26 Oct 2023

The evolution of IFA: 52 years through Rainer B'cken's eyes

The International Consumer Electronics Exhibition, better known as IFA, has been a cornerstone of innovation and progress in the home electronics industry. Since its inception in 1924, it has been the stage for groundbreaking technology and brilliant minds, with Albert Einstein opening the event in 1930.

In this article, we embark on a journey through the eyes of Rainer Bücken, a journalist and IFA veteran with an impressive 52-year tenure at the exhibition. He has borne witness to the event's evolution, from when it was “Internationale Funkausstellung” in 1971 to the present. 

Today, we find out what has changed.

For the press, there is a ring binder for IFA '71 with highly detailed exhibitor information, where almost every product on display can be found

Photo: Hans D. Beyer

IFA: then versus now 

Let’s rewind to 1971. Rainer Bücken made his debut at IFA, setting the stage for a lifelong connection to the iconic event. With a background in communications engineering, and a degree in journalism, he was uniquely positioned to observe IFA's transformation over the coming years.

Rainer Bücken with the first Liquid Crystal Television device in June 1981

The early 70s marked a turning point, specifically with IFA becoming the “Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin 1971.” During this era, key decisions, such as embracing Japanese companies and centralising the event in the Berlin exhibition grounds, laid the groundwork for IFA's ascent to prominence. 

Fast forward to the present day, and IFA has grown into a colossal event with over 2000 exhibitors and more than 182.000 visitors. It serves as a comprehensive showcase of the latest technological innovations, spanning from vintage "brown goods" to cutting-edge "white goods." In Bücken’s words “IFA stands for diversity, and you don’t want to miss any aspect of it.”  

EUREKA 95’s pavilion for IFA 89, from which a colourful RGB-laser beam extended into space

Photo: EUREKA 95

Tech that left an impression 

IFA has always been the birthplace of mind-blowing technology. From its early days, featuring innovations like shorter deflection angles in picture tubes and the introduction of pocket-sized TVs in 1977, IFA consistently pushed the envelope. 

Rainer Bücken in summer 1983 with a Sony Watchman portable television that featured a miniature cathode-ray tube

Remember the Betamax vs. VHS battle and Video2000 in the late 70s? IFA was a key battleground for this technological scrap that shaped the future of home entertainment. 

While in 1985, IFA made history by hosting Germany’s first public of high-definition television (HDTV), providing a glimpse into the crystal-clear future of TV. This event marked a significant milestone in the evolution of television technology, foreshadowing the path to 4K and 8K Ultra HDTV.

At IFA '85, the Universities of Braunschweig and Dortmund as well as the Heinrich Hertz Institute are presenting four ways to the television picture of the future, including HDTV for the first time

Photo: University of Braunschweig

However, IFA's role as a tech trendsetter did not stop there. It continued to witness the emergence of technologies like OLED TVs and Quantum Dot displays. 

IFA also played a significant role in advancing satellite technology, notably marked by SES's launch of Astra 1A, which contributed to the expansion of satellite broadcasting capabilities. Furthermore, IFA introduced screen text and integrated the Internet into consumer electronics, marking transformative moments in the industry's evolution. 

At IFA 1991 specialist trade centre in the Palais am Funkturm, the primary focus was on satellite reception, integrated into offerings for specialist retailers

Photo: Hans D. Beyer

What makes IFA stand out? 

Drawing from Bücken’s wealth of experience, IFA's distinctive character becomes evident. It serves as a platform where products are rigorously compared, trends are dissected, and expert insights are eagerly sought. 

IFA encapsulates the ever-evolving landscape of consumer electronics, offering visitors a comprehensive view of the latest technologies and trends. It is a place where one can explore home appliances and the need for sustainability, immerse themselves in the possibilities of broadband communication and the digital home, and connect with innovative startups that are forging the future of tech. 

For consumers, IFA provides a rare opportunity to experience cutting-edge products firsthand. For industry professionals, it stands as a vital platform for networking and staying at the forefront of the rapidly changing tech world. As Bücken’s perspective vividly illustrates, IFA remains a hub of innovation, where the past, present, and future of consumer electronics harmoniously converge. 

The 'HDTV Studio' during IFA '85 provided many visitors including the German Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker with a glimpse into an exciting TV future as part of the technical-scientific program

Photo: Uni Dortmund

Looking to the future of IFA 

In an era where devices grow increasingly intricate and interconnected, IFA's role in providing a comprehensive overview and a tantalising glimpse into the future becomes more critical than ever. 

Bücken predicts that IFA will remain at the forefront of the consumer electronics landscape, serving as a hub where industry professionals and tech enthusiasts unite to explore the latest innovations. In a world characterised by the fast pace of technological change, IFA's significance as a compass for emerging trends and technologies will endure. 

Think of IFA as the place where attendees can witness firsthand the fusion of hardware and software, discover the next generation of gadgets, and engage with groundbreaking innovations, including the latest advancements in artificial intelligence, that may soon shape our daily lives.

Conclusion  

In conclusion, Rainer Bücken's 52-year journey with IFA serves as a testament to the event's enduring impact on the world of technology. His experiences and insights remind us that IFA is a driving force behind technological advancements, a platform for connecting industry professionals and consumers, and a symbol of unyielding progress. 

Rainer Bücken with a video camera in 1983 in Berlin Tiergarten 

Photo: Hans D. Beyer

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