Forget the SACD/DVD-Audio format wars, a more interesting (and potentially more devastating to consumers) battle is brewing among companies racing to add copy protection technology and other restrictions to compact discs.
Classical music fans will be happy to learn that Vivendi Universal has decided to give two of its classical labels a state-of-the-art web facelift. Decca and Philips Classics are combining their resources and launching a single new site this month designed by trendy web developer Razorfish.
For many audiophiles, the reasonably priced "universal" DVD-Audio/SACD/CD player is the magic combination that will trigger a jump into the new high-resolution audio formats. As an answer to those universal player prayers, Wolfson Microelectronics, UK–based developer of audio ICs for multimedia and communications applications, announced the introduction of two new six-channel audio DAC chips last week—one of which brings the contentious formats together in one box.
Don't smirk, but a lot of audiophiles, including this writer and our esteemed editor John Atkinson, spend a considerable amount of time listening to music on their computers, especially at work. In fact, the results from our recent online poll about computers and listening habits indicate that at least 60% of our readers listen this way as well, with half of those using their PCs for music playback "quite often."
Music lover Dennis Cassidy had an itch years ago to start an audiophile label dedicated to releasing the particular kinds of music he liked with the best vinyl and packaging available. Cassidy was involved with music distributor Sound Advice at the time, which sold the standard audiophile favorites from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, and others.
Maybe it's because those Yanks are so contentious, but it appears that most of the initial CD copy-protection activity is taking place in Europe (see previous). Last week, Phoenix, AZ–based SunnComm announced that it has reached an agreement in principle with Sonopress of Germany for implementation of its MediaCloQ technology in manufacturing facilities located all over Europe.
There are only a few short days left, but once again, audiophiles can help themselves and others at the same time by participating in The Cable Company's sixth annual "Summer Against Hunger" campaign. The Cable Company (and www.usedcable.com), along with several manufacturers and audiophile publications, have set up a program by which they offer to donate up to 10% of August sales to CARE and the International Rescue Committee, these contributions to be used to assist the worldwide disaster relief efforts of those humanitarian organizations.
Last week, InterTrust Technologies, which creates Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, and format developer DataPlay announced a partnership intended to create a portable media distribution platform for protected content such as music. Universal Music Group, EMI Recorded Music, and BMG Entertainment have all announced that they are planning to release prerecorded music on the resultant DataPlay digital format for use in a variety of consumer electronic devices.
While Napster was thriving a few short months ago, the music business was noisily seething and quietly plotting. How could they put the digital audio genie back into the content-control bottle? Although Napster has since been gutted, the labels have identified the unprotected CD as the source of their woes, and now it's payback time.
Like the proverbial camel who took over the tent after getting just his nose in, it appears that once copy protection is given an inch, it will inevitably try to get in all the way. At least that's how it appears with an increasing variety of CD copy protection systems now currently being tested en masse by the major record labels. Latest to announce a new "evaluation agreement" is BMG Entertainment, which will use and evaluate SunnComm's MediaCloQ "digital content cloaking technology", first put to the test earlier in the year on a Charley Pride CD (see previous).