Here’s my last report from the 2014 International CES. (Not the “Consumer Electronics Show,” as too many ill-informed stories still name it. I suppose their authors still write about the “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network” or the “Columbia Broascasting System” or even “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” But I digress.) This story took a long time to finish because it’s kind of embarassing. Let me try to explain.
CES is an amazing, mind-blowing supermarket of eye candy, self-importance, incremental improvements, and occasionally real breakthroughs, all spread out over two huge convention centers and a couple of parking lots. All that wonderfulness and walking can tire the mind and feet, and quiet breaks are a great way to recharge for more exploration. With the crush of 150,000 milling people, quiet can be difficult to find.
Although I’ve attended every CES since 2005, this was only my third CES with certified press credentials. As much fun as it is to attend as a regular old industry affiliate, being a member of the press makes it so much nicer. There are a couple of oases called press rooms with coffee, water, and around noon, a horde of press attendees covering every sittable surface while they consume their free box lunches. Outside on the main foor, exhibitors (some of them, anyway) see a press badge and make a special effort to tell their stories.
Another press perk is the willingness, nay eagerness, of so many exhibitors to hand out goodies. Press room staffers hand out handfuls of USB drives, each with a different exhibitor’s press info. All sorts of email invitations pile up before each show. Audio-Technica asked me to schedule a fitting for what turned out to be the best earbuds I’ve ever used. Gavio lured me with its Metallon Zinc earbuds, which were just as good. I accepted invitations to attend the Compass Intelligence Awards luncheon and a “Transforming Television” breakfast with the Interactive TV Alliance. I even made a note to drop by for lunch at the invitation of Valeo.
One more note I need to add, one you may have already figured out, is that there’s never enough time to visit everything at CES. Based on past visits, I resolved to keep to a narrow focus on TV and video, pausing only to accept free earbuds and to eat. I drew up a personal schedule with press conferences, booth visits, and meals. For each appointment, I listed only the company name, location, and time. Most of the entries matched my narrow focus. I had winnowed away most invitations and offers from exhibitors who didn’t fit what I write about. Somehow, I don’t know how or why, I added Valeo’s lunch invitation to my schedule.
And so we finally arrive at this story. It was CES Tuesday, Day One for most exhibitors but Day Three for the press, including me. After Sunday’s CES Unveiled event and a Monday full of press conferences, I started much too early at that ITV Alliance breakfast, then rode a shuttle bus to the Venetian’s exhibit halls. where I talked with folks from Samba and Tablo. I returned to the Las Vegas Convention Center a little after noon, and my mind was already too full. I consulted my schedule, which said “noonish – Valeo lunch, Central Plaza 10.” So that’s where I went.
Quick question: What does Valeo make? Did you know before you started reading this? I’ll admit that I didn’t know that Tuesday. Since they were on my schedule and I vaguely remembered something about lighting, I assumed it was a home theater supplier of some kind. The front display of its outdoor booth had a much of TV screens with eyes. Yeah, that must be it. And that set up a scene right out of the Beverly Hillbillies or some other farce where both sides of a conversation completely misunderstand each other. Or maybe it was just me. It went pretty much like this:
Valeo guy: Welcome to our booth. Which product line of ours are you most interested in?
Me: Uh, the lighting.
Valeo: Great, what aspect of the lighting? How can I help you relate that to your coverage area?
Me: Uh, y’know, how families depend on those lighting sources for what they need.
Valeo: I see. Would you like to have lunch with one of our product managers so we can explain it more to you?
As I sat there eating a delicate, expertly prepared lunch so graciously provided by Valeo’s chefs, a friendly account manager patiently explained Valeo’s innovations in the world of automotive lighting. Magnificent, ground-breaking, stylish automotive lighting. Which have as much to do with FTABlog as iPhone cases. Awkward! My lunch guest explained that they’ve created a smart high-beam headlights that detects oncoming traffic at night and automatically reduce the light only in the direction of that vehicle, which sees only normal low-beam light. (Too bad that system is currently illegal in the US because of esoteric headlight rules.) Valeo has created designer headlight patterns so that certain car models could sport distinctive lights. It all sounded very impressive, but still not relevant. After lunch and a few demonstrations, I thanked my Valeo guest, exchanged business cards then stumbled back into the Las Vegas sunshine on my way to the rest of my appointments.
I mentioned the products and glitter, but my favorite memories of CES are always those of the people I meet, not the products I see. Now I’ve got one more of my accidental lunch and its generous hosts. I’ll be sure to keep that memory easily accessible so I can keep in mind when I build my schedule for CES 2015.