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.

Las Vegas sunset

Las Vegas sunset

As the last memories of the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas fade, it’s time to bring up one last related thought. You can get a free ticket to the exhibit floor (where most of the cool stuff is) of the next CES.

(If you want to visit purely satellite-based exhibitors, then you’ll have much better luck at the annual National Association of Broadcasters Show, scheduled for April 12-15, 2010, in Las Vegas. Or you can go to the Satellite 2010 show near Washington DC, but then you lose all the benefits of visiting Las Vegas. Anyway, you can substitute the relevant information for one of these shows in the following instructions, and it’ll probably work just as well.)

  1. You need to work for a company in a related industry. This is a lot easier than it sounds. If you fix cars, work at Walmart, or sell iPhones, you qualify for consumer electronics. If you don’t, no problem. Suppose you wake up tomorrow morning and decide that you’re going to start a sole proprietor industry consulting business. Good for you, entrepreneur! Now print a few business cards and you’ll have all the proof you’ll need. To avoid embarrassment, rehearse a good reason why you’re visiting.
  2. You need to find an invitation. Again, this isn’t that hard. Just run a web search on “CES Free Pass”, and you should find pages of exhibitors who would love to invite you to visit their booth. These free passes are often good for keynote speeches and other events where the show hopes to draw a crowd.
  3. You need a place to stay. Unless you can commute, you’ll need to pay for a hotel. Usually, your best bet is to reserve a room directly with a nearby hotel. You might not want tot use Travelocity or Expedia or let the show do it for you because you can typically cancel or adjust a direct reservations if and when the rates go down. Las Vegas has the advantage here with thousands of rooms available at low rates.
  4. You need a way to get to the show. Unless you can drive from home, avoid cars. With thousands of cars converging on the convention center, you’ll have a long walk anyway from wherever you find a space, and you’ll probably pay quite a bit for the privilege. CES operates hotel shuttles, and in Las Vegas, the monorail offers the fastest transportation around town. If you travel light, you can even ride a city bus (#108 PDF) directly from the airport to the convention center.

So there you have it. Next time you hear details of a show and wish that you had attended, go ahead and make that wish come true. Dig around for a cheap airfare, get yourself registered, then come out and see what you’ve been missing.

The show floor at CES

The show floor at CES

Long, long ago, when I was working as a sports reporter, a colleague taught me a lesson. No matter how much time you have to spend in the rain covering a game, no matter how rudely you are treated by a player in the postgame locker room, never complain about it, because most readers would be happy to trade places with you for a day.

Since I just got back from the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you can guess where this is going. The problem with CES isn’t that it treats its visitors poorly, (it tries to pamper them, really), it’s that for satellite TV in general and FTA reception in particular, there isn’t much of relevance on the exhibit show floor any more. Last year, I saw lots of small dishes for home use, and for a couple of years before that, they had actual cutting-edge FTA receivers to look over. This year, there were almost no FTA receivers, and the only small dish I saw was from a guy selling a multi-LNB, multi-satellite mount. Asked for the best way to dial in those adjacent birds, he told me, “Hire a professional.” Uh, thanks.

The only place I found FTA receivers was at the Coship booth, which was in the middle of the netbook vendors. That should tell you where Coship thinks the market is. The company has some nice-looking receivers, but they’re hard to find on North American shelves.

The other major FTA presence was just outside the Las Vegas convention center. Every year, there are any number of technical and trade magazines stacked up and available for free. You could choose from Variety, Wired, Broadcasting & Cable, iPhone Life, and many more. This year, for the first time I could remember, you could also grab a copy of Tele-Satellite Magazine, probably the best magazine for FTA enthusiasts. I was really happy to see it there. If you’ve never read it, or even if you just used to read it, click that link to go to its site and read an issue online.

Hi there. How have you been? Me, I’ve been working on a major redesign for the guts of FTAList.com. I’ve also realized that I neglected to point out (as many of you have noticed) that the blog has shifted away from the old FTAList subdomain to this bright, shiny dedicated WordPress site. So it’s okay to remember all of those old entries as long as remember to come here from now on.

Why the redesign? As the great old Equity stations and White Springs have left us, what remains is increasingly fragmented between regular old linear DVB-S, circular-polarity content, DVB-S2, and even C-band programming. FTAList needs to evolve to become something that matches what each visitor wants to see, so that’s what I’ve been working on.

(Yes, I think that White Springs might be gone forever. I hope I’m wrong, but three months off the satellites is not a good sign.)

Today, I’m making my annual pilgrimage to the slowly shrinking Consumer Electronics Show. The big buzz this year is 3D TV. Some folks who haven’t experienced it yet think it’s a goofy innovation like quadrafonic sound. Personally, I have experienced 3D TV, and I think it’s as inevitable, if about as far away, as HDTV was 10 years ago. It’s that cool, that different.

Look for more posts about the show in the next few days, and expect all of my posts to be here at FTABlog.com. I’m looking forward to writing more soon.