NAB: Why Go? You Never Know…

LAS VEGAS: There are almost always two points of view. The grand and glorious NAB convention is no exception.

According to one point of view, it’s a waste of time and money to attend. There are too many exhibitors with too many products for a visitor to be able to devote any quality time to checking out equipment. And much of it is probably of little or no interest.

Do you send television programs to or receive them from other countries? If not, you probably don’t care about frame-rate converters. Do you shoot dramatic programming on location at night? If not, then you probably don’t care about lighting balloons. Never mind the booths showing massage chairs, jewelry, or--yes, this was a genuine, fairly large NAB-exhibit recently--scotch whiskey.

Similarly, you might not be interested in sessions about 3D in movie theaters or secure ways to send “awards screener” DVDs to Academy members. Spend time in a session, and there’s less time for the exhibit floor. And on that floor, there are too many visitors to get personal attention from manufacturers anyway.

“Oh, the sales rep for your area is busy. And there are three people ahead of you waiting to ask questions.”

Then there is the fact that you are reading this. Yes, we plan to cover the NAB convention, as we have done each year in the past.

Let’s not hide things; we are not alone. The NAB convention will be covered by magazines, Web sites, blogs, podcasts, and other reports all over the world. If Sony introduces a licorice-flavored, flat-panel display, if Grass Valley comes out with an HDTV camera that can shoot 10 million frames per second, or if Panasonic crams a week’s worth of television programming onto a microSD card, you can be sure that you’ll find out about it whether or not you attend the big show.

Furthermore, an ever-growing number of NAB products these days are either software or boxes running software. If the software is easy enough to understand, then a demo downloaded from a manufacturer’s Web site will probably do a better job of enlightenment than would a trip to Las Vegas.

If the software is more complicated, you probably won’t be able to figure it out at the show anyway. And a box, like it or not, is basically a box. You can quickly look up its size, weight, and power consumption on the Internet.

Perhaps that’s why such major companies as Avid chose not even to exhibit on the NAB show floor in the past.

On the other hand, Avid is back this year.

That’s because there are many reasons why it’s important to attend the NAB convention in person. Yes, the major product introductions from the major exhibitors will be well covered, but what about the rest?

A mere 20 years ago, no one had heard of Avid. Not long before that, Sony wasn’t an NAB exhibitor.

The press isn’t invited to Sony’s back rooms, where new technology demonstrations take place. And even where the press is welcome, they might not grasp the importance of what is shown.

Then there are the Avids and Sonys of the future, exhibitors in tiny spaces who might very well be introducing products that will revolutionize the business. Even if they’re not products you want to buy today, they could well be in your future.

There are also questions of functionality and quality. Yes, it’s software in a box, but you might see, out of the corner of your eye as you walk down an aisle, that it is doing something of interest. And no list of specifications can indicate picture and sound quality quite like looking and listening.

As for the sessions, by all means ignore those of no interest. But the vast number of them must surely include at least one at which you might learn something.

This year, the crowds are likely to be smaller, the taxi and monorail lines shorter, and the sales reps more available. This year you might actually be able to spend quality time even with a hit introduction by a major exhibitor.

Which is better: saving money and time by staying home and reading reports of what happened at NAB 2009 or going to the big show and seeing and hearing for yourself?

You decide.