HI-FI '99, Day Two

Following the Sony/Philips jump from the starting line with Wednesday's SACD announcements, the DVD-Audio camp quickly came up to speed at the HI-FI '99 press luncheon with their plans for players and discs to appear this fall. First up at the podium was Jordan Rost from the Warner Music Group. Contrasts with the SACD position were established from the start when Rost made it obvious that, unlike SACD, DVD-Audio seeks to embrace not only high-end audio, but also various forms of video, and even Internet interactivity. Rost even went so far as to say that DVD-Audio discs could "play on CD players if a hybrid disc is feasible and desired," thus possibly deflating Sony's insistence that backward-compatibility is what sets SACD apart.

Regardless, Rost stated that "A hybrid disc will cost more. Dual inventories will exist for quite a long time." He followed this with an offhand remark that stocking more products in the form of dual inventories may not be such a bad thing for retailers looking for extra-value products to sell.

An interesting comparison was made to the currently hot MP3 format, in which 74 minutes of highly compressed audio takes up around 65Mb of disc space, whereas the same 74 minutes of DVD-Audio requires around 4.7 Gigabytes. This, Rost concludes, means that DVD-Audio is certainly going to remain a "brick-and-mortar product during our lifetimes." Taking another stab at SACD (whose first duplication plant is just now coming online), DVD-Audio discs can be manufactured in the established base of DVD plants around the world, giving it a serious advantage in bringing titles to market.

Also of note to music lovers, it is likely that consumers will be able to make a "CD-quality personal convenience copy" of a DVD-Audio disc. Encryption techniques and watermarking can be included at the option of the record label to prevent further copies, or make it easy to trace pirates. (It remains to be seen, however, if appropriately robust watermarking can be implemented without degrading sound quality.) Rost did acknowledge, however, that copyright issues still remained, and expected to settle the issues shortly.

Next up was Meridian's Bob Stuart, who jumped straight into a brief technical overview of DVD-Audio's formats, along with the Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) data-compression scheme. Stuart noted that the difficult issue facing DVD-Audio remains copy-protection, which has bedeviled the format from the beginning. On a brighter note, he also pointed out that, unlike regular DVD, there will be no regional codes to prevent a DVD-Audio disc purchased in England from playing in Taipei.

During the question-and-answer period, Stereophile's editor, John Atkinson, asked if having multiple mixes of a single work on one disc---6-channel discrete, 2-channel discrete, and a Dolby Digital version for compatibility with DVD-Video players, for example--- would mean that the music-publishing companies would charge multiple royalties per disc. According to Rost, there is no official answer, which led JA to speculate that prices of multi-royalty discs could easily reach $30 or more.