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Gordon Meyer

Gordon Meyer

By Gordon Meyer
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As my regular readers know, last spring I custom built my own computer, optimized for HD video editing and DVD/BD authoring.  In configuring this system, I included a 7200 RPM, 2 terabyte (that’s 2,000 gigabytes) hard drive.  Since my old system used a pair of 80GB hard drives, I thought it would take ages to fill this seemingly gigantic amount of storage.  I was wrong.  It’s already a little over half full, mostly from video files.

Needless to say, I now have that much more data to protect.  And sooner or later, I’m sure I’m going to want to add yet another internal hard drive or two, especially when I start experimenting with 3D footage, which will double my video data requirements since each eye will be a full 1080p video stream.

With that in mind, one of the product categories on my CES “to do” list was backup technology.  Assuming that the publicists that I met with follow up in a timely manner, I’ll be reporting on a variety of solutions over the next month or two.  Meanwhile, I’m going to begin with Seagate’s GoFlex Desk, a family of high capacity external hard drives.

Since I’ve got such a large internal drive to begin with, I opted for the 3TB version of the GoFlex.  List price is just under $250 and you can find it online for around $200.  It’s about the size of a paperback book and, unlike many of the smaller capacity external drives I’ve tested lately, requires an AC power supply instead of drawing all its juice from the USB cable.  Speaking of USB, the GoFlex takes advantage of my computer’s USB 3.0 capability, which results in lightning fast data transfer rates. 

A few years ago, I learned the hard way that there’s often a compatibility issue with large capacity external drives formatted for Macs versus PCs.  At an event I produced a few years ago, the master recording was stored on a 500 GB LaCie hard drive formatted for Mac.  When I attempted to access some of that footage on my PC, the two devices wouldn’t talk to each other. 

Seagate includes a useful utility with the GoFlex so the same drive can go interchangeably between Macs and PCs.  Let me tell you, had LaCie had a similar utility for their drive three years ago, it would have saved me a tremendous amount of time and anxiety, not to mention enable me to quickly pull video clips myself, rather than have to pull a favor with a Final Cut-equipped editor.  There are also optional fireware and SATA adapters available.

Seagate pre-loads Memeo’s backup software for simple, automatic data backup and restoral with optional data encryption – a useful feature when you want to keep your footage secure until you’re ready to show it.  And, of course, you can also use the GoFlex as a regular external hard drive though even with its 7200 RPM speed, its 32MB DRAM cache may not be fast enough to do intense HD video editing. 

Frankly, if you want the best possible performance for real time editing, you’ll probably want to invest in a solid state drive and transfer your footage on an as-needed basis.  None the less, to archive and transport large blocks of data, including HD video, the 3TB version of the GoFlex is a good bet.

By Gordon Meyer
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One of the big media events that took place at CES a couple of weeks ago was an appearance by Darth Vader alongside 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment President Mike Dunn to announce the release of the complete “Star Wars” saga on Blue-ray this September.  This, of course, will be the first of several cycles of “Star Wars” products, including a theatrical release of all six titles converted to 3D beginning in 2012 with “Episode 1 The Phantom Menace”

It’s therefore no surprise that “Star Tours,” the Disney theme park attraction that’s been going like the Eveready Bunny since its debut in 1987 is not only going through a major upgrade, but that upgrade will be in 3D .  (The attraction has been closed since July 2010 at Disneyland in Anaheim and since September 2010 at its Walt Disney World counterpart.)  Although a May 20 date was announced for the Walt Disney World opening, fans here in SoCal may have to wait until later in the year as no Anaheim opening has been announced yet.

When it first opened in 1987, “Star Tours” was a state of the art attraction, combining traditional Disney showmanship with the then new technology of motion simulators.  While variations of motion simulator technology have been around since the 1910 introduction of the Sanders Teacher, a flight training simulator, “Star Tours” was the first one made for the general public to experience.  It was a revolutionary change in ride technology at the time.

I remember when I first experienced this attraction thinking how brilliant it was in that all Disney and Lucasfilm had to do to update the ride was shoot a new film and re-program the hydraulics.  But they obviously decided to do a complete overhaul for “Star Tours 2.0” which is officially known as “Star Tours: The Adventure Continues.” 

