It's Official: DVD-Audio Version 1.0 Finally Set

After dozens of thorny issues slowed its progress (see previous report), last week the DVD Forum announced that its Steering Committee has approved Version 1.0 of the DVD-Audio Disc specifications, making it the fifth of the DVD format family after DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, and DVD-R. According to a statement, the DVD Forum says it will soon publish the DVD-Audio Format Book, which contains the detailed specification of the format, and make it available to authorized companies by "early spring of this year."

A format war also appears to be brewing between the newly minted DVD-Audio spec and Sony's and Philips' Super Audio CD format. Consumers may be in luck this time around, however, as several manufacturers have announced DVD machines that will likely play both formats. This could shift the burden of making a choice to record labels, who now have to decide which format to support, if they decide to proffer DVD-Audio or SACD releases at all.

The new DVD-Audio specifications are the product of discussions on the DVD-Audio format that began in January 1996 and were carried out by the DVD Forum's Working Group 4, under the chairmanship of JVC. The DVD Forum issued Version 0.9 of the DVD-Audio specifications back in June 1998, and the final format has been adjusted "only to accommodate two new music-industry requests that are incorporated into the version 1.0 specifications."

First, Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) was added (see previous report) to help extend playing time for the higher-resolution formats. Second, the final specifications were also modified to increase the flexibility for content providers who may elect, for example, to use only Dolby Digital (AC-3) sound with video clips, or both Dolby Digital and Linear PCM soundtracks.

The International Steering Committee representing the worldwide recording industry has been collaborating with the DVD-Audio Working Group for over three years to come up with format features. According to an ISC statement, "the DVD Forum's approval of Version 1.0 will facilitate development and adoption of the copyright protection technology that is vital in the modern digital era; the rollout of DVD-Audio products is near, and it will be a milestone for consumers to enjoy a totally new music listening experience."

DVD-Audio specifications: (from the DVD-Forum press release)

1) DVD-Audio Supports a wide range of Digital Audio options:

• Available sampling frequencies cover 48kHz, 96kHz, and 192kHz, as well as 44.1kHz, 88.2kHz, and 176.4kHz. Bit resolution is also widely supported in l6-bit, 20-bit, and 24-bit. Up to six channels are available for multichannel recording, with a transfer rate of 9.6Mbps maximum.
• Compatibility with the DVD-Video and DVD-ROM formats.

2) Recording options range from 2-channel to Multichannel Sound.

• In 2-channel stereo, more than 74 minutes of recording time is possible on a single-sided/single-layer disc, even at the highest-quality mode at 24 bits/192kHz.
• With multichannel modes, even 24-bit/96kHz, 6-channel recording can be included with more than 74 minutes of playback time. The signal has an immediate presence, like that of an actual concert hall or an entirely new, high-quality, three-dimensional surround-sound environment.
• DVD-Audio content recorded in multichannel mode can also be played back properly on a 2-channel stereo system as intended by studio producers, thanks to the dedicated content producer-directed fold-down capability.

3) Enriched Added Value Options:

• The format supports playback of video clips with LPCM and/or AC-3 sound with the quality of the DVD-Video format.
• Video slide shows can also be included for viewing while listening to the music.
• Discs can contain all kinds of information of interest to music fans, including visual display of liner notes (album title, song titles, artist data, etc.), artist discography, and a URL (Universal Resource Locator) for access to some bonus contents on the Web which, at the content provider's discretion, may or may not be available only for the users with certain commands or passwords.