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Viva Las NAB

Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, we just set our clocks forward, and income taxes are nearly due. Ordinary folks consider these signs of spring. We broadcasters call it time for NAB.

Not all broadcast engineers actually attend, but what happens annually at NAB ripples throughout the technical components, tools and people that make the magic of broadcast TV possible. This evolution, which has become a digital revolution, affects broadcast studios, broadcast automation, broadcast ENG, digital television transmission systems, Mobile DTV, captioning systems, and even users of MPEG compression schemes or JPEG 2000. Digital television is changing at an unprecedented rate and scope, and the pages of Broadcast Engineering nagazine and Broadcast Engineering e-newsletters such as this one will have much to discuss as the 2012 NAB Show unfolds.

If visiting NAB is not on your to-do list, it should be. It’s late, but not too late to make plans for the show. Some engineers will always have to stay behind to hold down the fort, but those who can find time to make the trip should try to do so. If your employer is willing to pay for it, all the better, but if you have to pay for the trip yourself, it can be a good investment. Besides lots of mice to click and buttons to push, there are about 100,000 or so like-minded professionals, all who made the trip just like you, specifically to visit NAB. It’s fun to be in a city and a convention center filled with other broadcast and production professionals. There is no better time or place in the world to make new professional contacts.

You don’t have to go near a Vegas casino to become distracted, diverted and mesmerized. The exhibit halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center can do exactly that to the inexperienced visitor. There are approximately 1750 exhibitors, including nearly 200 first-time exhibitors. They range from from [E³] Engstler Elektronik Entwicklung and 1 Beyond to Zylight. Exhibitors invest in NAB exhibit presence for two reasons. One is to showcase and sell their wares and services. The other is to meet and learn about you so they can develop the new solutions you or your facility may require or inspire. The industry is small enough that it doesn’t take that many people or facilities to start a trend.

Plan of the day
NAB exhibits are open for a total of 1920 minutes (32 hours), from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 9 a.m until 2 p.m. on Thursday. Thus, the eager novice visitor whose goal is to see all 1750 exhibits can spend about one minute in each booth and will probably go home very confused. Most experienced visitors aren’t that ambitious.

Given the physical size and foot traffic at the Convention Center, plan to allow about 30 to 45 minutes per planned booth visit, not including scheduled shows and demos happening in some larger exhibits. This allows you adequate time to wait in lines, ask questions, talk with others around you and maybe catch up with some old friends.

The organizers of the NAB show do their best to keep the exhibits organized. The Convention Center is essentially four venues dedicated to specific segments of the digital broadcasting, production, post and display markets. North Hall will contain primarily management and systems exhibits. Central Hall exhibits will be focused on acquisition and production, pro audio and radio. Displays and post-production tools will be in South Hall Lower, and distribution and delivery systems are up the escalator in South Hall Upper. There will be some exceptions, but the idea of isolating segments can make visiting the show easier, or more difficult for the disorganized.

Criss-crossing exhibits and venues wastes valuable time, shoe leather and energy. Identify the categories of gear you came to the show to investigate and sort them by how close you are to making final purchasing decisions. Venues with similar products simplify comparing competing products. However, some larger manufacturers display all their products in one big exhibit, so not every competitive product will be shown in its appropriate venue.

In some funny ways, NAB is akin to a four-day New Year’s Eve party. Everybody shows up when the doors open and heads straight for the food, or in the case of NAB, the biggest exhibits. Some will linger for a short time and leave. Others will stay until it’s over. On Monday and Tuesday, the larger exhibits will be packed. Let the early crowds and first-time visitors elbow each other for space in the big exhibits. An experienced visitor’s first day or two can be more efficient and comfortably spent in smaller booths away from the big exhibits.

By Wednesday and Thursday, many first-timers and tire kickers will have gone home. These are the best days to spend time exploring the larger exhibits. Salespeople will know their facts and anticipate your questions better. Chances are better for impromptu one-on-one conversations with product experts or fellow users.

If you want to meet with a particular person or cut a purchase order at the show, please don’t show up at an exhibit unexpectedly and expect immediate personal attention. You deserve immediate personal attention, but if you want it guaranteed, make an appointment. Otherwise, you’re guaranteed pot luck.

NAB also reminds me of New Year’s Eve because not all feet will make it to midnight. NAB is not the place to break in a new pair of shoes. If you want to wear new shoes, which I would not recommend, buy them now and wear them as much as possible before you go. I once visited NAB with someone whose new shoes trashed his heel and ankle so badly on Monday that he had to spend the remainder of his scheduled visit in his hotel room. Let’s all try to avoid that, shall we?

Uniform of the day
Some broadcast engineers spend their workdays on their feet. Most don’t. Spending long days on your feet without sitting down is physically demanding, particularly when you’re not used to it. Nearly all the demand and pain is focused on your feet. Thick cotton socks can help soften the hard floors of the Convention Center and sidewalks. Alternating between shoe pairs from day to day is both beneficial and amazingly refreshing. Besides, it never hurts to have a spare pair on hand, just in case.

Television can be a dirty business. T-shirts and jeans may be the uniform of the day at your regular job, and if that’s what you intend to wear at NAB, nobody is going to kick you out. But, who ever went wrong wearing a coat and tie at NAB? Dressing for success will gain you more instant respect than your favorite quarter-century old “Recording Engineer Food Groups” t-shirt.

Regardless of your fashion statement, your best bet for a good time in Vegas begins with a thorough packing list including everything you will need, not just clothes. There’s not much more professionally embarrassing than discovering as you dress for NAB on Monday morning that you forgot to pack your business cards.