As before, the Lucasfilm people are handling the film itself, except this time, it’s completely digital and 3D, where the original was shown in 70mm.  As hot as 3D may seem these days, it’s really nothing new for Disney or even Lucasfilm as far as theme park attractions go.  Two years before “Star Tours” opened, Disney unveiled its first collaboration with Lucasfilm, the 3D film “Captain EO,” directed by Francis Coppola and starring Michael Jackson.  Disney’s used 3D several of their parks, including attractions featuring the Muppets, the characters from “A Bugs Life” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” which was retired to bring back “Captain EO” last year.

So Disney’s Imagineers are once again turning to 3D technology as part of one of their attractions.  But then, since the intention is to make the attraction an immersive experience, the Imagineers have been doing that since Disneyland first opened in 1955, just with analog “live action” technology.

As for me, I’m looking forward to checking out the newest version of “Star Tours.” It should be a real kick!  Stay tuned!

By Gordon Meyer
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While DTS first made its bones as an audio technology company with the introduction of their CD-based digital sound system for theaters with “Jurassic Park” back in 1990, over the last 20 years, they’ve been building quite an array of technologies for just about all aspects of audio recording, processing and reproduction, whether for your local Cineplex, home theatre or even getting better sound out of laptop speakers and earphones.

At this year’s CES, they raised the bar for immersive home audio with the introduction of their Neo.X 11.1 sound system.  Even though the standard in movie theatres is still five primary channels of audio (three in the front plus two in the rear) and for Blu-ray discs a 7.1 channel mix (two additional speakers on the side), DTS’s audio engineers want to take the idea of immersive sound in a 3D space a step further by adding side, front height and wide channels to the mix. 

Neo.X capable receivers will automatically convert 2.1 and 5.1 mixes to 11.1 and no doubt DTS itself will promote native 11.1 audio recordings through their extensive contacts within the music industry.  I enjoyed a demonstration at CES with a very unusual piece of music created specifically to showcase 11.1 sound by musician Patrick Leonard and sound designer Diego Stocco and it did sound impressive.

Their challenge is going to be how to effectively demonstrate the benefits of 11.1 sound, especially since most electronics retailers lack the floor space for this kind of demonstration, especially since, as of CES, there were no plans announced to bring this technology to theatres where, with the right movie like one of this summer’s fantasy blockbusters, it could really show off the technology much the same way the original “Star Wars” showcased Dolby’s 3.1 channel optical stereo sound back in the late 1970s.

With the increased emphasis on 3D images, it stands to reason that there will be an ongoing drive to add more dimensionality to audio mixes as well to create ever increasingly immersive experiences for audiences.   Sounds like it might be time for audio mixers to master a new sound model.  Stay tuned.

By Gordon Meyer
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Three years ago during the notorious WGA strike, one of the big issues on the table was the issue of a fair residuals formula for content delivered over the Internet instead of through the more traditional forms of broadcast or packaged media.  At the time, the MPAA argued that this was all academic because the reality of Internet delivery was more theory than practice at the time.  Well, boys and girls, that technology is advancing by leaps and bounds and much of it was on display at CES.

This is not terribly new.  In 2010, more and more TVs and Blu-ray players offered access to streaming media services like Netflix, Vudu and others.  It began with the introduction of “BD Live,” a feature that lets your broadband connected BD player bring in supplemental content above and beyond what’s physically on the disc through the Internet.  With that connectivity already in place, it was just a short leap before the CE manufacturers started cutting deals to use this portal to deliver customers to those streaming services.

In fact, a lot of the newer breed of Blu-ray players are really set top boxes that also play BDs.  And now, more and more flat screen TVs have added that capability.  More and more TV manufacturers at this year’s CES were touting connectivity features, including the ability to download and install apps onto those TVs.

It all begins with the popular streaming services like Netflix, Vudu and a reviving Blockbuster online to bypass your local video store.  Who knows what kind of content consumers will be able to directly access in years to come as bandwidth grows and the search and organization technology grow in sophistication.

Make no mistake though.  The Internet is here now as a viable delivery medium for copyrighted content.  And whoever comes up with an effective way to measure and monetize that content flow stands to make a fortune.

