Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), must feel like Sisyphus playing an endless game of "Whack-A-Mole." Her job recently has been to patrol the digital world for music copyright violators, especially those pesky pirate MP3 websites on the Internet. It seems that each time they find and eradicate a horde of copyright violators, hundreds more pop up faster than you can say "information wants to be free."
Running close on the heels of the 105th AES Convention in San Francisco, the DVD Forum held its conference two days later in the posh Hyatt Regency near the SF Airport. Attended by a variety of computer and consumer-electronics industry folk who manufacture and sell DVD discs and hardware, more than half of day one was devoted to the emerging DVD-Audio format. Although the presentations became highly technical at times, the sheer variety of possible formats and applications for DVD-Audio became apparent. Whether this is a blessing or a fatal flaw, all agreed that the consumer will ultimately determine DVD-Audio's fate in the next 2 to 5 years.
Cats vs. dogs, Wile E. Coyote vs. Roadrunner, Spy vs. Spy, Analog vs. Digital. It seems that some battles will never end, and so it is with flux vs. bits in the professional recording industry. The Audio Engineering Society (AES) conventions dazzle showgoers with the latest audio recording and processing gear, mostly digital, and this year's show is no exception. The big buzz heard 'round the hall were higher sampling and quantization rates for future music formats such as DVD-Audio. But off-site, at the nearby ANA hotel (great choice of venue---just add LOG) in downtown San Francisco, key industry heavyweights were holding a meeting to discuss the future of analog recording technologies.
Drum roll, please: As promised, the DVD-Audio 1.0 specification has been finalized by the DVD-Audio Working Group 4 of the DVD Forum, and will shortly be presented to the Steering Committee for final approval. A multitude of delays both technical and political popped up over the last two years, stalling the evolving specification until just recently. (It was orginally intended to be released months ago.) Still to be settled, however, is how DVD-Audio 1.0 will co-exist with Sony's and Philips' promise to promote their rival technology, Super Audio CD (SACD), as an independent and competing format.
In a recent bake-off, online retailer CDnow was named top music banana by the New York consulting firm eMarketer. Although placing further down the list based on price alone, CDnow gained the highest overall score in an averaging of the rankings of six criteria. Rated on a scale of 1 to 5, these were: Selection, Price, Service, Usability, Presentation, and Features.
In anticipation of the upcoming 1.0 DVD-Audio specification (see previous article), Sonic Solutions and Warner Music Group wasted no time in announcing their intent to collaborate in creating new multichannel high-density recordings to showcase the new format. Warner was one of the first major labels to deliver music via CD, and Warner's video division has never been shy in their support of Open-DVD for video. So it comes as no surprise that they're one of the first major music houses out of the gate for the audio version of DVD.
Recordable CD machines are nothing new these days, especially those aimed at the PC market. Those machines that find their way into Desktop PCs can end up doing everything from backing up corporate financial data to mastering CD-ROM titles. Many are used for recording music CDs as well, and so a new CD-Recorder from Smart and Friendly has a couple of features thrown in just to excite the audio folk.
Several weeks ago, we reported on the revival of McCormack Audio by Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson, who purchased the company's assets at an auction in Southern California. This past week, McCormack Audio has announced that one of the original co-founders, Steve McCormack, has rejoined the company as Director of Research and Development. McCormack had worked at the company from its inception in 1982 until 1996.
Looks like it might be a while before a profitable formula jells for selling music over the Internet. News this week indicates that one of the largest music retailers, Tower Records, is finally ready to challenge the market, while online distribution pioneer N2K will be scaling back operations until things steady a bit.