Yamaha displays FireWire-endowed audio/video components at Comdex '97

Digital audio took another lurch forward at Comdex '97 with the display of Yamaha's FireWire-to-PCM converter technology.

Two product mock-ups were shown, both with 1394 (FireWire) connectors providing the means for moving digital audio between components. In a modest display, a multidisc CD changer was tethered to a middle-of-the-line Yamaha A/V surround-sound receiver via a single 1394 cable. More important, the FireWire jacks on the back of these components were the only connectors present for propelling audio, the exception being the speaker output posts on the receiver.

Everything else looked normal: no special displays, buttons, or design quirks. But I quickly realized that this may be the first concrete glimpse of the future of audio distribution in the home. Up until now, these demos always involved multiple (and way inconvenient) boxes sitting between components to convert signals from analog or PCM to 1394 and back again. This setup, however, looked like a typical stack of gear in a college dorm room.

According to Yoshi Sawada, who is spearheading Yamaha's FireWire effort, we should be getting details about their 1394-to-PCM conversion technology in the next few months. Pressed as to when actual products may appear, Sawada stated: "Technology-wise, we really do not have a problem releasing consumer electronics components right now with a 1394 interface. One of the problems we have to solve first involves copyright issues. We have an organization in which people are working on the copyright protection scheme so that the content providers can feel comfortable. Hopefully, sometime next year we can reach an agreement between the content providers and the consumer electronics and computer hardware, software, and OS [operating system] manufacturers. Releasing a product without any content does not make any sense."

Of primary concern to audiophiles are several technical issues regarding the conversion of audio to and from the packetized 1394 digital stream, and the quality of sound possible. Yoshi points out that, because 1394 is capable of isochronous (guaranteed timing) data transfer, he believes that artifacts such as jitter can be minimized in the new scheme. "I think we can reduce the jitter amount to at least the same as we have with CD or DAT--probably even less. We will talk more about this in the future."

So far, scores of technical facts have surfaced concerning the new FireWire standard, but there has yet to be a public demonstration of its high-end audio and/or video potential--something we will be listening and looking for in the coming months.

For now, more information on FireWire can be obtained by checking out the 1394 Trade Association website. Or, keep watching Stereophile's online news.