Reflections on the Recent CEDIA Expo

For those of you who don't know this, there is a comparatively new trade organization called the Custom Electronics Designer and Installer Association. The organization was founded in 1989 to address the needs of companies working in the emerging "smart house" and "wired house" market segments. They've had an annual convention (the CEDIA Expo) for some time now and it has rapidly grown in attendance from some 4,000 attendees a decade ago to 28,000 this year.

These are the people you would hire if you wanted a full-bore security system in your house, a multiroom audio system or a home theater. This is assuming that you are (A) too smart and/or (B) too lazy to do it yourself.

This is the first year I have attended CEDIA. I went because my company, Sausalito Audio Works, is busy developing a new line of loudspeakers designed specifically for the installed home theater market, and we wanted to get a feel for the market as well as to size up the industry and our potential competition. It was an interesting experience.

Along with the usual tradeshow exhibits (selling everything from central vacuums to secure surround sound patios and ultra subwoofer vibrating chairs), there is an educational component (called CEDIA University), wherein attendees can take courses--two- to six-hour lectures--covering a multitude of topics having to do with design and installation of various types of residential systems. Attendees can also get certified by taking exams covering said topics. I took one such class (didn't take the exam, as I am already certifiable), and also attended a freebie presentation that purported to compare an uncalibrated home theater with a calibrated one (it didn't).

Without getting into the apparent strengths and weaknesses of the show and the organization, I do want to share a couple of observations and thoughts with you.

My first observation is that there appears to be very little, if any, awareness among the attendees or exhibitors about how movies, video and related audio are produced. They don't seem to know anything about what you do, how you do it, what your constraints and limitations are and/or what your strengths are. I was struck by the disconnect.

Think of it this way: in their view, all movies and videos are black boxes of media that are, by definition, great--they will look and sound great, if only the playback hardware and installation were great (and each exhibitor will tell you, of course, that his/her hardware is in fact the greatEST!). I should note that I don't think we are all that much better in understanding their needs and problems. The disconnect does, in fact, seem to go both ways, just so you know.

My second observation is that much of the audio technology and practices seemed pretty dated. I felt like I had stepped back into about 1995 in terms of how the audio hardware behaved and how it was thought of. I understand that I may be biased by my preoccupation with loudspeakers and my recent adventures with Bang & Olufsen and their technical prowess, but much of what I saw I have seen before, sometimes many, many times. Further, the range of quality (again, particularly of loudspeakers) seemed disappointingly low, compared to what I am used to at, say, an AES convention.

Finally, I noticed a real disconnect and confusion regarding surround sound. There seem to be two camps: Those who believe that surround sound comes from a matrix encode/decode system such as Dolby Pro Logic II, and those who believe that surround sound is a discrete six-channel medium (that'd be me, f'rinstance).

Both camps seem to hold pretty static and unwavering views that don't take into account (very much, anyway) the existence of the other modality or any other possible future modality (7.1-M 10.2, overhead channels, etc.).

I also saw no evidence of any awareness of or sensitivity to the implications of changing aesthetic expectations, or the dedicated home theater or the distributed audio system, for changes in how we think of film, music or art. It was very top-down, pragmatic and vocational in that regard.

"You got yer five channels anna sub, see, and they're going in the living room, while in the den, see..."

CEDIA has great potential, and should be a great boon for us. CEDIA firms are leading the way in establishing high-quality home theater installations and setting standards for domestic audio and video performance. The best CEDIA turnkey installations are visually and sonically stunning, and the various problems of interoperability that I've been kvetching about over the past few months simply go away on their turf.

That's why I find it so interesting that they don't seem to know much about how movies, videos and music audio are produced. We need to help out. I imagine some educational sessions describing how scenes are shot, how editing decisions are made, how a looping stage and ADR works, how we capture sound and picture, how we mix it, and so on, would be revelations to many CEDIA attendees. Practical stuff, like budget and time constraints, event complexity, ENG limitations, etc. would also be fascinating for them.

So, I hope our production side of the industry can come to play a bigger role in CEDIA's world view. They need to know us, and what we do. CEDIA needs to mature and catch up with where we are. At the same time, we need to recognize how important they are to our futures, and give them as much help and consideration as possible.


Next month we'll talk about the approximate resolution of the high-definition experience. I also have an equipment review coming up, of a Modulation Sciences Dolby Pro Logic monitoring device called "SpiderVision."

In the meantime, I just received a letter from Maureen Droney, executive director of the Producers and Engineers Wing of the Recording Academy. She asks, "How do we encourage interoperability between manufacturers, which would drive business--both for consumer electronics and for content producers like musical artists, producers and engineers--by reducing consumer confusion, without running into antitrust, anti-competitive issues?"

I know little about antitrust laws and the legal constraints that broadcasters, manufacturers and service providers feel in regard to talking to one another and amongst themselves, but I would love to do a piece about this important aspect of our current problem. I would welcome any information, ideas and/or thoughts that any reader might have on this subject. You will, of course, be fully credited.

Anyway, in case you hadn't noticed, it's 2007 already! Another year has passed and we're that much closer to analog oblivion. Have a Happy New Year, and don't forget to check the mono!

And thanks so very much for listening. You have no idea what a pleasure it is to write for you!

Dave Moulton