ViewPoint: Show Time

The booths are disassembled, the carpets are rolled up and stored, and the showgoers are back at their day jobs. CEDIA Expo 2004 is over, and there's no doubt that the planning for 2005 began the day after this year's installment closed.

Installment is the operative word. The function of the CEDIA Expo, now as ever, is to present the latest and greatest in gear, ideas, and training to the installers who design these systems and put them in their customers' homes.

Sometimes we, the specialized audio-video press, forget this. We view CEDIA as a mini Consumer Electronics Show, but with a much tighter focus. In-wall and on-wall products dominate the speaker introductions at CEDIA. Video projectors and flat-panel displays are everywhere. More than a few booths are laid out to simulate typical home living spaces.

And manufacturers now introduce almost as many new home theater products at CEDIA as they do at CES. So it's no surprise that our show report in this issue's "Take 1" is filled to overflowing. While we saw no genuinely revolutionary products for the first time, there was more than enough cool stuff to keep UAV's intrepid reporters hopping for four days.

Each year, CEDIA also runs an Electronic Lifestyles award competition, publishing entries for various types of installations—home theaters, media rooms, integrated homes, etc.—in a thick book that attendees use as a guide for their voting. Last year, Michael Fremer, UAV's resident curmudgeon, cut into the glitz and over-the-top look he saw in many of the entries. This year he's back again, and his reaction remains, essentially, "Whose 'taste' is this, anyway?"

As I peruse this year's Lifestyles book, however, I have no issues with most of them. Perhaps a less, um, creative use of color and accessories here or there would have been a little classier. And, as MF also notes, I wonder if the owners of the more outrageous entries will soon tire of the décor and avoid these expensive rooms—or redo them. But, overall, I'd be happy to have most of the entries in my home—and not just the winners.

But UAV's philosophy grows out of our writers' preference for setup imperatives that grew out of the world of 2-channel stereo—imperatives that, with some modifications, have served us well in getting the best sound from home theaters. For example, while most good speaker designers will still grudgingly admit that free-standing speakers sound better than in-walls, the reality is that in-walls have become vital to the bottom lines of most speaker manufacturers—and a major boon to the custom-installation market. Sadly, in our opinion, most buyers would rather their speakers—not to mention the rest of the gear (the video display excepted, of course!)—be out of sight.

But, to be fair, most of us at UAV—and most of the consumer press, for that matter—have little experience in critically judging in-wall speakers. If we can figure out a fair way to review them—it's something of a logistical nightmare—we'll try to take a look at the more promising candidates sometime in 2005.

It's a different world, all right, but a good custom installer attempts to do the best he or she can with customers who are often adamant about what they want. Sometimes the installer can't even deal with the customer, but is stuck with an architect or, most confining, an interior designer, who is often the one who can be blamed for—or credited with—the look of the finished product.

MF observes that installers should encourage their customers to get what they need, not what they think they want. Good advice, but a hard sell in any business. My mother worked in retail for many years. Now as then, the sales mantra is "The customer is always right." —Thomas J. Norton