Cynics Guide to CES – Glossary of Terms

With CES just around the corner, I thought I would share my observations about viewing demos at CES (and elsewhere).  While the vast majority of products demonstrated at CES are in or are very near production, there are more than a few “technology demos” of things that will never see store shelves.  In between, there are products or concepts that are not yet ready for “prime time” that may have to gloss over a flaw or two (or more).

For those that demonstrate product at CES, the weeks leading up to the show can be a time of panic.  While your friends and neighbors are enjoying the holidays, you may be frantically trying to get your demos for the show to work.  Sometimes that last part you need is going to show up just before the show (or even at the show).  At some point it may become clear that is is easier to “fix the demo than fix the product.”

Below I have generated a glossy of terms I have created mostly related to display product demos but often have general applicability.  While there is some tong-in-cheek in these “definitions,” there is also a good bit of truth to them:

Marketing Physics – Technical information provided by a marketing or sales person that is not bound by the ordinary laws of physics.  Ignorance is bliss and to close a deal a marketing person’s favorite words are “sure it can do that.”

Demoware – Refers to a device that is not near being ready to be a product and has serious problems and the demo has been crafted to hide these problems.  It is easier to change the content of the demo and/or its environment than fix the product.   A well crafted demo will not display anything that will demonstrate the weaknesses of the device.

A Wizard of Oz (physical) – There is something in the demo that is being hidden (as in “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” in the MGM film).   If a “portable product” is bolted to the table, it probably has wires going to other hardware.

A Wizard of Oz (visual) – Carefully controlling the lighting, image size, viewing location and/or visual content in order to hide what would be obvious defects.   Sometimes you are seeing a “magic show” that has little relationship to real world use.

Swimsuit Ratio – The amount of clothing on a female model used in a display is inversely proportional to the image quality of the display device itself.   For example if the image quality is so-so, then the model has a swimsuit, if the image quality is really poor, then the model may be nude/seminude.   If the image quality is great, then you show dull things like text patterns.

Flashbulb Demos – There are some demo products shown that have key components with lifetimes that are so short that that they will barely last the week of the show.   There are even cases of companies having to replace the demos on display every day of CES.  Another example of this would be a handheld device that consumes so much power that the batteries have to be changed often.   Demos that are only turn on when they are being watched usually have a power, heat, or lifetime problem.

Pixar-ized – The showing of only cartoons because the device can’t control color well and/or has low resolution.  People have very poor absolute color perception but tend to be are very sensitive to skin tones and know what looks right when viewing humans, but the human visual systems is very poor at judging whether the color is right in a cartoon.  Additionally it is very hard to tell resolution when viewing a cartoon.

Avatarization – If the display device doesn’t display colors accurately but you want to have human faces in the demo, then you use the characters from “Avatar.”

Stilliphobia – Fear of showing a still image because people will find artifacts.  Videos make catchier demos but they can also be used to keep the things moving so it is hard to see artifacts in the display.  A good demo of a display product should have a mix of stills, videos, and human flesh tones.

Dracula effect – Making lighting environment untypically dark or otherwise crafting the lighting to hide the fact that a projector is not very bright.   The average person doesn’t understand the huge dynamic range of the human eye.  By making the environment darker, the projector will seem much brighter.

Close-up effect – Using extreme close-up pictures gives the illusion of higher resolution.  If you take an extreme close-up picture of a person so you can see their pores, people will confuse the resolution of the display with the ability to see fine detail in the picture.

“Escaped from the lab” – This is the demonstration of a product concept that is highly impractical for any of a number of reasons including cost, lifetime/reliability, size, unrealistic setting (for example requires a special room that few could afford), and dangerous without skilled supervision.  Sometimes demos “escape from the lab” because a company’s management has sunk a lot of money into a project and a public demo is an attempt to prove to management that the concepts will at least one day appeal to consumers.

Karl Guttag
Karl Guttag
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