If you've seen the hit movie The Matrix, you know that the year 1999 is a sham, a virtual construct devised by artificial intelligence to lull us into submission. Would-be marauders from the digital world are advised to drop by the National Association of Broadcasters trade show, held annually in the suitably unreal city of Las Vegas; there, all the tools needed for world domination by stealth are snazzily displayed in two convention centers.

For the estimated 105,000 human attendees roaming through the halls, unaware of the potential threat, the NAB show, held April 19-22, more than lived up to its billing as "the convergence marketplace." Manufacturers of all kinds of gear, particularly for high-definition TV ("All we need now is the programming and an audience," commented one salesman) turned up by the hundreds, clustered around city-sized exhibits from companies like Sony. Though final figures were not available at press-time, the sheer mass of buyers and sellers who thronged the buses to and from the Sands Expo Center and the Las Vegas Convention Center at all hours of the day would seem to indicate that the association celebrated its 75th anniversary with superior ratings.

More reserved in their enthusiasm were the traditional film and TV lighting companies, hit by a dropoff in feature film production over the last year. The downturn has also affected the digital domain, as the belt-tightening has constricted the number of effects-driven blockbusters reaching greenlight status. This being showbiz, however, manufacturers put their best fresnels forward, and had a surprise or two in store.

One jolt came from Mole-Richardson, an elder statesman in film lighting, which for the new millennium announced the new Molennium--products "to give your home or office a touch of Hollywood flair with authentic-looking movie lights." Mole's burrowing into architectural niches is fueled by the Philips CDM lamp. The Philips product is also driving the Altman Architectural Products line, and Altman's CDM-TV cool studio fresnels, a 10,000-hour lamp life unit introduced at NAB.

Strand Lighting, which is also launching new architectural offerings later this year, presented 22 Quartzcolor luminaires at NAB--HMI daylight fresnels and PARs, plus Studio and Bambino tungsten fresnels, designed for ease of use, with a maintenance-free focus system and enhanced light quality with higher output. The company also displayed eight SL Series Spotlights, with dichroic-coated glass reflectors and aspheric, computer-designed lenses for accurate beam focusing. Cool-Lux, which planned to launch an architectural line at Lightfair in May, expanded its photographic wares with the Combo/Soft Kit III, a total softlight package for on-the-go camera personnel, and an enhanced U-3 Tri-Light, a cool light unit with three MR-11s you can fit in your hand. The firm also spotlit its Delta Force, a high-tech battery charging system for NiCd and NiMH cells.

Frezzi Energy Systems got motors running with its rechargeable onboard batteries for cameras and lights, including "smart" battery systems for NiCd and NiMH cells in the company's brick and NP-1 configurations. Fulfilling requirements for next-generation digital cameras, Frezzi also expanded its lighting division with a line of Full Spectrum and Mini Sun Gun Lighting Systems based around its 50, 24, and 18W HMI units.

The new generation of Star Wars films came to the screen via Arriflex cameras, manned by DP David Tattersall on the set of The Phantom Menace. In the digital realm, Arri Lighting launched its first post-production product, the ArriLaser, a high-speed, compact laser film recorder using solid-state lasers. The firm showcased a number of other products at NAB, including new HMI and tungsten lighting kits, bringing its total number of kit offerings to more than 20; Arri X bounce lights; the Arrilux 21/50 Minisun, its smallest dual-wattage daylight fixture.

Other announcements lit up the show floor. DeSisti Lighting, whose gear included the Mini Goya, a daylight source for digital photography, is supplying New York's Hudson River Studios with mechanized trackable hoists. Daylight applications were also the focus of LTM, which displayed the 18W DayCam, an AC/DC HMI camera light, plus the 24W/12V MiniPar, which incorporates a fixture, striker, and ballast set in its housing. Airstar Lighting Balloons took illumination to new heights with its Solarc, while on ground level Cinemills previewed its Super 12/10kW Silver Bullet tungsten-halogen lamp head, which has a 20" fresnel lens. Barbizon touted its systems integration capabilities and showed off fluorescent lighting products from Balcar of France, while Ianiro of Italy displayed its portable lighting kits.

Four newscasters in Las Vegas are using Studio 2000 fixture systems from Videssence, which originated SRGB fluorescent studio lighting and showed its Koolkits and Icelites at its booth. Broadcast use is earmarked for the 200W Joker-News from K5600, developed for CNN. Kino Flo (see "Fluorescents for filmmakers," page 40), Lowel-Light, and Matthews Studio Equipment showed their latest lines, while Brightline touted its energy-efficient lighting solutions for studio and location uses.

While the Production Resource Group did not have a booth at the show, its launch party for its new Vegas facility drew the lighting faithful, including guests from Vari-Lite, High End Systems, and Xenotech-Strong, another company looking to drum up architectural business. GAM Products modeled its Naked Cosmetics and GAM Floor, among other products; Lee Filters showed its Gel Snap filter holder, color-matched acrylic lighting filters, assorted video accessories, and numerous new colors; Rosco/Entertainment Technology demoed its Horizon for TV use; Dove Systems brought along its controllers; and NSI Colortran assembled its Innovator consoles and i48e dimmer racks for perusal by attendees. Clear-Com introduced pushbutton stations for its Matrix Plus digital intercom systems, which helped stations provide coverage of the Pope's US visit this past winter, while Telex Communications Inc. broadcast the news about its RTS ADAM (Advanced Digital Audio Matrix) systems and other products.

Unless diabolical denizens of the net get there first, NAB hits the Strip yet again for Y2K next April 10-13. For more information about attending, call 800/342-2460 or 202/429-4194, or visit www.nab.org/conventions.>CNSpotli ght