By Gordon Meyer
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Not surprisingly, the latest generation of 3D technology was front and center at this year’s CES.  And not just displays.  Last year, Panasonic demonstrated a prototype of its first prosumer HD 3D video camera, which It officially launched at NAB.  Later in the year, they started shipping a $1,000 consumer camera, which was really a hybrid of sorts that achieved its 3D effect with a special lens attachment to an otherwise 2D HD camcorder.

This year, both Sony and JVC showed prototypes of full HD 3D consumer camcorders which are expected to ship sometime this Spring for about $1,500 and $2,000 respectively (pricing of course will always be subject to change).  These compact cameras are about the size of MiniDV cameras.  Obviously the strategy to help drive 3D in the home is to give consumers the tools to create their own 3D content. But since the JVC and Sony cameras capture full HD images, they may be useful tools for supplemental 3D capture, depending on what format/codec they ultimately embrace (I was told this was still TBD by a Sony rep at the show.)

On the display side, LG and Vizio showed off the first generation of 3D TVs that work with RealD’s passive circular polarized glasses instead of the pricey active shutter technology more commonly used in home displays.  Companies embracing the latter technology, including Xpand, which makes “universal” active shutter glasses, will tell you that their technology gives a superior experience because it retains a full HD image while the compromise for passive displays is that right and left images have to be interlaced, resulting in half HD resolution.  

But based on the demonstrations I saw, although there is admittedly a noticeable difference in image quality, that difference becomes less and less noticeable the further away you sit from the display.  And passive displays offer two very important benefits for consumers – the image quality tends to be brighter because the passive glasses don’t block out as much of the light; and the cost of the glasses themselves begins at a fraction of what the active glasses sell for.  You can even use the same RealD glasses from your neighborhood  Cineplex on your home passive display.  This makes passive systems much more attractive for families or people who like to host Movie Night parties.

Last but certainly not least on the 3D front, was an early generation of glasses-free 3D TVs from Toshiba and LG.  Both companies put a lenticular surface on their screens similar to the technology that’s been used for decades for things like 3D postcards and posters.  It was interesting to note that both Toshiba and LG forced attendees to stand at least six feet away from their respective demo displays, presumably to maximize the optimal sweet spot for viewing.  Of the two companies, LG had the better looking display (I observed a serious degradation in image quality on some of the Toshiba screens).  But based on these brief and from-a-distance demonstrations, I’d say this technology is still not quite ready for prime time.

There will definitely be much more on the 3D front as the year progresses. Stay tuned.

By Gordon Meyer
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I’ve been back from the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show about a week and the dust is still settling.  This year’s annual shindig was one of the most active in years – and hopefully a good indication that the economy is finally solidly back into Recovery Mode.

So what was the big news at this year’s CES show?  In a word, Tablets.  Now that Google has released its latest rev of the Android operating system, there were dozens of companies showcasing Android-based tablets on and off the show floor.  Interestingly enough, in many cases, these devices were being positioned as a combination of eBook reader and tablet.

So what’s the big deal about Android tablets, especially as it pertains to P3 readers?  In a nutshell, it’s a potential inexpensive netbook alternative with built-in WiFi connectivity, thanks to the flexibility of the Android operating system and the myriad number of apps out there to support it.

Take its value as an eBook reader.  A producer friend of mine loads hers with PDF files of all the scripts she’s got on her reading list so she can take along one compact, lightweight device on vacation or to her weekend getaway instead of hauling a heavy stack of paper. 

Many of these tablets have cameras, microphones and speakers, which enables them to function as wireless phones (using Google Voice and any nearby WiFi connection you can tap into).  You can take notes, do navigation, take pictures or video, just to name a few of the functions.  If all goes well, I’ll have my hands on at least one of this new breed of Android tablet shortly so I can report on its benefits in more detail. 

But suffice it to say, this product category has the potential to be a great boon for pros, especially when you’re working on location.

Stay Tuned.

