International Billiard and Home Recreation Expo 2006
by James Hills - April 2006
This year’s International Billiard and Home Recreation Expo was disappointingly lightly attended, but those who skipped this year missed out on a few pretty cool new products that will be on everyone’s gift lists this year – for Father’s Day or certainly for the holidays later this year.
Old school vendor Wurlitzer made the show
For those who are not familiar with the show – referred to as the “BCA Expo” as it is organized by the Billiard Congress of America, it is primarily pool tables and equipment, cues, balls, cloth etc. However, in recent years more exhibitors have been showing off video games, pinball games, foosball, bubble hockey, pachinko machines, neon lights, signs and pretty much anything you could possibly imagine to feature in a gameroom. The only downside is that you must be a member of the industry to gain admission.
To the non-pool connoisseur such as myself, there were only a few standouts outside of the arcade game space.
South Texas Mesquite
Some of the most gorgeous and certainly unique and expensive pool tables I have ever witnessed. These are custom build from “Mesquite Burl” which I am told is only found in South Texas. (www.mesquitepooltables.com)
Ever wanted to have a pool table, but maybe you just didn’t have the space for a dedicated room? Why not play outside! This company, in business since the 1870s, is now selling a line of outdoor pool tables that are truly impressive. One of the designers tells me that this is not just a southern thing for playing around the swimming pool patio, but that some of their customers actually enjoy playing it in northern areas like New York … all you need to do is wipe the snow off in the winter! They also sell a coin-op version. (http://outdoorpooltables.com)
By far the most unique pool cue at the show, not only was it made of stainless-steel, but it also had a plastic slider to help make shots nice and smooth. (http://www.hyper-designs.com)
Ok, now on to the fun arcadey stuff!
Video Pinball was perhaps the biggest breakout product at this year’s show. Two different companies were displaying somewhat different offerings at the show, Virtual Pinball from TAB Austria and Pinball Legends from Chicago Gaming Company / UltraCade. While video pinball is certainly not a new idea (Video Pinball by Atari, 1978) it is only recently that video screens and graphics processing power is reaching the point where it is practical for consumers to have a multi-game pinball simulator.
Atari Video Pinball artwork circa 1978
Unfortunately, neither product felt “right” … and certainly not for the price (about $10,000 for the one from OK Manufacturing and “only” about $5,000 for Pinball Legends.
TAB Austria's Virtual Pinball
Pinball Legends by far was the more “authentic looking” of the two cabinets, featuring a traditional shape, realistic plunger and back glass that displayed which table was loaded up. On the other hand, the one from OK Manufacturing featured a sleek plastic cabinet, no back-glass and a traditional arcade push button for the plunger … also, it came with no licensed tables.
Ultrapin, the cousin of Pinball Legends
Both products were quite cool though and for the ultimate gameroom where you want to have something no one else does, this can’t be beat.
I look at both products as a sneak preview of something that in about 3-5 years will blow us all away. However even then, I am not sure you can authentically capture the true feel and excitement of mechanical pinball in a video cabinet.
Dream Arcades: Dreamcade Cabaret
Dream Arcades unveiled their much anticipated cabaret-styled upright Dreamcade at show. Additionally the company showed off their Three-Sided and Side-by-Side arcade tables. Dreamcade marks a departure from the company’s traditional business of selling self assemble kits (which they will continue to do as well). Dreamcades come pre-assembled and ready to play. It features a diverse selection of games including titles from Midway, Capcom, Atari, Namco and others. www.dreamarcades.com
Quasimoto also debuted new products at the show, featuring NCAA licensed side graphics as well as the new Quasicade HD, which features a shallower cabinet because of the switch to a wide screen, flat-panel LCD monitor instead of a CRT. www.quasimoto.com
Quasimoto's Quasicade Pro
One of the greatest things about this show is the CRAZY deals you can get on the last day of the show … I saw Chinese pool tables going for $50, high-end foosball games going for $150 and video games going for half-wholesale! Unfortunately, I couldn’t sneak a foosball or pool table into the back of my PT Cruiser for the ride home, but I did fill up with a great professional dartboard and steel-tip darts for only $30 and a bunch of table games including a cribbage set and dominos courtesy of Carrom. (http://www.carrom.com) Thanks!
Brady had a diverse selection
While it will be smaller in scale, residents of the East Coast looking to sneak in and do some early holiday shopping should plan to check out the Back to Billiards Expo in Baltimore this August (http://www.bca-pool.com/industry/expo2/06btb_preview.htm). Or if you are in Vegas, check out the 2007 BCA Expo (http://www.bca-pool.com/industry/expo/07expo_preview.htm)