The Custom Installer: Custom is Cool

Remember back in high school? It seemed like everyone went to the Senior Prom. But as the party started winding down, the cool kids pulled away in rented limos and headed off to hotel rooms around town to continue partying the night away.

A similar thing happens each year in the electronics industry. In January, Las Vegas hosts the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which everyone attends. Like all things Vegas, CES is huge and over the top, with every piece of electronics paraphernalia imaginable. And with some companies having booths so large they practically require their own Zip codes, it's easy to get lost, and impossible to take it all in.

But the cool kids still have their own thing going on, and for them the annual event is the CEDIA Expo, held by the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association every September. The Expo focuses only on the gear that makes home theater, distributed audio/video, and home automation possible. You know - the stuff you read Sound & Vision for (see "Best in Show,").

While the show floor is definitely the sexiest part of the Expo, there's a lot more to the experience than just checking out the latest digital wizardry. For a custom installer, the Expo is really about opportunities.

Of course, there's the opportunity to see the cutting-edge products that will have us talking for the next year. This year's buzz was definitely 1080p. While I'm not ready to take a hammer to my 720p HDTV - yet - it won't be long before having anything less than 2 million pixels will make you feel like you're sitting at the wrong lunch table.

You can also see which trends are hot and which are about to be. Streaming media is here to stay, and nearly every company is trying to work it into its products. If you haven't converted your CDs and photos to digital files yet, do so before you have to endure whispered snickers at your next dinner party. Also, measuring storage in gigabytes is so last year - the cool kids are talking in terabytes now.

The iPod revolution continues unabated, and soon you'll be liberating your Pod from your pocket and docking it in various places around your house. If you aren't enjoying XM satellite radio yet, you probably will when you buy your next receiver. "XM Ready" branding is nearly as popular as lower-back tattoos. Another receiver must is HDMI switching, and manufacturers are racing to add it to their lines.

Finally, the Expo offers the chance to learn more about being an installer. CEDIA is keen on educating its members, and more than 175 educational courses and 100 manufacturer-training sessions were held at the show. When you work in an industry that evolves at a pace that would make Darwin nervous, ongoing education is a must.

Since the first Expo in 1989 - hosting a scant 500 attendees - the CEDIA show has continually grown in popularity. This year's Expo had 560 exhibitors and drew over 26,000 members from around the globe. Increased demand for booth space had the show overflowing both the Indianapolis Convention Center and the adjoining RCA Dome. Next year, the show moves to a larger venue in Denver and expands from three days to four. Speaking for the cool kids, we can't wait!

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