Friday, 31 December 2010 23:49

3D Blu-ray review: Step Up 3D

By Gordon Meyer
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The Movie:

If you’re a fan of the current generation of hip-hop and break dancing, odds are pretty good you’ll like STEP UP 3D (aka STEP UP 3 for those watching on more traditional 2D displays).   The story by Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer, is about a freshman at NYU who ostensibly is there to major in electrical engineering, but is a brilliant street dancer.  His parents, of course, want him to abandon his dancing, even though it’s a passion, but “Moose” (Adam G. Savani) will have none of it, especially after he literally runs into Luke (Rick Malambri), the leader of a group of street dancers on his way to freshman orientation. Rick convinces Moose to dedicate all his non-school hours to prepping for a world class hip hop dance competition, which coincidentally, is the only way Luke can save his warehouse-based dance club from foreclosure by greedy bankers.  Three guesses what the dramatic climax of the film is – and the first two don’t count.

But let’s face it.  With a movie like STEP UP 3, the plot, such as it is, is merely a framework for the multiple dance pieces – which are admittedly spectacular. Not only is the dancing world class, including acrobatics worthy of Cirque du Soleil, they are really well shot by director John M. Chu with a kineticism that only adds to the already substantial energy.

Movie Rating: *** (mainly because the dance sequences are such magnificent eye candy)

The Show Off Factor 

This is a movie that was clearly designed for the 3D medium.  Although there are times when the use of 3D borders on gimmicky, overall Chu places and moves his camera in ways that show off the dancing and enhance the experience.  The combination of music video pacing and eye popping visuals makes this a 3D Blu-ray that can make your friends drool, even if they’re not into hip hop and break dancing.

Show Off Rating *****

Bonus Features:

As has been the case with Disney’s 3D BD titles so far, the 3D and 2D versions are on separate discs with no bonus content at all on the 3D disc.  The bonus features are OK, but nothing to jump up and down about if you’re looking for really good filmmaker insights.  There’s the “complete” fictional documentary about street dancers that “Luke” was working on as part of the story, plus the usual collection of music videos, a “making of” short about those music video and deleted scenes. 

Bonus Feature Rating: **

Overall title rating: *** ½ 

Viewing Platform: Custom-built personal computer powered by an AMD Phenom II X4 CPU, EVGA/NVIDIA GeForce 480 graphics adapter with 3D Vision and LG Flatron W2363D display.

 

By Gordon Meyer
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Disney and Lewis Carroll’s adventurous Alice go way back to the 1920s when a young Kansas City based cartoonist introduced a series of silent shorts called “Alice in Cartoonland” featuring a live action little girl interacting with animated characters. 30 some years later, Walt and his colleagues presented a more traditional Alice, combining elements of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”  Now director Tim Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Lion King”) give us their reinvention for the 21st Century.

The Movie

My first impression of the new Alice, based on the trailers, was that it was kind of creepy.  After seeing the completed film, I’d revise that to say, “dark and often disturbing” more than creepy.  But then we are talking Tim Burton here, whose sensibilities lean towards dark, disturbing and visually imaginative.  For those who have yet to see this version, Rather than simply re-tell the original Lewis Carroll story of a little girl, Burton and Woolverton have imagined it as a young woman’s return to a land she thought was simply the location of over a decade of nightmares.  

Yes, pretty much all the classic characters are there, including the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the Red and White Queen, the Cheshire Cat and of course Johnny Depp’s top billed interpretation of the Mad Hatter.  This story revisits some of the more memorable sequences from the earlier versions while adding new ones with the basic theme of the now grown Alice returning to what the local residents refer to as Underland, to slay the Jabberwocky, a magnificently realized dragon-like creature, and restore the balance of power from the nasty Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) to the benevolent White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

Earlier this year, I wrote about Robert Zemeckis’ use of motion capture technology for his version of “A Christmas Carol” and how the more photo-realistic he made his characters, the creepier they looked. Burton avoided that pitfall by combining the actual faces of his actors with the CG rendered bodies and it works really well! For the Red Queen with her huge head, Burton’s FX wizards took Ms. Carter’s real head (with the appropriate makeup) and used CG effects to almost double the size of her head and neck for a striking, yet very human result. Mr. Zemeckis should explore that option come his next mo-cap feature. 

