THE CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW, MAY 30TH/JUNE 2ND 1987, CHICAGO
by Harry van Horen
Several big events happen regularly in the world of electronics.
Of course I don't refer to so-called technological breakthroughs
but to the more mundane ways that manufacturers show their "new"
products to the general public.
Amongst others there is the Berlin fair in September, the
renowned Tokyo fair, the big fair in Seoul in Korea, the Hannover
Messe and in the Netherlands masses flock to go and visit the
Firato exhibition every other year.
Although some of these fairs (especially Tokyo, Berlin and
Hannover) are substantially bigger, two shows are thought to be
the foremost in importance for the Western hemisphere. These are
the Summer Consumer Electronics Show, held anually in Chicago and
the International Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The Tokyo fair is an event in its own accord. Here are shown all
the surprises the Japanese manufacturers have up their sleeves
for the next couple of years; lots of prototypes are generally
shown as well as products that are specially geared toward the
Japanese market and will never be marketed outside Japan. The CE
Shows in Chicago and Las Vegas have usually fewer prototypes and
manufacturers exhibit more market ready product.
At all of the mentioned shows emphasis lies with the audio/video
part of consumer electronics, but the last decade more and more
other forms of consumer electronics have shown up at the shows,
starting with a.o. photographic equipment.
Depending on the show and the restrictions imposed by the
organising authorities you might find anything fron "authorised
real" Swiss watches made in Taiwan or Korea, hi-tech audio/video,
floating submergible bath tub radios to electronic dolls for the
spoiled youngster who has it all; although these days he/she
might wander around at home with the latest fad clutched in its
sweaty little paws: The Zapp gun - if you want to deduce from the
wording that I don't like kids... it's all yours. A Zapp gun
incidentally is a fancy looking futuristic weapon that emits an
infra red beam. Your opponent (the other brat) carries a target
that is sensitive to infra red. If you hit it with the beam from
the gun, the target beeps to let you know you're hit (and
therefore presumably dead). Oh, the miracles wrought by modern
electronics! For the first time ever you can now "kill" somebody
with the remote control of your video (irony would have it to
have to use the "OFF" button).
But I'm straying from the point.
At these shows, over the last couple of years, more and more
computers have cropped up. And with computers came the inevitable
software. How else to use a computer?
This also goes for the Consumer Electronics Shows (for short CE
Shows or CES). You'll find anyhting there that is even remotely
connected to audio/video and even more.
Since the shows are being held in the USA, also present are
several manufacturers of car audio systems (and tagging along:
Car security systems!). The noise caused by some of these so
called high fidelity audio systems is sometimes really deafening.
Luckily the more boring (both with regard to the mind as the ear)
are destined to stay outside of the hall in Las Vegas.
Unfortunately in Chicago a new hall (the North Hall) was recently
opened up so most of the noiseblasters were inside. And even more
unfortunately for my fellow visitors and me: Next to the computer
The ultimate heaven in car audio seems to be (for the average
American car owner) to have in his car - or for more lucky/rich
American: In his van which is usually about the size of a small
Mercedes Benz van - an audio system that can deliver anything up
to 1000 Watt per channel; and all this pouring into countless
speakers, ranging from 3 feet bass speakers to 1/2 inch tweeters.
An average system will contain a minimum of 10 various speakers
and will be able to blast you into the hereafter within seconds
of switching on. But here they are, these sound lovers; a happy
smile twitching on their lips while they listen (LISTEN I
shouted!) to the clarity, the perfect tonal balance, the depth of
the digital (what else!) sound. Some of the demonstrated systems
were so elaborate that they filled the van or car up entirely,
just leaving space for the driver and an underfed cat somewhere
in the remaining - if any - nooks. The sounds that poured out of
these so beastly treated cars must be enough to speed any car up
to 100 miles per hour without even switching the engine on. If
only all the speakers would be pointed rearward, this could be
used as a really non-polluting way of driving. And now for the
proverbial lazy drive in the woods.....
All this doesn't spring to mind when one goes to a CES for the
first time. You'll probably expect a huge fair with millions of
exhibits and crowds milling through the show.
One thing you won't see is a crowd. The CES being a trade only
show, the general public is not allowed in. You have to show at
least two I.D.'s of which one has to be your business I.D. before
you even get near an entrance pass.
