CES '98 Opens: DVD-Audio gauntlet is thrown

The Academy Advancing High Performance Audio & Video (formerly the Academy for the Advancement of High End Audio) kicked off CES '98 with a pre-Show meeting. Meridian's Bob Stuart addressed the thorny issue of competing and (as yet) not fully defined standards for DVD-Audio.

Quality audio embodies a wide dynamic range, a full frequency range, and accurate spatial relations, Stuart said. He cautioned that renegade format proposals threaten the potential for widespread implementation of "fully three-dimensional audio reproduction" ---something DVD-Audio makes possible for consumers for the first time.

Format standards for DVD-Audio are expected to be announced soon by the International Steering Committee. Stuart was especially concerned about breakaway formats, such as Sony's and Philips' DSD. He embraces a very well-reasoned, industry-wide single standard for DVD-Audio, and many Academy members agree with him.

Stuart also brought to light the recording industry's need for reliable copy protection (the encoded data are intended to survive D/A conversion, and even transmission over an AM radio link!), and pointed out the necessity for cooperation between that industry and hardware manufacturers. He stated that the three key components necessary to ensure DVD's success in the marketplace are: 1) video, 2) three-dimensional sound, and 3) the highest possible fidelity: 24-bit/96kHz.

Not all in attendance agreed that a monolithic standard---from mid-fi commercial discs all the way up to the most exquisitely produced high-end recordings---is needed, or even desirable. David Chesky of Chesky Records announced that his company was moving forward with plans to release 24/96 recordings on conventional DVD-Video discs even before standards are agreed upon, just to get them into the hands of music lovers. (But it should be pointed out that, unless the DVD standards allow player manufacturers to include a high-speed digital out, audiophiles will be able to play the Chesky discs only on a one-box DVD player with built-in 96k DACs.) "Let the market decide which standard it wants," he said.

In addition, Andy Regan, Chairman of the Academy's Music and Film Seminar Series at HI-FI '98, discussed the Academy's Ambassador program, which will kick in at that Show. He is asking high-end audio and video companies to help sponsor a training program for specialty A/V sales people. The training seminars will be offered free during the two Trade Days prior to the Consumer Days at the Show.