A Very Different CES Offers Glimpse Of How Big Trade Shows Will Work This Quarter

January 3, 2022 by Dave Haynes

The normally huge and people-crammed CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas kicks off the trade show circuit for numerous companies and individuals involved in the digital signage and pro AV sectors, but as we all  know too well, nothing continues to be normal.

The show is still on this week, though a pile of exhibitors have pulled out citing health safety concerns. Attendance is expected to be well down, and getting there will likely be a headache for anyone heading there by commercial airline.

On the plus side, getting a ride on the strip will be way easier than normal, and attendees won’t have to pay $300+ for a room at one of the sketchier casino hotels – places that are normally $29 a night.

CES is not a show I go to because much of what’s shown has no meaningful ties to digital signage, and the display tech that does get revealed is for TVs, not commercial AV jobs, or for gigantic video wall-like screens that only Tom Brady and Lewis Hamilton can afford. There’s technology crossover, of course, but you don’t need to be in Vegas to see how Samsung has updated the UX for its smart TVs. You certainly don’t need to be there to see all the gadgets and autonomous this and thats that will be launched – other than for the simple nerd appeal of them.

But the CES show does give a sense of what trade show travel and experiences might be like, at least for this quarter. There seems to be a lot of feeling that this latest, giant wave might be the last – given how case counts are soaring but hospitalizations are not correspondingly high. However, it may be too early still to draw conclusions about that.

To go to CES, you have to prove fully vaccination against COVID-19 to pick up a show floor badge. To fly in from outside the US, international travelers have to get a test and show negative no more than a day before travel.

When you get to the airport – now known as Harry Reid International Airport, after the late U.S. senator – attendees pick up admission badges in the terminal. They also will get a free antigen self-test kit – one of those nasal swab thingies. CES organizers want attendees to take the 15-minute test in their hotel rooms before heading to the LVCC or other CES venues (though I don’t think it is mandatory to do so). We’ve done those tests at home and they’re dead-easy and painless.

The state of Nevada’s mask mandate requires attendees wear facial coverings on the show floor, in conference and keynote rooms and on shuttle buses, and “safety ambassadors” will monitor trade show floors. THAT would not be a fun job, given the fury of the anti-masker crowd that will no doubt have a few elements wandering CES. Masks are optional outdoors.

The show is also, helpfully, offering free diagnostic tests for international travellers who need a test to get back into home countries (Canada, for example).

Probably more digital signage companies want and need to be at NRF, which is in a couple of weeks in New York. That’s still on, as is ISE in four weeks in Barcelona. I was never going to NRF and have cancelled plans for ISE, in part because of the huge, confusing and ever-shifting requirements to get on planes and into and out of countries. I started developing a draft post weeks ago as I tried to decode what all I needed to get into and out of the UK and Spain – like which tests and when – and was mightily confused.

I think trade shows that draw international attendees – looking at you ISE – would be wise to make arrangements to make things like PCR tests available right at the event venue, to remove that complication for attendees. The antigen test thing is also smart, though expensive and their accuracy is something less than 100%.

NRF, for example, will provide attendees and exhibitors with rapid self-tests, as well as access to PCR tests on-site at the Javits Center. Testing kits will be available at both remote registration sites and at the convention center, and PCR tests will be available on-site at the Javits during the show.

Hopefully – please, please – by late March and the rebooted DSE, things will finally be less nutty and uncertain.

All that stated, I’ll still be paying attention to what comes out of CES. There are things like miniLED local-dimming backlights and advances in stuff like HDMI and other connectors that have an impact on commercial display work.

Leave a comment