It's Showtime! The A/V Show Season Gets Underway

After a long, hot summer (in more ways than one!), the audio and A/V show season recently kicked off with the annual CEDIA Expo. CEDIA stands for the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association, and as the name implies, it caters to attendees in the business of installing custom home theaters and media rooms. As such it also offers a wide range of training sessions to supplement its trade show exhibits.

In recent years CEDIA has moved beyond traditional A/V gear and into peripheral products such as home automation, security, and home health assistance — areas a custom install company might find useful in expanding its services. But traditional audio and video are still CEDIA's core attractions, and in showcasing both current and new products it draws a huge contingent from the A/V press.

CEDIA rotates to different cities; in recent years it's been held in San Diego, Indianapolis, Denver, and Atlanta. This year it was in Dallas, and 2022 was something of an Expo homecoming. The 2020 version was held virtually because of Covid, and the 2021 show, while live, was scaled back dramatically for the same reason.

While I didn't make it to CEDIA this year (other things intruded) the show was back to full strength. Sound & Vision editor Mark has posted his Editor's Picks here, and if you Google CEDIA 2022 on YouTube you can spend a few hours perusing reports from all the usual suspects — and some unusual ones as well. There are enough grinning faces in those postings to make it clear that CEDIA Expo 2022 was rousing success.

Among the new products were new receivers, particularly from Marantz and Denon. Oddly, in Marantz' new AVRs the lower the model number the higher the price. There were also new projectors from Sony, Epson, LG, and others, many of them laser-lit. Using laser illumination rather than a traditional projection lamp has been rare in the past apart from relatively unaffordable designs. In recent years, however, lasers have been showing up more frequently, particularly in ultra short-throw projectors. But now they're trickling down to more conventional, relatively affordable long-throw designs. They're still not exactly priced for impulse buying, but the long life of lasers (compared to projection lamps) and their ability to be switched on and off rapidly (perhaps thereby enhancing full-screen black levels) makes them increasingly desirable if their prices are tolerable.

CEDIA has always featured such new projectors and projection demos, often conducted in prefabricated rooms on the otherwise open show floor. The lines are often long for these demos, since projection is favored by most custom home theater installers. But they're usually worth the time.

Vendors of flat-screen sets usually show up at CEDIA, but rarely offer new products. That's the province of CES, the biggest trade show for the industry. CES is held in early January and is always in Las Vegas. CES used to stand for the Consumer Electronics Show, but for some reason the CES powers that be decided it didn't need to be that specific; now it's just CES which doesn't stand for anything. But it's still primarily a consumer electronics show (lower case c.e.s).

CES should also be up to full speed in this coming January 2023. In 2021 it was virtual. CES 2020 was the last version that was open in person. That show drew over 170,000 attendees from all over the world (CEDIA is generally in the 20,000 range), including over 1,000 Chinese companies months before anyone could even spell Covid-19.

There's usually a smattering of projectors at CES, but mainly limited to the short throw variety and mostly using light rejecting screens capable of producing reasonably impressive images without the need for a totally darkened room. But one-piece televisions are the Big Show at CES, and the exhibits launching the upcoming year's new models are far more imposing than anything you'll see at CEDIA. At the last few shows LG has managed to win the unofficial, eye-watering demo prize by using dozens of interconnected OLEDs displaying moving images that attendees could walk through (as shown in the photo at the top of this blog).

For years, up to roughly 2017, CES had a dedicated venue for high-end audio exhibits, most recently at the Venetian hotel. That's now long gone, likely the victim of rising costs in Vegas in general and possibly from increasing CES costs for exhibitors as well. I've been following Las Vegas hotel rates at shows for years. Even at the 2020 CES, hotel room rates in early January were at least double what they once were (one can only guess what inflation will do to them for the 2023 show!). I once heard a story (which sounds believable but may apocryphal) that back when CES costs in Vegas were more manageable hotels complained that CES attendees didn't gamble as much as typical visitors. This limited their revenue, but they appear to have found the solution!

CEDIA and CES are, in theory, trade only events. The general public isn't invited. But that's never been seriously enforced. True, you can't just wander in. You'll need to be on the registration list to get a badge at the show, and you can't get into the exhibits without a badge. But if you want to attend either show you can usually score a guest registration through a friend in the industry or a local dealer and/or custom installer, particularly one that you've done business with in the past or plan to in the future.

If I had to choose one show or the other, CEDIA would be my clear choice for a first-time show-goer, particularly if home theater is your primary interest. For the first-time attendee CES can be a bit overwhelming unless you attend with a friend who's been there before and knows the ropes.

But if you're itching to see and hear the best in high-end audio, a separate consumer audio show would be a better bet. There are dozens of such shows every year where you can (usually) sit down and listen, often in a room that's a reasonable approximation of a home audio setup (though often smaller). These shows are open to the public for a nominal charge (not cheap, but comparable to an evening at the movies or slightly more).

The granddaddy of high-end audio shows is in Munich, Germany, typically in May. Much like the above shows, it was negatively affected by the Big Cov but was back in business last spring. A trip to Germany sounds like a big stretch, but it could be combined with a wider vacation with a 2-3 day layover in the city. "Hey, hon, would you like to take a tour of Germany this spring?" Absent that, there are smaller audio shows all around the USA throughout the year. But be aware that audio is king at such shows; full home theater demos are rare.

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