DVD: The Medium is No Longer the Message
However, as I write these words in early October, it looks as though the copyright/encryption issues have been resolved, and that some video DVD players will reach the Japanese market before Christmas. I certainly expect that all the big manufacturers will have production DVD players on show at the 1997 WCES. What I don't expect soon is any agreement on a high-quality audio disc based on DVD, even though Malcolm Omar Hawksford reports in this issue (p.119) that the specification for DVD's audio channels does include the potential for a linear-PCM signal at 48kHz and 96kHz sample rates.
When I recently visited Malcolm Omar at his lab at the University of Essex in England, I took with me a copy of Sonata, Stereophile's new Liszt Piano Sonata CD (STPH008-2). As we sat down to listen to it, the thought struck me that all these worthy efforts at setting DVD standards are adhering to an obsolete, McLuhan-esque paradigm. I brought Malcolm a dedicated audio medium, a CD. But I could have taken him my music as 600 megabytes of PC WAV files on a CD-R. I even could have e-mailed it to him—with both us having Internet access via local telephone calls, the only drawback would have been the inconvenience.
The point is, with a data format agreed-upon for the new high-density medium in the form of DVD-ROM, the only standard you need is a software protocol. I believe that the days when you will buy one kind of optically encoded 120mm disc for video, another kind for audio, and still a third kind for computer data, are numbered. Want to set a new standard regarding the number of audio channels or the sampling rate? All you'll need to do is include a piece of driver code on the CD- or DVD-ROM so that the recipients' computers can untangle the data.
The paradigm for DVD is not CD or LD; rather, it is audio CDs containing multimedia computer data, such as the Rolling Stones' Stripped (Virgin 8 41040 2)—or multimedia CD-ROMs containing music data, such as All Access: the Horde Festival CD-ROM (Philips 310 691 025-2)—that tentatively set the course for the single-medium future of home entertainment.