2004 International Security Conference (ISC) West: March 30-April 2, Las Vegas

The following is a commentary by SSI columnist Robert Grossman on his impressions of the 2004 ISC West.

During the ISC West show in Las Vegas, I saw undeniable proof that our industry has become mainstream. No, it wasn’t the size of the crowds, heightened awareness of homeland security, or increased presence of major industrial companies in our industry. It was the “used car salesmen” that I kept running into – and, in this case, my apologies to used car salesmen for casting aspersions on them.

In the past, you were more likely to find technical evangelists in trade show booths. Sure, there were salespeople who may have been untrained and misinformed, but the worst you would usually hear was “I don’t know” or “let me get the technical guy to help out.” This year, while touring the show floor with a few clients of my consulting company, I encountered a different breed. The experience was enlightening, to say the least, and I’m still not sure if I was the victim of deception or ignorance. I’ll come as close as I can to actual quotations, and you can judge for yourself:

I was told that there is no such thing as MPEG-4 video compression. They said a manufacturer could do whatever it wanted and call it MPEG-4. The people claiming it is a standard don’t know what they are talking about, they said.

When looking at a DVR that was recording an image from a DVD, I asked what the frame rate was and was told 30 images per second (ips). I pointed out the hesitation in the video stream, and remarked that it couldn’t be. I was told that the motion wasn’t fluid because I was watching a DVD of a movie that was filmed in the theatrical standard of 24 ips and the conversion to video (where there are more frames) made it hesitate. When I pointed out that the DVD didn’t hesitate on my TV at home and that much of the world uses 25 ips as a video standard and still experiences fluid motion, I was told that I was wrong and should go home and look at the DVD again.

One manufacturer assured me that its digital video product was superior to the competition because it recorded digital video as a stream of digital ones and zeros, and all other manufacturers recorded files. When I asked if the files weren’t in fact digital ones and zeros when they were recorded on a hard drive, I was told that they weren’t. The person then added, “We don’t even need to format the hard drive because it’s all digital.”

Perhaps the folks speaking to me were just misinformed. You can see that there is a grain of technical truth in what they were saying. MPEG-4 is a complex standard with many levels, films are shown at a lower frame rate than NTSC video, and as far as the stream of ones and zeros, perhaps it was a long day. At any rate, there are plenty of training classes available around the country, including some excellent ones taught by Charlie Pierce at Leapfrog. As far as ethics classes, let’s hope it isn’t coming to that.

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