive stress syndrome, these interesting-looking keyboards split the key layout in half, and twist the positioning of the keys so that the user doesnt have to twist their wrists when typing. During the design of these keyboards thought was even given to how the hands and wrist should rest during thinking time, when you are not actively typing.

What a novel concept: something that is visually unique, likely to the only one on the block, reasonably priced for what it is, and something that offers demonstrable benefits. These are definitely something to look at for a variety of applications.

While its a fair bet that the products mentioned here so far will not be at CEDIA EXPO, this next product may find its way there soon. It is popular enough that it is even featured on the As Seen on TV web site, but it is nevertheless worth mentioning as something that you might want to put in your techs tool kits.

Replacing butane-powered portable soldering tools, and eliminating the wait for a conventional soldering iron to heat, and then cool when you are done on the job, Cold Heat comes up to 800 in less than a second and cools enough to be able to be touched in less than four seconds. You might not want to use a Cold Heat iron for a full day of bench work on precision assemblies, but for a quick repair or connector trim-out on the job this could be just the thing.

Yes, as noted, Cold Heat is now in popular distribution through consumer outlets, but if see it at Expo or consider it for more professional use, it is well worth considering the more powerful ColdHeat Pro model that includes a variety of tips and delivers more power thanks to the use of five batteries.

Heres another product that may possibly appear at EXPO, as it was in Stewart Filmscreens booth at InfoComm. And while Cold Heat wont set you back more than $49, add three zeros to that for this next one. At first glance, the Magic Planet from Global Images Inc. might look like a standard spinning globe, but get closer and youll find that it is a Lucite sphere with a video image playing inside it from a projector placed upright in the units column-like base.

Mostly seen in commercial and hospitality venues, Magic Planet can be anywhere from 14 inches to six feet in diameter and projects an image with no dead spots anywhere on the globe. Are you doing a high-end installation for a client that likes to travel the world and then show the video they took in the home theater? What better prop at the sides of the screen and stage than a video globe that can focus in on any place on earth? Thats what Magic Planet does best.

Does the family have favorite family images that they want played at the entrance to the theater, or do they just want something can be used as an incredible art piece to complement the design theme of the house or possibly give it an out of this world look? That, too, is the type of application that Magic Planet lends itself to. This is one of those things where you will not only need to find a client who can afford the product, but you will both need to find a family that appreciates what it is and lets you work with them to provide a truly unique addition to their homes interior.

Sometimes you see a product at a trade show and are drawn to it not precisely knowing why. Magic Planet was just such a concept. It has had success in the commercial world, seen at CEDIA or not, and it will be interesting to see if someone finds an application for it in the consumer world. If you do, let us know and perhaps well feature it in a future issue.

The products mentioned so far are somewhat out of the box no matter where they appear, but they are reasonably serious. To show that you cant take it all too seriously, here are two more interesting products I rather doubt that youll see at CEDIA EXPO, and both are very out of the box.

The first is something that could help you score points, or at least break the ice with clients who are somewhat technophobic. When your cell phone rings in the middle of a pitch or while doing an on-site survey, you can put everyone in the room at ease. When you take out the latest Razr or Blackberry handset, you can instead take the call using what for all the world looks like a throwback to a 1950s Western Electric black bakelite hand set, complete with curly cord.

The fine folks at Phobile have taken replicas of the old technology, made a few modifications and fitted them with the adaptors needed to connect them to almost any cell phone with a headset jack. Yes, its a bit clunky and perhaps almost silly, but if you dont get a smile on everyones face when you use it perhaps you are in the wrong room.

Trying to make a point about being able to combine the benefits of new technology with the form factor and general comfort level of the familiar? We cant think of a better way to do it. Phobile does not sell direct, but you can purchase the headset through and other web-based merchants.

Saving the best for last, we come to the incredible product line from Japans Solid Alliance, distributed in the U.S. through Id love to meet the folks at Solid Alliance, for they have merged three of my favorite things together: food, fun, and technology. Perhaps you have heard of them; they are the folks that make USB drives embedded in a variety of life-like sushi, sashimi, and shrimp tempura options. Dont pop these in a dish of soy or slather wasabi in them. Rather, plug them into your computer to save or transfer valuable files to outboard memory. If sushis not your thing, they also make USB thumb drives that are small light-up rubber ducks. Theyre cute little fellers, too.
Wait, did I say thumb drives? You bet. Someone finally has the guts to do the obvious. Solid Alliance has done what anyone with a sense of humor may have thought about doing, but couldnt imagine actually doing. They offer a 128 Mb USB drive that is, you guessed it, in the shape of a thumb. OK, perhaps this is a bit off-putting to some, and at $89 a bit over-priced for the amount of memory, but Ill bet that once you see this, you wont be able to resist buying one as a gag gift for that special client with a great sense of humor.

An addendum would be to go all the way and use the ridiculously overpriced $269 USB extension cord they also make. Looking for someplace to attach your sushi-drives or thumb drive to? How about a plate of spaghetti with a fork suspended in mid-air somewhat like those old magic fountains where the beer or soda can appears to be mid-air, with something always flowing out of it. No, not for everyones taste, but for the jokesters among us it is a gold mine of fun.

Michael Heiss ([email protected]) is a
technology and marketing consultant based in Los Angeles.