I used to marvel at the amount of literature the associations sent out about industry trade shows. Each year, before a trade show, every possible attendee would receive large, full color catalogs and brochures about the show. Most would receive five copies, with their name spelled slightly differently on each one. It was a massive and expensive undertaking designed to get the maximum number of people to the show.
That still goes on, but is now supplemented by an even larger amount of email. Most are essentially show brochures, leading you to the registration site. Some are of the "I've got a secret" nature, like "Five People you absolutely need to meet with at the show". Personally, I feel that if they really had a reason to meet with me they'd just call me. I'm not that hard to find. All of these emails are sent driven by a database of our product and service interests. But few of them really hit the mark. Mostly because I won't know what interests me most until I arrive at the show. I go looking for the big surprise, the one I hadn't yet thought about needing. Every year there's one of these, the thing that sends us home on the plane wondering how we'd ever lived without it.
I can remember many of these products. Rarely were they the biggest products, because those were ones we'd all been hearing about for a long time anyway, and many of them could simply be taken for granted. Of course there will be brighter and sharper projectors every year. But I can no longer get excited about another 5,000 lumen increase in brightness.
The life-changers, for me, were the introductions on the show floor that I wasn't expecting. Like the year Chuck Kappenman showed me my first TVL. Or the first time I met a bunch of crazy Europeans and looked at Dataton. These were things that changed the way I did shows, rather than merely refining them.
For instance, last year for me the most interesting product was Roland's Digital Snake system. I HATE audio snakes. They're big, heavy, expensive, fragile, hard to maintain, and each show seems to require some specific configuration that keeps the audio guys soldering and complaining. I've looked at a number of the installation-purposed digital distribution systems (and use some of them in installs) but none of them seemed to be the right thing for rentals, with the ability to add various kinds of I/O on the fly, with the right kinds of connectors and signal types. While not yet perfect, the Roland system gave me my first indicator that there'd be a generation of products that would obsolete all my audio snakes. I can't wait. This year at the show, I expect I'll see improvements from the Roland people, as well as a number of other products along the same line from different manufacturers. I have no advance info on that - it just seems to be the natural order of things.
So what unexpected things do I hope to see this year? here's MY wish list:
1. Products like the Roland system for distributing video signals at multiple resolutions and rates. Please, nobody talk to me about anybody's "analog over Cat-5" systems. They're fine in their places (for me, mostly installations), but don't really simplify wiring and distribution for shows, and add powered components at each end that I don't care to have located where they have to be, like in truss where they're hard to reach for troubleshooting in a hurry.
No. I'm talking about a true, network-based digital distribution system, with the ability to quickly add I/O at any point without home runs. Don't bother to tell me it's impossible. I can show you lots of printed training materials from many of our most respected manufacturers that gave impressive math examples for why video couldn't be recorded to a hard disk, and why the output connectors on notebooks were going to stay analog. But apparently, these companies' marketing departments weren't listening to R&D, because these same companies went out and later created products to do the chores that they tried to prove to us were impossible.
2. A major-league software package for I.P.-based show control. C'mon, folks! Everybody's adding network control ports. My projectors, my decks, my mixers, my switchers, and my lighting control system all feature network control. And yet my technicians sit at control desks surfing individual web pages created by the devices. It's got to change. And we're so close. There are so many packages for controlling a subset of these devices. Somebody produce a configurable software package with timeline and cue-based show control that can be programmed to control devices from many manufacturers. For the first time, we'd have a show control system with some future legs and no proprietary hardware required. I've looked at some people's experiments already. This will happen soon.
3. A modular set system that isn't difficult to set up, transport, or store parts for. The ones that are out there are okay, for what they are, but has anybody looked at what the tradeshow people have? It can certainly be done better. We're all tired of black pipe and drape, but there hasn't been a good alternative for smaller shows.
4. A way to have the manufacturers who introduce these things be the ones that show up in my many "5 people you need to meet" emails. I'd like to spend time with these people.
And another 5000 lumens brightness would be okay, too.