Utopia Theater: The Storm Before the Storm

This column had to be submitted just before I left home for CEDIA so predictions are all I have to offer you here. Based on the feeding frenzy of calls and emails coming my way in the months leading up to the convention from manufacturers and PR flaks alike, this year's Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association's annual EXPO is going to be a frantic carnival of a convention.

I submitted my press registration information in early June, and within a few weeks the calls and emails started coming. Would I like to make a booth appointment with so and so and learn about the latest home automation devices? No! Would I like to meet the designer of an A-Bus distribution module offering an affordable solution for multi-room music distribution with paging capabilities? No! How about a new line of HDMI switchers? Maybe! Perhaps a meeting with a hard drive manufacturer whose drives are powering the most sophisticated consumer applications and devices on the market today? No! again.

And on and on. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with these products, it's just that they're not on my beat, not what I cover. So while CEDIA has done a great job linking journalists with exhibitors, a great deal of energy, time and effort could be saved with a more nuanced approach to the forced handshakes. Perhaps a way could be found for journalists to be more specific on the registration paperwork about what they plan to cover at the show. That way the PR agency for a company making home theater seating can skip the call to a writer who only covers displays or 5.1 channel sound systems. You get my drift.

As it was, I had to say "no" to an awful lot of nice people just doing their jobs. In fact, I said "no" to every so-called "booth appointment" offer. They are easy to make: 9AM at Samsung, 9:20AM at Panasonic, 9:40AM at the HD radio reception and so on. Before you leave for Indianapolis, your entire schedule is filled. You literally walk down the aisles like a car on a mass production assembly line, picking up pieces as you roll along meeting your scheduled appointments.

The only problem is that it never works out as neatly as the schedule indicates. Someone doesn't show up on time, so your appointment is pushed back a few minutes. Something piques your curiosity at one appointment and you choose to stay a little longer than planned. A few of those and you're backed up 10 minutes, one entire appointment. Before lunch on day one, the entire schedule has gone up in a puff of PDA smoke. So I don't make booth appointments. I just make the rounds.

I'm mostly interested in checking out the new 1080p display devices, new 5.1 channel speaker systems and A/V electronics. It may be a custom install show but custom install solutions are of little interest to me (no surprise to anyone who's been reading this column) and it's not the focus of this online publication, which is one reason I write for it to begin with.

Just as iPod mania has helped create an entire industry based on providing peripherals to pod owners—like cases, docking stations, headphones, speakers, remote controls and the like, the home theater foundation of a projector and screen, processor/amplifiers and speakers has spawned an industry or five dedicated to the walls, the seats, the rack mounts, the lighting, the carpeting and all of the peripherals associated with a custom installed home theater and distributed audio system.

Just when you thought you'd seen every category of peripheral imaginable, a new gizmo shows up, like one I saw during a visit I made to Seattle to do an in-store appearance at Definitive Audio. I got to "experience" a product I'm sure will be a big attraction at CEDIA called D-Box. If you're not familiar, it's a motion simulator that gets custom programmed to synch up with the action on a DVD.

The edition I experienced was built into a platform upon which three theater seats were bolted. We were shown the scene in "T3" where that enormous cable laying truck goes on a rampage. As the truck crashed into things, or things crashed into it, the entire platform would rock, jolt and shift up, down and sideways in sympathy—often almost kidney jarring violently so—with the action. It was nauseating and that was the idea.

When a new movie is issued on DVD, programmers working for the company get it, watch it, and create a program for the simulator to follow that synchs with the action. A dealer supplied CD-ROM downloads the program to the customers D-box. Of course there's a lag time of weeks between when a DVD is released and when D-Box has the synch program ready, so forget about watching a new DVD soon after it's released.

While being jolted in my seat I couldn't help but think how the experience was the antithesis of what movie going is supposed to be about. Instead of getting "lost" in what's happening on screen, the movie becomes about you, the audience member. It's perverse. Speaking of which, imagine a motion sensor seat programmed for a porno flick, or one with built in accoutrements! I won't be surprised to find it at this year's CEDIA Expo. I'll let you know next month.