This “Alice” was one of the top grossing films of 2010, credited in part to its higher priced 3D presentation.  The 3D itself was an interesting hybrid since key parts of the film were shot in 2D and converted to 3D.  While Burton planned and designed the film for 3D from the beginning, he shot his green screen live action using 2D cameras because he felt they’d give him the mobility he wanted that was not yet available with 3D rigs.  Since the visual effects were rendered in 3D from the beginning and the whole movie was designed for 3D, the stereoscopic conversion turned out very well as audiences are immersed in this fantasy world.  The climactic fight with between an armor-clad Alice (looking like a blonde Joan of Arc) and the Jabberwocky is one of the best fantasy action sequences of all time. 

While this “Alice” is not emotionally engaging enough to make it a true classic, thanks in large part to Linda Woolverton’s screenplay, it does have much more depth and dimension (no pun intended) than I expected based on the trailer.   And with subsequent viewings, it definitely grew on me.  As for the kid friendly factor, I’d definitely advise parents that, unlike Disney’s cartoon version of “Alice,” this one is a bit too dark and scary for really young kids.

Movie Rating: ****

The Show Off Factor:

Much of Burton’s use of 3D is actually on the subtle side, so it looks good without drawing attention to itself.  But as mentioned above, the Jabberwocky battle is stunning and a great demo sequence to show off your display.

Show off rating: ****

Bonus Features:

There is no 3D bonus content.  All the bonus features reside on the 2D disc, which is literally the same disc that came out in the spring, right down to the trailer for the Jerry Bruckheimer production of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” as “Coming Soon to Theaters.” But if you don’t already have the 2D Blu-ray, the two sets of bonus features, “Wonderland Characters” and “Making Wonderland” are very informative. I especially liked the sequence in which long time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman described his process in creating his lush and memorable score for the film.  I also liked the way the behind the scenes break down of how many of the visual effects and stunt work was achieved.  Although the amount of bonus content is smaller than releases like “Toy Story 3” what’s there is quite good.

Bonus Feature Rating: ****

Overall rating: ****

Viewing Platform: Custom-built personal computer powered by an AMD Phenom II X4 CPU, EVGA/NVIDIA GeForce 480 graphics adapter with 3D Vision and LG Flatron W2363D display.


 

Thursday, 30 December 2010 22:41

Cheap 3D Pre-Viz

By Gordon Meyer
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My friend Susan Johnston is a producer with a mission – actually several.  One of those missions is producing a feature based on the Marvel graphic novel, "Prey: Origin of the Species," on a budget a fraction of what it would cost a studio while yielding studio-caliber quality.  And did I mention that this feature is slated to be produced in 3D?

Susan and I were having dinner the other night when I told her all about the spiffy computer I built earlier this year, including its upgrade to view stereoscopic 3D content via the LG Flatron W2363D monitor and NVIDIA GeForce 480 graphics board and 3D Vision kit.  Naturally she was impressed.  But when I told her how I had recently watched a DVD of Walt Disney’s classic FANTASIA that my viewing software converted from 2D to 3D in real time, her eyes lit up.

As I had mentioned before, both the ArcSoft and CyberLink DVD/BD viewing programs I use have the capability of doing real time 2D-3D conversion of just about any video source except Blu-ray, which enables me to watch some of the classics in my library, like FANTASIA, STAR WARS and the first HARRY POTTER movie in 3D.

I explained to Susan that, since the conversion was being handled by consumer software that in both cases streets for under $100, the conversion algorithms are pretty basic and that there are times when the conversion is way off in terms of the depth placement of select objects.  At the same time, it worked well enough so that I could get a reasonable feel for how well a given movie would work in 3D if and when a proper conversion is done.

For Susan, this was Manna from heaven.  Although she's planning to produce "Prey" in 3D, she anticipates that parts of the movie will be shot in 2D and then converted. The advantage of using a system like mine for her and her team will be that, as imperfect as those real time viewing-only conversions may be, they would still give her and her director a way to look at test footage for her movie and get a feel for what it would look like when presented in 3D, even though that conversion would sometimes be off kilter and could not be saved in a 3D format.

She got incredibly excited at the prospect of using a personal computer to test her footage in 3D because for less than the cost of a single minute of converted footage from one of the companies specializing in that process, she could buy a fully loaded Windows PC, complete with the software, graphics board and monitor needed to view the converted test footage and then, not only test as much footage as she and her director want with no down time, she can even burn full HD Blu-ray discs to boot. 

