Overflowing ash tray in Las Vegas CES is over for another year. While exhibitor space hasn’t bounced all the way back yet, attendance returned to its pre-recession levels. Its traffic-paralyzing, restaurant-monopolizing, aisle-choking levels. Attendance wasn’t bad enough to make the show experience miserable, but the lines made everything take more time.

Here are a few quick notes from CES:

* CNet’s Best of Show award winner was the Motorola Xoom, an Android-based tablet that doesn’t actually exist yet. As a lovely lady demonstrated it at the Motorola booth, I learned that it’ll run an OS version that isn’t available, may or may not accept an SD or Micro SD card, and doesn’t have its default app set chosen yet. But when it’s finally ready, the Xoom is supposed to have great features.

There is ample precedent for such pre-production awards. In January 2009, CNet’s Best Home Video product from CES was the Dish Network 922 receiver with Sling technology. The 922 barely made it to market before the end of 2009. Turns out that it really is that good, though, so maybe a real Xoom will eventually be worth the wait?

* One of my blog posts won a contest at CES. No, it wasn’t the previous post about CES. It wasn’t anything from this blog. This was a contest run by the non-profit Internet Innovation Alliance, and those folks judged my post there to be better than anything else written at their booth. Woo hoo! (If you want to read Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas, you can learn how to download a free copy.)

* There was almost nothing about free-to-air satellite TV this year. Tele-Satellite magazine had a booth, although it was unmanned when I stopped by on the show’s last day. (More on that below.) Maybe one or two vendors on the regular show floor showed any equipment. That’s a big change from the days when new FTA set-top boxes would debut at CES.

* Sunday at CES is garbage day. For the first time, I stayed to the final day of the show to see whether exhibitors would dump all of their giveaways to avoid carting them home. Answer: Not very often. The best part was that the lines were short enough to let me see any show at any exhibit. The worst part was that many dealers were closing up early, and most of those remaining were feeling run down after a long show. There was little to suggest the enthusiasm that swirls around the opening of CES.

* I feel sorry for the folks who signed up for CEA’s new Tech Enthusiast program just to visit CES. That program benefit isn’t worth much; readers here know that anyone can get in to see CES for free with only a little work. And worst of all, that admittance is only good on Sunday.

Todd Weaver, founder of ivi.tvProgram note: This blog post comes to you from the Hub at the NBC Universal booth at CES. Thanks for inviting me!

Todd Weaver, founder and head of ivi.tv, paused after his second panel session here at CES to let us in on what’s up and what’s next with our favorite streaming TV service.

First, and most importantly, Weaver said that the folks in Washington were very receptive to ivi when he visited them a couple of months ago. “All lawmakers want more competition,” he said, and many of them were troubled by the pending NBC-Comcast merger. Interestingly, when the news got out that Weaver going to visit, local broadcasters called to lobby their representatives against ivi.

The FCC was also positive, in its own way, by saying that it wouldn’t take jurisdiction over ivi’s distribution system. “We had great access to all of the commissioners’ staffs,” Weaver said. In general, “It’s going to take years for the government to catch up with what we’re doing.”

The second-most important issue is the status of ivi’s legal challenges. That status seems to be unchanged. The media companies insist on trying their case in New York, where they filed, rather than Seattle, where ivi filed to show that it was not violating copyright law. But the judge in New York wants to wait to see what happens in the Seattle case.

A few more quick notes:

  • ivi’s next market will be Philadelphia, Comcast’s back yard. “We’re just taking the next biggest market in order, but I like the irony.”
  • Biggest surprise at launch: “Consumers wanted to use us on a 50-inch LCD.” ivi plans to start adding 720p HD feeds to some channels soon.
  • Don’t hold your breath waiting for the ivi Apple app. “It’s in legal review.” Which may or may not have anything to do with Apple’s TV partnerships. The Android app should come sooner, then maybe a Roku app.
  • Full DVR functionality should arrive around the end of March. “It will have appropriate pricing,” greater than the 99 cents/month for the current rewind/pause/fast forward.
  • “We expect to be profitable in less than six months.” Woohoo!

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!

Gee whiz, I never expected that I’d be writing so much about the NAB Show. Anyway, the exhibit hall opens next Monday in Las Vegas. Just in case you get a chance to join me there, here’s my survival guide for the NAB and other big trade shows like it.

