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ISE: Is it really worth the time and money?

Travel, food, drink, a week out of the office. Do you really need to attend ISE? The AV end-user community has their say on what it is about the show that keeps them coming back for more

With 1,300 exhibitors, 15 halls and more than 80,000 people (often zombie-like in speed) to manoeuvre around, getting the most out of ISE is not without its challenges.

As the show’s founder Mike Blackman noted in the previous article, the ability to see and experience everything the show has to offer in just a few days – or even all four – is nigh on impossible. Attending takes careful almost militant-like planning, not to mention discipline and a very comfy pair of shoes.

But with so many AV trade shows taking place both locally and internationally, plus many of the AV manufacturers exhibiting at the show having a regional presence (direct or indirect), does ISE really justify the expenditure (flights, hotels, taxis, waffles, drinks), plus up to a week out of the office? Is there an argument that you just as easily sit comfortably in the office and check the AV newswires?

To find out more, AVTE spoke to some ISE regulars, to discuss the value they get from attending the show.

Our esteemed panel includes:

  • Chris Power (CP), Chairman, AV Cultural Forum (AVCF)
  • Douglas McLeod (DM), Learning Spaces Product Engineer, UoD IT, University of Dundee
  • Graeme Massey (GM), JacobsMassey Ltd, Managing Director
  • Jon Sheldon (JS), National Gallery, Audio Visual Production Manager
  • Julie Berry (JB), University of Huddersfield, IT Technician (Audio Visual)
  • Liam Helm (LH), The Royal Society – AV Services Manage
  • James Thompson (JT), University of Kent – Project Manager (Templeman library refurbishment)

“My jaw dropped the first time I went. The scale was epic. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger!”

Hi everyone. Let’s start with how many times have you all attended ISE?

CP: Eight times and counting

DM: 2019 will be my fifth time at the show in the last six-years.

GM: Every year since the show began in Geneva!

JS: Twice, the last two years

JB: I have been three times, once with SCHOMS and twice with an integrator. 

LH: Seven or eight times now

JT: This will be my second visit.

Douglas McLeod (DM): 5th time

How does ISE compare with other AV trade shows around the world?

CP: My jaw dropped the first time I went. The scale was epic. It just keeps getting bigger

DM: It is massive and has continued to grow year on year since I first attended in 2013.

GM: It’s the most informative trade show that exists, no question.

JS: So much bigger, so many more companies offering a much wider range of products.

JB: If you go to ISE you don’t need to go to any other trade show.  I have been to a few over the years, such as BETT and basically, everything that you see there, you can see at ISE plus many other things that you didn’t know you wanted to see.

LH: Obviously it’s larger than any other AV trade show. It’s more of an annual event, something you plan around. I usually stay on in Amsterdam for a few days and visit friends.

JT: The scale and scope of exhibitors far exceed any other European AV trade show.

80% of attendees require international travel to get to ISE


What is it about the show that keeps bringing you back?

CP: I have made many personal connections. These were very useful in advising me at the British Museum. Many are now friends and are involved in supporting the AVCF as it builds in its third year. There’s no better place to network.

DM: My role is to design and develop our Learning and Teaching Spaces at the University of Dundee. I couldn’t really do my job properly if I didn’t attend to catch up on the latest technologies and market trends.

GM: For me, it’s networking with clients and reviewing the latest AV technology on the market.

JB: Many companies launch new products at ISE, so in my opinion, if you want to see the ‘latest and greatest’ then you need to attend.  It’s also great to see the new technologies, so you can start thinking about how they can be used back in the workplace before they become mainstream.  It really is a great opportunity to keep ahead of the game.

JT: Specific requirements for Audio-Visual solutions for the Templeman library, the opportunity to network with a vast range of colleagues, suppliers, and manufacturers, and the ability to track the direction of the industry and search for innovative new solutions.

“It feels like the entire industry has moved to Amsterdam, during ISE”

Liam Helm (LH): A place to discover new tech

Has attending ISE ever had a direct impact on your buying decisions?

DM: Absolutely. A couple of years ago we saw the latest Epson Laser Projector range to be released. We were developing a new Lecture Theatre in our Medical School and were one of the first Universities in the UK to deploy these. At the 2018 show, the WolfVision Cynap Collaboration Solution caught our eye. We have subsequently used this technology in two spaces and just placed an order for a third.

JS: I’ve seen things on display that I certainly wouldn’t purchase, you’d expect a company going to all the trouble of having a big stand with, for example, a projection spectacle, would make sure it was top notch. Sometimes the big set-ups reveal things you might not notice elsewhere. You also get to see the good stuff up close too, so when a product is really good it shows against the rest despite the retina burn.

JB: Yes we have gone out there with a few things in mind that we would like to look at. It’s great to go there with an idea in mind of what you want to achieve and then look to see what the best option is.

LH: Yes, absolutely. A couple of years ago I was looking for a portable solution to connect VC calls off a laptop to a camera system via HD SDI and a theatre sound system. AJA had a product but it was never in stock – I saw the Blackmagic Design Web Presenter at ISE and bought two on my return. This year I replaced our main theatre’s UHF mics with Speechline after speaking to Sennheiser at ISE. I plan to purchase Shure’s MXCW conference mic system in the new year which I first saw at ISE this January.