One other thing that made Susan’s day:  Because the GeForce 480 specs include a mini-HDMI 1.4 output, with the handy dandy adapter that either comes with the board or is readily available (depending on whose version of the 480 you get), you can even send that 3D video stream to any 3D capable flat screen TV so Susan and her creative team don’t have to huddle over a 23” monitor. 

As a producer, Susan told me that learning about this new option was the best Christmas present she had gotten all season.  Who knew?

Thursday, 30 December 2010 22:30

What were they thinking?

By Gordon Meyer
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As I’m writing this, it’s Christmas week 2011 and the countdown to the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show has begun.  While I’ve had my press registration approved since August, the real deluge of invitations from exhibitors generally begins right after Thanksgiving and this year is no exception.  I love getting queries from publicists who actually know what they’re doing because it can save me a lot of time when going to a trade show as massive as CES.  With thousands of exhibitors to choose from, I’ve found that it pays to map out my daily agenda well in advance so I can cover a lot of ground as efficiently as possible.

Some of the media receptions at CES are incredibly valuable for me because even though the actual booth size is miniscule compared to the main show floor, there will usually be a slew of companies that I want to see anyway concentrated in one easy to navigate area and with the PR people readily available with information and often product samples.  Last year I traded a piece of chocolate for a Bluetooth headphone.  No kidding!

Here’s how I map out who I’m going to see and when.  The first thing I do is to go through all the emailed invitations and log the exhibitors I am most interested in on an Excel spreadsheet that includes booth location and any special notes.  I can then sort everything by location so I can book meetings based on where I’m going to be during the show.  I then prioritize based on how much I think my readers would be interested as well as what tickles my fancy personally.  And yes, I admit to being human here.  My priorities are also influenced by how well I’m treated by these publicists, especially if they’re hosting an event I’d like to attend.

Monster Cable is a good example of a company that tends to take good care of the press, especially those who attend their pre-show press conference.  They usually have some interesting product announcements so it’s well worth it for me to check them out and on the way out they hand out tickets to their annual Dealer Appreciation event, which this year includes a private concert by Earth Wind & Fire.  (very cool!)

Motorola is at the opposite end of the spectrum.  When I learned they were hosting a media event, I contacted them so my name could be added to the guest list, but the in-house publicist took her time responding until I texted her cell.  She directed me to someone else at Motorola (email only, no phone #) who didn’t bother to respond.  Instead I got an email from an anonymous publicist at their agency inviting me for a booth tour, but totally ignoring my request to attend their event.  Long story a little shorter, I eventually got an email from one of Motorola’s in-house media relations people who informed me that their event was already at capacity, “but we’ll be happy to schedule a booth tour.” By this time, I felt so jerked around because of the number of hoops I had to go through to ultimately be turned away, visiting Motorola has become a much lower priority who I may or may not get around to see.  I’ll definitely be visiting many of their competitors though.

There are the publicists who send pitch letters, but fail to adequately describe the products their clients will be showing off at CES and/or don’t bother to include any location information.  In other words, if I’m at all interested in what they have to offer, I have to take extra steps to secure the information they should have included in the first place. 

Other companies plan press conferences mid-show at off-site locations like Trump Towers or the Wynn Hotel without providing any kind of shuttle service to and from the convention center.  This adds at least an extra hour of travel time (to and from) that we could otherwise be using to visit other exhibitors, not to mention the cost of cabs.  And they wonder why these events are sparsely attended.

Then there are agency publicists who give you their business cards with all their agency contact info, but no mention of which client they were representing.  I probably collect over 100 business cards during CES.   If the exhibitor’s name isn’t on the card (even if it’s hand-written) I will have forgotten why I even spoke with them and toss the card.

To any publicists who may be reading this, do us humble journalists, yourselves and your clients a big favor.  Make it a priority to do everything you can to make our jobs easier by providing us with all the pertinent product and logistical information.  Encourage your clients to participate in the “mini-trade show” press receptions.  Make it easy for us to attend your press events by scheduling them either at the convention venue itself or pre-show so we can minimize the amount of time we spend off the show floor.  Your efforts will pay off in spades.

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