Autosound Frontier: DVD-A

Perhaps even more than the typical living room, the automobile might be considered multichannel audio's natural environment.

DVD-Audio may be the natural carrier for mobile surround sound. The high-resolution format got a big boost in Detroit last week at the Digital Car Conference and Exhibition. Panasonic Automotive Electronics Company won plenty of industry praise with its DVD-A demonstration format at the trade show. "For the first time it sounds like what we're doing in the studio," said Elliot Scheiner, a recording engineer who has been collaborating with Panasonic on the design of automotive sound systems.

Several automakers may begin offering optional, factory-installed DVD-Audio systems within the next year, according to Panasonic Automotive executive Tom Dunn. Aftermarket DVD-Video and DVD-A players are already available for the mobile market—and some custom installers have been turning vans and SUVs into rolling theaters.

Quick acceptance of DVD-A by autosound fans could pull the format out of the rollout doldrums. Super Audio CD, a competing format backed by Sony and Philips, has been on the market for well over two years. There are now several hundred SACD titles available, compared to only about 200 DVD-A titles. The launch of DVD-A was hampered by infighting among companies concerned over copy protection and channel encoding issues.

At the Digital Car Conference, Dolby Laboratories demonstrated its first mobile Pro Logic 2 surround sound system, regardless of format. Pro Logic 2 will generate a believable surround field no matter what the resolution of the disc in play, according to Dolby representatives. There are at least four high-end audio system manufacturers making mobile aftermarket systems with Dolby Pro Logic 2, according to Dolby's consumer technology marketing director Brent Butterworth. Volvo's new SC90 sport utility vehicle will be the first to offer Pro Logic 2 as an installed option, he said.