JT: We have included systems that we have seen on tenders for digital signage and classroom solutions.


Any other stand out examples?

JS: During my first visit I found an ideal, if a little over specified product for an exhibition. I had been unable to find a suitable solution and after making many inquiries around the show I was starting to think there was a gap in the market for a dedicated bit of hardware, like a media player, but specifically for multi-channel audio. With 30mins to spare, I was directed to the Timax stand and got talking to Dave Haydon before I had to leave and get my train home. A great relationship was born.

JB: We wanted a lectern with a built-in mic and speaker for ad-hoc gatherings.  After looking at a few options we decided on the Denon Active Lectern which has been used a number of times rather than setting up the portable PA system.

We also saw the Xenon speaker/light system which is a great way to draw people into events.  This was something that we didn’t know we wanted until we saw it and it has been very popular.  You can customise covers for different events. We are now waiting for them to add a battery pack so we can have a few dotted out outside for open days and other events.

“At ISE you get to have a look at lots of different things, some of which your integrator hasn’t seen yet and some that you didn’t know you wanted”

What value does being able to see and speak to other manufacturers directly bring as opposed to relying on, say, an integrator partner or reading things in the press?

CP: I favour doing research first and then meeting someone face to face and building a relationship.

DM: It’s a mixture really, we have a very good relationship with our integrator, Streamtec Ltd and value their input into the design phase of our projects. However, being able to make contact with so many key manufacturers over the week is invaluable, as they always launch new products or share key information at this time.

GM: The immediacy of information relating to product innovation and being able to get immediate answers.

Graeme Massey: No better place for networking

JS: The opportunity to ask first hand the specific questions to the product experts, without an email thread or support request. You might have a product in mind but then discover it’s not entirely suitable. They can recommend another model there and then.

JB: Its good to be able to do all of them. ISE is so big that you’ll never see everything so you still need your integrator to find new technologies for you. Having said that, at ISE you get to have a look at lots of different things, some of which your integrator hasn’t seen yet and some that you didn’t know you wanted.

Seeing lots of different vendors selling similar products allows you to compare their wares without having lots of sales visits to your place of work. But be prepared to be bombarded by emails afterwards.

LH: I don’t have a lot of time to read all the emails I receive about new products, so ISE is where I focus on speaking to the manufacturers whose products have looked interesting or that I’ve heard about.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s show?

CP: I am interested in the way AV and IT interact as a trend as it continually affects everything my members face day to day. As I’ve often said in my meetings with AVCF members ‘IT technology is a good slave but a bad master’. But that is always been the case in my opinion. IT and AV should heed this.

DM: I don’t just enjoy visiting the stands, there is added value to be had by attending some of the seminars and workshops that are laid on. I intend to go to both the AVIXA/SCHOMS Higher Education Conference and the AVIXA/AV User Group Enterprise Conference on the Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. 

GM: Being able to meet our clients. Feels like the entire industry has moved to Amsterdam during ISE.

JS: Seeing if everyone has moved on from 4K DCI 4:4:4 @60Hz over IP yet!

JB: Holographic images. There were a few dotted around last year and I think there will be more this year.  I’m looking forward to seeing how they have come on in the last year.

LH: Spending two days at the show, so I don’t have to cram it all into one day.

JT: Seeing the latest in collaborative AV solutions, digital wayfinding, wireless presentation solutions, and fully integrated systems. Reaffirming my understanding of the direction the industry is heading.

“Book meetings early and prioritise. Find a good place to sit down from time to time. It’s exhausting!”

Julie Berry: Preparation is everything

What advice would you give to people thinking about attending or who are attending for the first time?

CP: Book meetings early and prioritise. Find a good place to sit down from time to time. It’s exhausting.

GM: Plan your visit! Make sure you identify which companies you wish to visit and then timetable when to do so and where within the show. 

JS: If you see something that catches your eye while passing by, stop and look at it, you might never return to the same spot again.

DM: Your first half day there will pass and you will think I haven’t done anything yet!  If there are key things you need to see plan them out.  It is also useful to arrange appointments in advance if there is an opportunity to do so.  Stands can be very busy, but your account holder will set time aside for you, if you have, plan ahead.

JB: Imagine you are about to climb Snowden – you’ll feel like that’s what you’ve done by the end of the day.

LH: Wear layers, it can get very warm. Be prepared to queue a long time for the cloakroom.

JT: Be aware of the size of the event, have clear objectives about what and who you want to see, spend at least a day focused on your aims for manufacturers and suppliers.

What’s the best thing about the show?

CP: Socialising with others. For me, it’s where the real stuff gets done.

DM: Networking is a key part of the experience for me and I enjoy catching up with other AV end users. I like going around with colleagues from other universities as we can often bounce ideas off each other and get a different perspective on things.

GM: For us, it’s definitely being able to network with clients, candidates, and freelancers.

JB: It’s awesome! There are some really spectacular stalls, particularly from the big vendors. And watch some of the shows.  Last year Panasonic put on a great show and this year’s looks to be even better. 

LH: For me it’s the social angle, going with the fine people of the AVCF and meeting people who I know from the manufacturer side.

JT: The range of exhibitors available in one place, and the chance to see many different solutions in action.

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