Warner Music Group Releases First DVD-A Discs

After a difficult gestation, DVD-Audio may finally be moving toward becoming a market reality now that a major record label has stepped forward to support it. Warner Music Group (WMG) has issued several recordings in the new format, covering a range of genres. DVD-A is "the most significant industry format launch since the introduction of the CD nearly 20 years ago," according to an October 2 WMG press release.

Warner's first DVD-A releases are:
Beethoven: Symphonies 4 & 5, Daniel Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin
Core, Stone Temple Pilots
Tigerlily, Natalie Merchant
Johann Strauss in Berlin, Nikolaus Harnoncourt/Berlin Philharmonic
Brain Salad Surgery, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Hommage à l'Orchestre Lamoureux (Chabrier's España and Ravel's Boléro), Yutaka Sado/Orchestre Lamoureux; and
The Bedroom Mixes, Jazz At The Movies Band.
None of these recordings are new projects, but have been remixed from the original masters. They are said to be compatible with the more than 10 million DVD players now in consumers' homes.

DVD-A releases from WMG labels can be played in three ways, according to the announcement: 1) in "Advanced Resolution" surround sound; 2) in Advanced Resolution stereo; or 3) for the vast majority of owners of DVD-Video players who "have not yet upgraded to DVD-Audio," in Dolby Digital surround. One logical implication: The full sonic benefits of DVD-A recordings may be available only to purchasers of the next generation of players.

Warner's DVD-A releases will be encrypted with watermarking technology licensed from 4Centity, an industry association concerned about the protection of intellectual property rights. Members of the group include Toshiba, Matsushita, IBM, and Intel.

"Advanced Resolution DVD-Audio is the ultimate listening experience," states the WMG announcement. "With a sampling rate and bit depth that at least double the resolution for the current CD standard, DVD-Audio discs deliver sound quality that is significantly closer to the master recording than is possible with CDs." Beyond the benefits of higher-resolution recording and playback, DVD-A also allows for many extra features not possible with CD, such as "visual menus" with remote navigation to "photo galleries," artists' biographies and discographies, credits, and song lyrics, all viewable during playback if used in systems with video capabilities. Regular monthly releases will follow, say WMG marketing executives.

"With DVD-Audio you have the feeling that there is no artificiality," said conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim of the new format. "It's as if there are no microphones, as if there are no loudspeakers, and you are in the room where the music is being made. You almost feel the wooden floor vibrate." Warner's senior VP for new technology, Jordan Rost, concurred: "Your ears are the only senses where you get information from behind as well as in front," he said. "DVD-Audio really gets you much closer to the live experience."

"Any time a new technology brings the listener closer to the artist, we're all for it," said Sharon Corr, violinist and vocalist of Irish family act The Corrs, whose latest album, In Blue, will be released on DVD-Audio in November. "Through DVD-Audio, our fans can really feel as if they are in the middle of the band, and experience our music the way we experience it—whether in the studio or, in the case of a live album, on stage."

Rost added that DVD-A is "an extremely artist-friendly format," because "they don't have to shoehorn all of their sounds into just two channels." The response from artists to DVD-A has been "warm so far," Rost said.

DVD-A players from major manufacturers will soon enter the market at an average price of about $1000 each. Encryption issues, the high entry fee, and lack of portability may hinder initial acceptance of DVD-A, according to some analysts.