What is it like to be at CES?

A CES 2010 booth with lots of TV screens

This 2010 photo of a medium-sized booth at CES hints at what it's like there. Each of those rectangles is a flat‑screen TV. They're all pretty big.

It’s Consumer Electronics Show time again! This will be my fifth CES, but it’s the first when I won’t be there at the opening. I’ve always wanted to see what the exhibit floor looks like as they’re closing up shop (are exhibitors flinging leftover swag to avoid carting it home?), and this is the year I plan to find out.

Even though this blog has pointed out how anyone can get a free ticket to CES, you probably aren’t going this year. If you don’t live near Las Vegas, or you don’t want to spend the travel money, that’s understandable. But if you’ve never been to CES or Comdex or any other truly huge convention, you’re missing out on a unique experience.

Some of the booths are literally stunning. Huge video displays can stretch 100 feet wide. When you come across one of these, you pause to take in the intense visual stimulation. Then you see that several attendees next to you are taking pictures of the display. Trouble is, the booths are too huge and too close together to get a decent photo of such elaborate displays. You just get to remember them.

(The photo with this post is from last year. That’s definitely not the largest video display, but it gives you an idea of the busy aisles, the soft booth carpeting, the elaborate presentation, and folks trying to take pictures of it.)

Some large booths stage periodic seminars (more like infomercials) about their favorite products. Some bring in celebrities to sign autographs for long lines of fans. (Hey! I got my photo taken with Stan Lee last year!) There’s a large, loud area for vendors of automotive add-ons. Many exhibitors will give you a pen or a bag or some other small memento, and there are lots of drawings for real prizes.

Ever been to a casino? The slot machines all have tall, winking displays, melodic sounds, and occasional electronic shouting. (Wheel! Of! Fortune!) Well, after a few hours at CES, I often drop in at the Hilton casino next door to relax. It’s much quieter and calmer than the show. That should tell you something.

If you are coming to CES this year, please be sure to read my earlier convention survival guide, and you might be able to find me at the CES Tweetup Friday night. If not, consider making plans for next year. CES is a hoot!