Generally, a CES will have about 100,000 attendees, not much
compared to even something like the Dutch Firato. But don't
forget, the CES is a trade only show.
So when I went to my first CES some years ago, initially I was
really disappointed, not only by the number of visitors, but also
by the fact that there wasn't much to see. That's not really true
of course, but if you have ever been to Berlin with 22 different
halls of consumer electronics you'll know what I mean. The meagre
3 halls of the Convention Center in Las Vegas or the two (and
now, in 1987, three) halls of McCormick Place in Chicago look
disappointing. That is until you really try to see everything and
visit all the booths.
Then it turns out that lots of companies have rented not only
floor space (at ridiculously high prices, 12 by 10 feet costs
about $10,000) but to minimise costs also rented complete suites
in hotels nearby. Bearing that in mind, you'll understand that
going to a CES can be very straining (I am not talking about the
parties being thrown at nights by all these exhibitors, you're
here to work).
So flying in to Chicago the Wednesday before the show started I
was well aware that tiring days were ahead of me. Apart from
that, I don't really like Chicago that much anyway. Downtown
Chicago, where I was staying, is downright dreary. During the day
it is quite busy and nice to walk around but in the evening when
the offices close down the place gets deserted. A bit like the
City of London after six. South of the River, Chicago is empty
after seven, bars are few and far between, even McDonalds closes
OK, everybody will tell you to go to Rush Street to have a good
time, Rush Street being the in-place to go; Rush Street where all
the action is, folks! I for one, living in Amsterdam, enjoy the
briefest visit to the Leidseplein more than any prolonged stay at
Rush Street. Don't get me wrong, you sure can have a nice time on
Rush Street, but I don't care for it very much. Anyway, most of
my European (and American) business "friends" tried to show me "a
real good time" in Rush Street. Sad to say they failed. Luckily
to say it didn't influence our business.
One of the first things to hit me was the air when I got out of
O'Hare airport. Like a wet linnen towel it wrapped itself around
my quickly profusely sweating body, 38 degrees Celcius (upper
80's for the Fahrenheiters). Summer had come early in Chicago.
Normally, this time of year (end of May, beginning of June), the
temperature will be around 20/25 degrees. The driver of the cab
to my hotel claimed the weather being at least six weeks ahead of
'Thank God for airconditioning', you might think. Not so really,
the first day of the show I took the shuttle bus (regular bus
shuttles go from the various hotels to McCormick place) and found
out that the airco was up high enough to freeze - literally - my
***** off. I justed escaped frostbite. Enough frolicking, most of
the time the airco was really welcome.
The computer annex software division of the show was located in
McCormick North, the newly opened hall. In the same hall you
could find some audio/video booths, lots of Korean/Taiwan watch
manufacturers, the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce umbrella booth
and many a car audio noise system. One of the latter had the
irritating habit of demonstrating every 45 minutes how much bass
he could produce with his system. Most of the visitors, when
asked, figured that the hall was under attack from low flying
jets. Not few I've seen wandering around, looking for shelter.
Can you imagine driving around with something like that in the
neighbourhood you live in? I think a mob of frustrated parents
whose kids lie wailing in their cots, woken by your favourite
tune, will come down on you very rapidly. But that's America for
Once again the size of the computer section was less than last
time - and in Januari in Las Vegas attendees complained of this
being the smallest computer section ever!
In a way this is understandable. More and more companies tend to
go to computer-only shows, like the COMDEX in the USA or (for the
Europeans) the Personal Computer Show (PCW, mostly software
exhibits) in London in September.
Notable was the absence of Commodore. Commodore was expected to
introduce the new Amiga 500 but more importantly their PC1, a
rumouredly $300 fully IBM compatible close. Commodore turned out
to have opted for the COMDEX.
There were still more than enough exhibitors. Amongst the names
found in the catalogue are Atari Corporation, Activision, Analog
Computing Magazine, Avalon Hill Game Company, Actionsoft,
Berkeley Softworks, Data East, Nintendo, Sega Systems, Capcom
Of course Electronic Arts, Brøderbund, Psygnosis, Springboard and
others were there, but more and more on shows of this kind you'll
find so-called umbrella booths. This means that a big wholesaler
or distributor rents floorspace and sub rents this to others. So
Electronic Arts could be found in one of these, as well as
Activision by the way. Of course these companies still had their
own suites in hotels around Chicago.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.