By Nicola Leske
Germany's consumer electronics trade show IFA may lack the glitz and glamour of other fairs, but this year it will attract more attention than usual as the tech world turns to Berlin for any signs of an upturn.
There have already been some positive noises.
"Business (in Germany) is better than we had assumed it would be at the start of the year," said Hans-Joachim Kamp, chairman of IFA organizer gfu.
In January, industry estimates had pointed to a 4 percent drop in consumer electronics sales this year in Germany, Europe's biggest economy.
"There's no more talk of that," Kamp said.
IFA, which opens its doors to the public on Friday and runs until Sept. 9, competes with the world's top gadgets fair, the U.S. Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held every January in Las Vegas.
Unlike CES, which saw fewer manufacturers and retailers attend this year, IFA said it was fully booked.
"We're expecting more than 1,200 exhibitors from some 60 countries, just as many as in 2008," a spokesman said.
At IFA, companies showcase upcoming products and usually give an indication on orders and expectations for the important year-end holiday season, while retailers negotiate contracts for the coming months.
Among those presenting at IFA are electronic companies LG, Samsung, Sharp and Sony, as well as navigation device maker TomTom, Dutch company Philips and Acer.
Some who skipped IFA in past years are returning, including British mobile phone group Vodafone, Japan's Pioneer and headphone manufacturer Sennheiser.
Major trends this year are expected to be energy efficiency, picture quality and design, as well as TV-Internet connectivity, according to German market research firm GfK.
"The cocooning effect (staying at home for entertainment) is continuing to be reinforced this year in Europe, and IPTV (Web-based TV) will continue to drive the TV market," GfK said.
Television sales in Germany were up 20 percent in the first six months of this year, driven by innovation, but GfK warned that the holiday business would be difficult because of an expected rise in unemployment.
Last year at IFA, the order volume of products amounted to some 3 billion euros ($4.29 billion), and GfK expects a slight rise this time around because of low inventories after retailers were hesitant in their orders last September.
Last year IFA, which was launched in 1924, added home appliances, ranging from washing machines and dishwashers to electric razors and blow dryers, to its product range.
But no matter how well designed those appliances are or how much energy they save, consumers mostly come to marvel at the true stars of the show, the flat-panel TVs, be they of the plasma or liquid crystal variety.