Warner Backs CD/DVD-Audio Hybrid

Warner Music Group is supporting efforts by the DVD Forum to create a hybrid dual-layer CD/DVD-audio disc, according to reports from New York the first week of December. WMG, a unit of AOL Time Warner, is one of the music industry's principal backers of the DVD-Audio format.

The creation of a hybrid disc would require amendments to the "Red Book" CD standard. CD players, under the current standard, can't read DVD-Audio discs—for that matter, neither can most DVD-Video players, which default to a DVD-Audio disc's alternate Dolby Digital multichannel tracks, as if the disc were a DVD movie. (A "Warner Vision" informational website discusses DVD-A's capabilities in depth.)

DVD-Audio is hampered by a classic chicken-or-egg dilemma. All DVD video players can play CDs. Some look for a DVD table of contents first, and if it can't be found, default to CD playback. Others look for a CD ToC first, so that music discs boot up quicker; in either case, the machines will ignore DVD-Audio content. In most cases, music fans who think they are listening to high-rez audio are actually listening to Dolby surround sound.

Changing the CD specification would allow hardware makers to design CD players that could play high-resolution DVD-Audio content without the necessity of turning on a video monitor to scroll through a menu. DVD-A's reliance on a visual interface works contrary to the way most people play recorded music, a fact that wasn't overlooked by the designers of the SACD format.

Although both DVD-Audio and SACD offer clearly audible improvements over standard CD, it's unlikely that most music lovers care about the benefits. Both formats are top-down initiatives being pushed on a market that has never had any complaints about CDs. The stated agenda is making the listening experience more rewarding, but many observers believe that the real agenda is end-to-end control over how consumers can use the music they purchase—an end run around the music industry's copy proliferation problem. CD-based content can be easily transferred to recordable CD, MP3, and other formats, or sent as audio files over the Internet, but at present there is no way to do that with DVD-A or SACD data.

At a European Conference held October 30 in Paris, the DVD Forum announced that it would begin investigating proposals for altering the CD specification to accommodate DVD-A. It was quickly pointed out that the Forum may not have the legal right to do this. Some Forum officials replied that if this were true, they could still create their own format.