Last week, the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) announced its forecast that Internet sales of traditional consumer technologies to online households should reach at least $14 billion by 2002, representing 13% of total industry volume. CEMA also revealed that consumer research shows interest in buying consumer technologies online should grow by at least 135% in the next two years. The study found that the vast majority of online shoppers opt to consummate the purchase online instead of at a retail store because of price.
Plenty of noteworthy new audio products are making their debuts here at HI-FI '99. EveAnna Manley has unveiled her prototype DAC/preamp, the Wave, featuring an UltraAnalog-based 20-bit D/A converter and a tube line-stage. With four digital inputs, four analog inputs, a processor loop, and three variable outputs, the fully remote-controllable unit should appear at dealers in late summer at a suggested price of $7000. Manley says an optional 24/96 pop-in circuit board is in the works.
Following the Sony/Philips jump from the starting line with Wednesday's SACD announcements, the DVD-Audio camp quickly came up to speed at the HI-FI '99 press luncheon with their plans for players and discs to appear this fall. First up at the podium was Jordan Rost from the Warner Music Group. Contrasts with the SACD position were established from the start when Rost made it obvious that, unlike SACD, DVD-Audio seeks to embrace not only high-end audio, but also various forms of video, and even Internet interactivity. Rost even went so far as to say that DVD-Audio discs could "play on CD players if a hybrid disc is feasible and desired," thus possibly deflating Sony's insistence that backward-compatibility is what sets SACD apart.
In an Internet world, the audiophile's quest for sound quality via high-resolution formats like DVD-Audio or SACD might be the last gasps of a dying generation. New media and technology companies like Liquid Audio, Diamond Multimedia, and RealNetworks are betting that the new generations of music lovers care more about how music is distributed, stored, and manipulated than about how it ultimately sounds. Les Garland, one of the founders of MTV and VH-1, has stated that "Technology fueled the growth of the market for music during the time when we pioneered music on cable. The Internet is having a similar effect, tenfold, driving artists and consumers to embrace digital media."
Last Month, music labels, distributors, and retailers met in Las Vegas for the 41st annual National Association of Recording Merchandisers convention to wrestle with several new issues wrought by the digital age. NARM Chairperson Rachelle Friedman set the tone for the event when she stated in the keynote address that "for the music industry, the 21st century and the impact of the Internet have already thrust themselves upon us."
Every week we get an e-mail or two from online readers begging for a state-of-the-art set of searchable weblinks on the Stereophile website. Starting this week, your e-prayers have been answered. The Stereophile website now sports one of the Internet's most comprehensive set of qualified audio and video links---as of last count, they number more than 2500. The database is searchable in a variety of ways, and also groups similar categories.
Last week, RealNetworks announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire privately held Xing Technology, a developer and provider of MP3 software. Xing has been developing standards-based digital audio and video encoding and decoding technology since 1990, but eventually ran into trouble competing with other Internet-audio startups such as RealNetworks and Liquid Audio.
As first reported April 8 in EETimes, Sony has made known its plans for the first generation of Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) players, to be released in Japan this May. For the last several months, Sony has been suggesting that the SACD format would be going head to head with the competing DVD-Audio format, despite overtures from the DVD-Audio Working Group to join in a single all-encompassing specification.
Last week, The Recording Industry Association of America released its year-end anti-piracy statistics, which it says reveal an increase in the number of counterfeit and pirate CDs and CD-recordables confiscated in 1998. "We've had tremendous success this year with our anti-piracy initiatives," said Frank Creighton, senior vice president and director of anti-piracy. "Between the many CD plants around the country adopting better business practices to the scores of universities signing up for our copyright education program---we're making strides on all fronts."
Last week saw a flurry of announcements in the online audio and video streaming business, capped off by Yahoo!'s acquisition of Broadcast.com. Yahoo! says it has signed a definitive agreement with Broadcast.com whereby Yahoo! will issue 0.7722 of a share of Yahoo! common stock for each share of Broadcast.com common stock. In addition, all outstanding options of Broadcast.com will be converted into Yahoo! options. The acquisition is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 1999 and is valued at around $5.7 billion, including $4.8 billion in Broadcast.com common stock and $900 million in stock options.