CES Survival Guide

This is the week. Throngs of unsuspecting innocents are expected to descend on the Las Vegas Convention Center. (That's in Nevada, not Las Vegas, NM. Yes, there is such a place, but they don't hold conventions (there aren't enough rooms at the Motel 6).

The draw, of course, is the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show. Most of the attendees will be from the trade (dealers, manufacturers, PR types, the media). In theory, it's not open to the public, but more than a few civilians do manage to get in to scope out the latest consumer electronics goodies.

Not a few of the expected 13,000 attendees will be newbies, totally unprepared for what they are about to experience. A little preparation will go a long way.

Bring money… In years past, when rooms and shows were cheap, the City Dads of Vegas complained that showgoers were cheap gamblers; they spent all their time at the show and not enough at the blackjack tables and slot machines.

Then they discovered that if You Charge More, They Will Still Come. Some things are still reasonable there, such as food (though there are plenty of expensive restaurants if that's your thing). New Yorkers won't blanch at the costs, but if you're from Des Moines, you might. Hotel rates, for example, are triple or quadruple their normal tourist levels. And cheap shows are a thing of the past.

Pack for any weather… Vegas weather this time of year is usually very pleasant, with daytime temperatures in the 50s and low 60s under clear, sunny skies, dipping down into the 30s at night. Rain is rare.But you never can tell. Last year it was about 10 degrees colder than usual and rained every day. I can't remember seeing the sun the whole show. We even had about five minutes of snow flurries, prompting grandiose stories in the press about how it snowed in Las Vegas during CES.

Bring comfortable shoes… And not new ones, unless you don't plan on walking much.

Bring an easy to carry brochure bag… I prefer a small, wheeled one—the smallest airline-style carry-on you can find. It not only saves a lot of heavy lifting (bags get increasingly stuffed as the day goes on), but it's great fun to watch people trip as you drag it along behind you.

Make a list, check it twice… Plan ahead. For trade visitors, that's usually not a problem, since they have certain types of products they must cover. But even for them, there's always the temptation to try to see everything. You can't. The show's too big. To avoid frustration, know what you want or must see and see it first. Then, if there's time, go to the lower priority exhibits on your list.

Learn the territory… There are official exhibits at the convention center, various rooms and suites at the Hilton Hotel (directly north of the convention center, but a very long hike from the center's South Halls, where many of the home theater exhibits are located), the convention halls at the Sands hotel (many press events are being held there, for reasons that have not yet become apparent as I write this), and the Alexis Park hotel (long the official venue for high-end audio). In addition, numerous manufacturers who are not showing at any of these places book suites at hotels all over town to set up and exhibit their wares. These so-called "outboarders" are unofficial; they don't have to pay the Consumer Electronics Association anything for the privilege of being in Vegas and getting a share of the action. They're also the hardest to find and cover, which is why we often miss many of them. I know journalists who refuse outright to visit outboarders, even those at the Renaissance hotel, a new facility about fifty steps next to the convention center's South Hall.

The largest of the outboarding sites is a whole show in itself&151;T.H.E. Show (short for The Home Entertainment Show, and not in any way related to The Home Entertainment Show put on every year by Primedia (this websites corporate owner) on behalf of its special interest AV publications like Stereophile, Home Theater, and Ultimate AV). As in years past, T.H.E. Show, which is also dedicated primarily to high-end/esoteric audio, will be at the St. Tropez, right next to the Alexis Park.

Don't sleep in… It's not a vacation, and there's too much to see. Besides, there's nothing to do in Vegas late at night anyway.

Plan on more get-around time than you think you'll need… After COMDEX, the huge November computer industry show, closed up shop, many computer vendors decided to book exhibit space at CES. CES attendance exploded, increasing by 30-40%. Transportation became a nightmare. Yes, there are free shuttle busses, taxis, and a new monorail system that might actually be working this year, but the lines for all of these are very long. Plan on an hour to get anywhere beyond the general confines of the convention center, and even longer at opening and closing time. And if you have a car, get to the convention center early&151;parking is at a premium. (A car is not necessarily a solution to the transportation logjam; you have to walk a half mile to and from the lot, park again at the other end of your trip, and pay again if you return to the convention center—if you can find another parking spot).

Wash your hands twice an hour… The CES Flu is a unique but quite common strain that many bring home from the show. There is no guarantee that you'll avoid it, but being slightly paranoid can't hurt

Return home the Tuesday after the show… If you're flying, and if you can spare an extra day. As already noted, there's nothing to do in Vegas after CES closes anyway, but think of the crowds you'll miss at the airport by spending Monday in your hotel room sorting that pile of brochures (and, for media types, press kits) and learning about that one revolutionary exhibit you somehow missed.

Have Fun Unless you're an exhibitor stuck in one place the entire show and forced to watch the Diva scene from 500 times (yes, some exhibitors are still using this—don't they watch enough DVDs to find new material?), none of the above will bother you in the end. Despite all the hassles, the crowds, the expense, and even the flu, CES is a great big candy store, and the best Christmas present you'll get this year. If you're not having the time of your life, you're in the wrong business.

If you're one of those fortunate civilians who found a way to get in and were disappointed, I hear the hardware industry puts on a great trade show.