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. This is the highest priority, because if you have bad shoes, it can ruin the whole show for you. You will be walking. A lot. On hard surfaces. Most of the time, when you’re not walking, you’ll be standing. Unless you’re used to being on your feet all day, they won’t be happy with this. Find those comfy shoes now and break them in before you arrive.
  2. Have a plan, but don’t expect to stick to it. Make note of the high points that you absolutely have to see. Add some topics that sound interesting, but which don’t have the same high priority. Make a list of exhibitors you want to meet. Then walk onto the floor with the expectation that your schedule may change. There will be a lot of interesting stuff out there, including something you never thought of. Don’t be afraid to set aside what looked good yesterday when you want to learn more about something that’s amazingly cool today.
  3. Bring food. It shouldn’t be a lot. A PowerBar or Clif Bar or maybe even a Snickers will do. If you prefer something warm and mediocre, you can take a half hour to wait in line, pay too much, then struggle to find a place to eat lunch. Or you can unwrap a protein bar from your pocket or bag and munch on it as you sit and watch an exhibitor’s presentation. Save your time to visit more booths, and save your money for a real meal after the exhibit hall closes for the night.
  4. Get a lightweight map. If there’s an application with a map that you can load on your smartphone, (such as the NAB app), that’s the lightest map you can get. Otherwise, get the map that weighs the least. When you remember that you wanted to visit TooCool’s booth, you’ll want to know where to find it. When you want to find the nearest rest room, you’ll definitely be thankful for the map.
  5. Beware of heavy freebies. There are so many great things for free at a big show. Free magazines. Free catalogs. Pens. Paperweights. Bags for carrying them all. You can probably haul around all the pens that you’ll get, but anything that feels a little heavy at 11 is going to be a burden by 4. If you really need that two-inch-thick catalog, plan to pick it up as you leave for the night.
  6. Choose your bag well. With all those fliers and freebies, you’ll probably also want a free bag to carry them around. Don’t just grab the first one you see. Make sure your bag is substantial enough to carry the Blu-Ray disc player you hope to win. Make sure it won’t embarrass you because it’s made of coated paper, has a garish promotion on the side, has a long handle made of twine, or all three. Better is a bag made of fabric with a tasteful, colorful logo and a short, strong handle. When you see one of those, grab it fast; those are the bags that run out before the show’s over.
  7. Wear comfortable shoes. Seriously.
  8. Time your presentations well. If you pass by a booth with a mob standing around watching a presentation that you’d like to see, make a note of when the next showing will be, then keep moving. If you pass by a booth with a presentation that’s going to start in 10 minutes, have a seat if you think it’ll be of interest to you. Use this 10-minute break to check your schedule, check your email, and get friendly with the folks at the booth. You’ll get the benefit of an unobstructed view of a full presentation and your feet will get the benefit of a full half-hour break. Then get up and walk back to that booth you passed, if it’s about 10 minutes before that next showing.
  9. For your top priority event, get there early. If your schedule is built around the 2 o’clock show at the 3D Theater, get there at 1:30. If Neil Armstrong is signing moon rocks at 4, get to his booth by 3. If it’s really that cool, it’ll be that popular too, and you’ll probably be waiting in a long line. If there’s no line when you arrive, hang around the neighborhood until it starts to form. If no line ever forms, make sure you’ve got your schedule right; maybe Neil isn’t supposed to sign anything until tomorrow.
  10. Drink, especially water. The air is dry in Las Vegas, and hours of walking and standing take more effort than sitting around all day. Dehydration will make you and your muscles feel more tired. When you pass a water fountain, take a drink. Consider bringing a small refillable bottle. And when any exhibitor offers any kind of liquid refreshment, it’s probably a good idea to take it. Come to think of it, that’s good advice on any occasion, isn’t it?
  11. Wear comfortable shoes.
  12. Wear comfortable shoes. Okay?

David Rehr and Gilbert Huph

NAB past president David Rehr (left) and Mr. Incredible's old boss Gilbert Huph

The NAB Show is just a couple of weeks away, which means that today is about the last time I can talk about the NAB president who presided over the 2009 show. David Rehr probably had some great skills and ideas, but every time I saw him, all I could think of is how much he reminded me of Mr. Incredible’s old insurance company boss Gilbert Huph. He was nowhere near as short as Huph, but he wasn’t tall enough to dispel the similarity. The main thing was that Rehr seemed to be perpetually squinting. When I first saw him on stage, I really thought that someone must have tilted a light in his eyes. Nope. He just looked that way a lot. I hope he’s doing well somewhere else now.

(That photo of Huph, shamelessly copied from my friends at the Internet Movie Database, is © 2004 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, but I think this is fair use of it. I loved The Incredibles. I saw it in a theater. I bought the soundtrack CD. I bought the DVD. You should too. Please don’t hurt me, oh mighty Disney lawyers. And Rehr’s photo is from last year’s show, only about a month before he resigned.)

The current NAB president is a former US Senator from Oregon, Gordon Smith. He strikes me as someone who has a better chance of persuading Congress to do more of what the NAB wants. Best of all, he doesn’t remind me of any cartoon characters. Maybe I’ll check out his keynote speech.

* The NAB Show exhibit floor opens April 12, and you have until about April 4 to get a free exhibits pass. Stan Lee will be at the NAB Show this year. So will Michael J. Fox, NBC’s Dick Ebersol, lots of 3D demonstrations, and a whole lot of satellite equipment in one place. Just go to the NAB Show site and register with code AM15. Rooms at Circus Circus, the Sahara and downtown are really cheap, and some other rooms in Vegas are really good. Come join me!

If you plan to visit, please drop me a line so we can see if we can get together. I’d love to meet more of the people who read this blog!

* Also please drop me a line if you see any ads on FTAList that link to sites that promote piracy. Most of the ads there come from Google AdSense, a fine program that pays for FTAList’s hosting bills. Unless specified otherwise, any site can bid on ad space, and sometimes pirates have used this process to buy ads on FTAList. I can manually screen out individual sites, but I have to notice them first. If you see a pirate ad before I do, please let me know.

* Lately I’ve been tweeting about the latest advances of Freeview, the UK’s FTA satellite TV service. Every time I post one of those tweets, I think about our old friends at FreeDBS, the group that wants to put a couple dozen channels up on a North American satellite. For a long list of all the puzzle pieces they’ve been assembling, you really ought to visit their site.

I asked Edward Raisley, their technical adviser and a commenter here, if he had anything new to share with you. Raisley said that they’re working on organizing a new mixed martial arts league for the Free Fight channel. That’s the great thing about FreeDBS; it dares to think big. Here’s hoping that we’ll see that channel with a bunch of others some time sort of soon.

What, you hadn’t noticed my tweets? Please follow FTAList on Twitter, then you too can get a few bits of satellite news every week.