The Small World of AV

ise-openfeatWell, February has come around again and I am in the process of preparing for rAVe’s annual odyssey to the ISE show in sunny Amsterdam. As with any trip of this length (especially overseas), I begin with the technology items that I need to take with me for my podcasts, my videography, and my photography, and then try to pack clothing and personal items in whatever room there is left. After all, we have to have priorities.

Like most rental and staging guys, I have been traveling professionally most of my life, and I have decades of luggage items I have gathered by Darwinian selection. In fact, as a professional traveler, I buy new luggage and road cases fairly regularly that I reject after a single trip, in favor of some tried-and-true bag that looks like it is on its last legs (but in fact has seen me around the world several times). And, like most people in the staging industry, I repair the holes in this luggage with tour stickers that remind me of the incident that produced the hole.

featured-crewcallAmong the many tattered stickers (anybody remember the launch of Microsoft Bob?), I found just one that was from a trip that was not for a client’s show.

That sticker reads “Disney World 1989,” and was from a trip where my wife and I took my stepson and one of his Florida cousins to spend a couple of days at Disney World. Now, I have always believed that people in the AV industry have a special place in their hearts for anyplace that does as much AV as Disneyland does. In fact, I have always had a sneaking suspicion that when we die, staging people go through purgatory by running things at the Haunted Mansion. My memories of that trip always make me smile, with one exception: repeated trips through “It’s a Small World.” For those of you who are fortunate enough to have not heard of this early Disney boat ride, it featured a trip through legions of demonic puppets chanting “it’s a small world after all” over and over until you were so glad to leave the ride that even the dinner check at one of Disney’s overpriced restaurants was a welcome relief, as was anything that took your mind off the song that you couldn’t get out of your head.

So, now that you have the background to the story, let me see if I can get the song back out of my head by telling you what I think about this year’s upcoming show. And by getting to my point:

Despite all of our growth, all of the hype, and all of the thousands of end-users and tire kickers that will attend the show, AV is still a small world, and is still driven by a small core of people on our way to the Haunted Mansion. In fact, the ISE show in Amsterdam will be the largest attendance of any AV show in the world, mostly because it is a joint event sponsored by both InfoComm and CEDIA, meaning that it brings together both the professional AV world and the consumer/home theater AV world. In many ways, I find this the most valid show to attend for a number of reasons::

First of all, our small world of professional AV is increasingly driven by the need to duplicate the feature set of consumer electronics. In the olden days, the consumer market was something that we derided regularly, as the professional market in video and electronics got all the developments first, which then made their way down to the consumer market sometime later. Today, in many ways, that market has changed, and we not only attempt to emulate the feature set of consumer electronics in our professional work, but we also increasingly see a market driven by a smaller number of consumer products (the Apple TV certainly comes to mind) that are seen in everyone’s home and are so easy to use and control that our customers question even the most advanced AV systems as to why they can’t work the way they do at home.

Second, although this show is the largest in the world, it is one of the easiest to make your way through, as our European colleagues are blessedly multilingual in a way that we in the United States have never managed to be.

But the third thing that makes this a small world is that we speak the common language of AV, its products and its techniques. One of the best examples I can remember of this in process was when several colleagues and I were engineering a 3D theater at E3 for one of Japan’s largest electronics companies. Four of us arrived a week out from the show, as did three AV techs from the Japanese company. Their interpreters had not yet arrived on the day we began work on the theater, and because of flight delays did not arrive for three days. During that time, we first began working as separate crews on separate aspects of the theater, but as the system began to come together we of course had to begin to integrate. We hauled a number of flip charts into the room, and for three days worked together by pantomime and sketch. It took only about a day for the laughter and pantomime jokes to break up between us. We had discovered what a small world it was, that even though coming from different cultures and different languages we shared common interests and completed a very difficult job together. When the interpreters finally arrived, the only thing they had left to do was to accompany us all to dinner the night before the show opened, which was the first time we all began to actually be able to talk to each other. It was an experience I will never forget, where I discovered that people from different cultures could share a specialist subculture among themselves.

My point to all of this is simply to point out what a small world it actually is, despite the numbers, despite the hype, and despite the “industry expansion.” I am off to Europe to experience this once again, and will be sharing lots of it with you as we podcast from the show. As usual, my own podcasts will have a special emphasis (or at least a special place in my heart) for the rental and staging market, but others on the rAVe crew will be sharing everything that happens at the show with you, our small world.

Now, somebody tell me how to get the song out of my head.

See you soon — online.