It's been an up-and-down week for consumer-electronics companies, as revealed by recent earnings reports surfacing around the globe. First, the bad news: Sony reports that its profits fell 32% in the latest fiscal year, and cites the strong yen for depressing the value of the consumer-electronics and entertainment company's overseas earnings.
The Napster saga continues. As reported last week, software maker Napster and several colleges were looking at a likely court battle, instigated by music group Metallica and others attempting to prevent their songs from being distributed via MP3 audio files without official consent or payment of royalties. After Metallica announced its suit, rapper Dr. Dre also jumped in, giving Napster until last Friday to remove links to his work.
The healthy trend for the audio market continues: the Consumer Electronics Association reported last week that revenues from factory shipments of audio products to dealers this February increased by 8% over last February, to a total of $542 million. "The fantastic sales in February spurred the year-to-date total for audio sales to more than $1 billion; a 6% increase over the first two months of 1999," said the CEA.
It's not uncommon for bootleggers to record live performances of favorite artists and then send copies of the tapes around the world. But in an interesting twist that could add a whole new dimension to concert merchandising, the Virgin Entertainment Group and Liquid Audio recently teamed up to record a live performance by the Joshua Redman Quartet at the Virgin Megastore in San Francisco. The recording was then immediately digitized and burned onto CD.
The struggle for position in the Internet-based audio downloading market continues unabated. On the format front, Sony has recently announced several deals to bring its ATRAC compressed-audio format to the Web, while IBM and Liquid Audio announced last week that they have entered into a strategic relationship intended to "advance the digital music marketplace" with content-management tools.
For lifelike audio presentation in your living room, what could be better than the real thing? When it comes to putting the sound of a piano in your home, nothing comes close to, well, a real piano. For more than a century, several companies have marketed player pianos, first using rolls of punched paper, and most recently sophisticated MIDI programs. But if a real piano represents the ultimate audio performance in your living room, who has the ultimate real piano?
Next to join the online ATRAC parade, Warner Music Group announced last week that it has agreed to license the ATRAC3 audio compression technology from Sony, for use in the electronic distribution of music. Warner says it expects to launch its electronic distribution business during the second half of 2000, using ATRAC3 on a non-exclusive basis.
When polled earlier this month, Stereophile's online readers were split on the topic of DVD-Audio's surround capabilities: 30% expressed interest, but an equal number were not so thrilled with the idea. While the release of the official high-resolution DVD-A format is still several months away, some record labels have been quick to capitalize on the ability of current DVD players to play compressed AC3- and DTS-encoded audio DVDs, in the hopes of developing a market for a lower-fidelity surround-sound format.
Last week, e.Digital announced a licensing agreement to incorporate Sony's ATRAC3 sound-compression technology into e.Digital's portable Internet music-player designs. e.Digital claims that its multi-codec platform, including ATRAC3 support, can be incorporated into a variety of products including portable digital music players, home and automotive stereos, and functionally enhanced wireless phones.