I don’t know what you’ll see at the Las Vegas Convention Center the other fifty-one weeks of the year, but when NAB rolls into town, it’s all about the gadgets. Broadcast gadgets, to be exact. From massive, tricked-out satellite trucks to windscreens for the tiniest of microphones, you’ll find everything you need here to start your own communications empire. What else would lure 100 thousand TV and radio geeks to the middle of the desert every year? Well, there is the whole Las Vegas strip experience - a neon-drenched swath of gambling and debauchery that frankly left me wanting to take a weeklong shower. But that’s a subject for another post. Back to the show!
Step inside the Convention Center and you’ll soon find yourself twitching from sensory overload. Fancy-cams of every stripe bob and weave, voluptuous booth bunnies beckon with oddball freebies and every where you look, high-definition flat screen TV assault the senses with all that glorious pixilated detail. It was all Chris Weaver and I could do not to openly pant at all the electronic possibilities spread before us. Remember, we hail from a sector of the country more known for it’s dying textile mills and booming Nascar scene than its sophisticated ee-lectronics. Sure, we’ve both been in the TV game for more than a dozen years, but to lay eyes on all that naked technology was downright orgiastic. Try working that word into a sentence today.
Now where were we? Oh yeah - the gear. Unlike myself, Weaver seemed to immediately grasp the functionality of every new toy thrust in front of us. Whereas I tend to scratch my whiskers and nod a lot, Weave quickly recites the schematics, limits and implications of said doohickey with a Rain Man-like intensity. Plus, he’s a very good driver - but I digress. Among the notable thingamabobs was a hydrogen-powered camera battery. While it’s quite possibly a viable alternative E.N.G. energy source, it is quite certainly the most butt-ugly thing you’ll ever attach to the back of your Sony. Still, it’s nothing some matte-black paint and a few racing stripes can’t fix. I also enjoyed ogling at the ladies, er - I mean SteadiCam on a Segway. Watching some dude balance his pricey camera rig while zipping around on one of those space-age scooters was a hoot - in a ’let’s wait for the roedo clown to get speared in the throat’ sort of way.
There were a ton of more gizmos on display - some I even understood - but to be honest, even the most cutting-edge hardware leaves me a little underwhelmed. I’m just not a gadget freak. Sure, I dig my laptop, my digital camera and the way my VCR has flashed 12:00 for fifteen years now, but for me it’s never been about the equipment. While I like to think I can make my state-of-the-art Sony XDCam cry and sing, my eyes glaze over whenever the engineers in my life yammer on about the convoluted circuitry within. I guess that makes me less of a photog, but then again, I stopped adhering to the strict guidelines of shooter-hood years ago. I mean, come on - what other camera monkey uses words like orgiastic? Damn few, I tell you, damn few.
All in all, the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual electronic show was well worth the trip, if only because it brought me face to face with people I’ve long admired. Kooks, cameramen, conspirators - despite their many differences they’re all insatiable communicators, masters of captured detail and students of the moving image. As Weaver and I waded through the teeming mass of the chattering class, I realized that, for better or worse, these are my peeps. Now if only I can convince a tenth of them to buy the someday-available hardback edition of Viewfinder BLUES, I’ll truly be in business. Until then, I’ll keep coming back to NAB and keep pretending to understand as Weaver explains how the Panasony BlasterCam can bend space, fold time and save me up to fifteen percent on car insurance. Now that would be something....