San Diegans Review NABShow 2009

This was a very different convention. I’ve attended almost every year since 1983 when RCA and Ampex ruled, but this year’s was one to remember. Some estimated attendance down 30%, others as low as 50%.

Since official attendance is based on registration and not “door count,” we may never know. But let me tell you, there was plenty of room in the aisles and in booths. I got to touch equipment and talk for up to an hour with attentive vendors. At Grass Valley. And Sony. I am not exaggerating. Lunch meant getting a table and relaxing for a while. Seriously. Rene Savalle of ComtechTV remarked that the air conditioning even seemed to keep up this year.

Leon Messenie of KPBS said, “I thought the show was just right as an end buyer. I wish they would have condensed the halls a bit. It seemed they still wanted to have the appearance that NAB needed all the halls. There were so many places to sit down and rest which was nice but it also kept the show spread out.

Sales representative Alicia Reed of JVC summed up the opinion of other vendors, “A seemingly large ratio of the attendees we talked to also seemed to have budgets and intentions to purchase this year, which was encouraging.” Stephen Milley of TV Magic added, “It resulted in a more educated and qualified attendee which led to more sophisticated conversations about projects, technology, and new products as less time was spent educating attendees on the basics of video.” We saw fewer students and non-technical managers, and the proportion of foreign visitors seemed higher because of the lower numbers of domestic visitors.

Another recurring theme this year was bragging rights for attending cheaply. Many of us spent at least some of our own money, either to extend the stay or to go at all. CBS Radio told its employees, “Your time, your dime.” People compared room rates. “$45 a night and not a bad room,” one workmate said. I reserved too early at $79 a night, seeing it go for $47 two months before the show. But this was for a room that went for $140 last year. Flights on Southwest Airlines went for $49 to $75 per seat each way.

Similarly, exhibitors most likely either canceled or toned down their parties and hospitality suites. The famous annual Grass Valley party didn’t happen. Avid had a band and served drinks, but no food. A few took place anyway.

What was hot? In TV, 3D exhibits with cardboard glasses were everywhere. They used interlaced polarity LCDs, so the technique finally dispensed with red/blue lenses or active glasses that alternately shutter between sides. The color appeared much more natural.

We also saw smaller, lighter HD cameras. Broadcasters are finally rejecting in large numbers the shoulder-mounted behemouths in favor of small, far less expensive handhelds with disc or flash memory media. JVC showed two models, Sony showed a studio control for its popular, small EX3 XDCAM.

Grass Valley showed its new Kayenne switcher that seemed to finally marry technologies from its European and U.S. engineering facilities.

Sometimes you just wonder if a problem will ever be solved, though. Scott Stinson of KPBS and I saw booths where lip sync errors on video were impressively detected and measured, but not corrected for fear of getting it wrong. We also both thought we would see numerous exhibits of thin, power saving LED HD monitors, and we didn’t. Plenty of monster size outdoor LED monitor/heaters, though.

With the revolutionary changes caused by DTV, HDRadio, and BAS ENG nearly over, some booths seemed like the calm after the storm. Dennis Pieri of Bext attracted some attention with his exhibit of video over their next generation FMeXtra digital subcarrier, but otherwise, traffic was slow. We saw the same thing at other transmitter and antenna vendors.

RadioWorld Magazine named several well integrated audio-over-CAT5 studio systems among their Cool Stuff awards for this year. Burk’s PPM assurance monitoring and Sage ENDEC’s next generation EAS equipment caught my attention.

Some vendors grumbled about the high cost of the show and whether it should stay open Thursday at all. Indeed, NAB organizers largely ignored economic conditions themselves, opting to occupy four days of floor activity and four huge halls, and charging fees unadjusted for the downturn. Quantel and Cisco were conspicuously absent this year, and Apple did not return after leaving last year.

A few changes took us by surprise. The home-grown Tiernan name disappeared with Radyne’s sale to Comtech last year. Jack Herbert left that company to sell processors for Fujitsu. Val Reynolds left Sony for Omneon.