Bad Start for DualDisc

DualDisc has apparently stumbled hard right out of the gate. Earlier this year, test marketing of the DualDisc in Boston and Seattle indicated that music fans would eagerly accept the new format, one that combines standard Compact Disc audio content on one side with DVD (audio and video) on the other.

DualDisc's official debut has been anything but auspicious. In early November, Sony issued a warning that the discs might cause problems when used in many models of the company's popular PlayStation gaming consoles. Among the many cautions was a note that the CD side of a DualDisc "does not meet the technical specifications to be called an Audio Compact Disc, set forth in the Redbook Audio Compact Disc specifications."

Sony and Philips were the originators of the CD, whose 20-year technical licensing agreement recently expired. Sony could have been bluffing when it stated, "Because the DualDisc does not adhere to the industry Red Book specifications, the audio side of a DualDisc may not play correctly in PlayStation, PSone, or PlayStation 2 consoles"; however, the official Sony warning was shortly followed by one from Onkyo cautioning consumers not to use DualDisc in any Onkyo products, including disc players and disc drives.

Pioneer issued a similar statement, flatly recommending "consumers not use 'DualDisc' products with any Pioneer products, including CD players, DVD players and recorders, and computer drives until Pioneer has an opportunity to test them. At this point in time, Pioneer does not know whether Pioneer products can safely handle these new hybrid discs, or whether these discs may damage your Pioneer products."

Cautionary moves by manufacturers could simply be a tactic to ward off warranty claims from customers with discs jammed in their machines. DualDiscs are a tad thicker than standard CDs or DVDs to accommodate both sides, and might cause problems in some eject mechanisms.

Even so, DualDisc took a very real public relations blow with the recall by Warner Music Group (WMG) of The Donnas, the first release in the format by the up-and-coming girl group. In late October, a WMG spokeswoman explained that "a technical error occurred on the CD side of The Donnas' DualDisc in the pre-manufacturing software process" and said that fans could log onto The Donnas' website and download the missing track. The WMG spokeswoman claimed that the production error was "unrelated to DualDisc technology" but suggested that unhappy fans could return the discs to wherever they were purchased and get replacement CDs in exchange. Those, at least, will play in any machine.