CEDIA Expo 2020: The virtual experience

CEDIA Expo 2020 opens today, and of course it’s a vastly different event than it was in past years. The keynotes are still there, but you want watch them electronically. There’s even a virtual show floor, and you can set appointments to talk to people in those virtual booths.

CEDIA in past years

CEDIA is one of the trade organizations for the consumer electronics industry. Originally, the organization styled itself as the “Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association.” It was founded in 1989 to bring together installers and companies interested in high-end home theater and professional audio/visual installations. At the time, the consumer electronics business was growing so quickly that it seemed impossible to have all of it represented by one trade group.

Although I haven’t found anything online about it, I’m told that CEDIA no longer stands for anything. It’s just a one-word brand, like Cher.

CEDIA exists to certify and educate installers, to bring manufacturers and installers together, and to hold the CEDIA Expo. There was a time, a decade ago, when CEDIA was “the place to be” for real home theater fans. Because you had to be a member just to attend the show, it was a place where you could really see hard-core new stuff that would appeal to the installer and avid enthusiast. Even when I visited in 2012 (my first time) it was a dynamic, interesting show. New products were shown and there was a real sense of excitement. I got my first taste of 4K TV back then, and you can read about it on this blog.

In past years, the show has lost its shine. I stopped reporting on in 2016. I did attend the ’17, ’18, and ’19 shows but felt that it would be better to say nothing than to comment on a shrinking part of the industry.

CEDIA in 2020

This year, CEDIA Expo is being held virtually, of course. If you were hoping for a robust experience that simulated what it would be like to walk the hall, you’ll be a little disappointed.

CEDIA claims 150 exhibitors, but really six or seven of those are CEDIA or parts of that organization. The virtual hall experience is really a directory of participants, either alphabetically or by category. Within each category, you can click on a participant to see their virtual booth experience.

Some companies have spent some time on their pages, populating them with product videos and written content. For some, all you get is a photo and a button inviting you to reach out to them.

As far as I can see, no one created a real “booth experience” where you could get close to the products in some sort of interactive way. This is understandable, really. It seems like CEDIA’s decision to move to all-virtual came fairly late and I applaud those companies that did put in a decent effort at creating a nice page.

The future of trade shows?

I’ve been down on CEDIA for a while because I think there’s an issue most folks aren’t talking about. In 1989, getting a really top-notch home theater meant hiring a professional. Today you can get incredible results by going to your local club store and plopping down about $1,000. This has driven installers and the entire home theater market toward the higher end of the price range and made the market smaller.

Installation professionals always find new things to install.  It’s harder than ever to make money as an installer when most things can be self-installed. And this year, of course, it’s harder than ever to find someone who will open up their home to an installer.

I could be very callous and say that CEDIA Expo missed the boat here. But I think they put in a good effort given the time they had. Now, CES has another three months to create an amazing virtual experience, and I won’t be so charitable if they don’t.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.