I recently attended the CEDIA Expo in Denver, the most important annual show for specialty audio and video companies such as ours. This is the final year it will be held in Denver, with the show moving to Atlanta for the next two years and possibly a third. That is contingent as to whether the city of Indianapolis can A) finish the addition to the convention center there; and B) if the city can get more hotels in the downtown area. If that doesn't happen, we'll be in Atlanta again in 2011, then go to Dallas for three years starting in 2012.
While the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has long held the title of the most attended consumer electronics show in the world, the CEDIA Expo has been viewed as THE show for our industry to introduce new products such as video panels, whole house control and specialized electronics. With gas hitting $4.00 bucks a gallon earlier this year, a lot of dealers suffered this summer and many stayed home. That was OK with me as the past couple of years I was so over run with dealers that I couldn't spend quality time with a lot of my key and new accounts. This year we probably saw a 10 to 15 percent drop in attendance.
There really wasn't anything earth-shaking or cutting-edge as far as new technology was concerned. A lot of the specialty audio companies showed Blu-Ray prototype players. It was expected as a lot of the specialty companies were waiting for the fall out from the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD wars that ended earlier this year. We'll begin to see good quality Blu-Ray players from a number of companies later this year and into early 2009.
"The latest and greatest" race in flat panel televisions is beginning to slow down. Sony showed their new generation of LCD panels that featured a 240 Hz refresh rate (the higher the refresh rate, the better the LCD panel is able to recover during fast action scenes). Toshiba showed some new models that were pretty impressive, as well.
Whole house control products continue to be big at CEDIA. The Crestron and AMX booths were packed throughout the show. Those two companies continue to show growth during a period of lackluster sales among other AV categories.
Probably the biggest push at CEDIA this year was iPod compatibility in products. More and more companies - including speaker manufacturers - are marketing products that feature docking and control components for iPod's. It's rather interesting in that a lot of companies who were ignoring iPod and MP3 devices, calling them sub-standard in regard to sound reproduction (which in most case they are), are now embracing the product.
In addition to iPod's becoming part of the whole audio/video experience, the merger of XM Radio and Sirius has now allowed specialty audio/video manufacturers to begin to include satellite receivers on their tuners. We should begin to see a number of A/V receivers with this feature in the coming months.
By the way, this coming Monday, Sirius XM will begin making ala carte services available with the introduction of the first ala carte receivers on the market. Just yesterday, Sirius XM introduced cross platform programming that will allow some XM Radio programming to be made available on Sirius. Also this coming Monday, Sirius XM should announce the "Best of Both" service that will provide cross platform content for subscribers that will cost $16.95 a month.
And we're beginning to see a handful of outboard Digital to Analog converters (DAC) that will work in conjunction with computers and game consoles such as X-Box and PlayStation 3. One of the selling points of the game consoles is that they can also play DVD's and CD's. However, it's universally known that the sound output of those units is pretty bad. Having an outboard D to A converter hooked up in between the game console and a stereo or home theater receiver will significantly improve the sound quality of the units.
Plus a lot of people are storing music on computers and playing it back through audio systems. An outboard DAC will also improve the sound quality of the music that is stored on computer hard drives. I have a lot of music both on my laptop and on my desktop computers. One of our companies that we distribute in North America - Cambridge Audio - will be coming out with an outboard DAC - the DAC Magic - sometime in October. I can't wait to hear the improvement in the sound coming from my computers.
But, all in all, there was nothing huge in new products at CEDIA this year. It's not that technology is slowing down. It think the industry is slowing down the development of products as to not leave the buying public behind. And as slow as things have been in the AV industry over the past few months, it's probably a good thing to allow the consumers to catch up. And with the uncertainties of the American financial markets, the AV industry could see a significant downturn through the end of the year.