Universal Goes Universal

Last year in late October, Universal Music Group finally announced its first set of SACD titles and the high-rez format's supporters jumped for joy. Then, at the January 2003 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Universal stood on the podium next to Sony and announced several key SACD releases from the Police, Peter Gabriel, and others.

Talk about hedging your bets: Universal, the world's largest music company, announced last week that it will play both sides of the field by making its music available on the DVD-Audio format as well. Beginning with 20 US releases slated for the second half of 2003, Universal plans an ongoing program to make a "combination of best-selling artists and core catalog titles" available on DVD-Audio in major markets worldwide.

The company says most of the recordings slated for DVD-A release will be remixed and remastered from the original multitrack masters. They add that many of the DVD-A discs will include bonus enhanced content including photos, biographies, lyrics, discographies, and videos. Universal's DVD-A discs will also play on existing DVD-Video players with the inclusion of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track.

When Universal announced SACD support last year, the company's Larry Kenswil claimed, "With its many benefits for consumers and recording artists, Super Audio CD has the potential to become a standard for the industry." Kenswil now says, "Over the past five years, DVD has established itself as one of the fastest growing formats. The huge penetration of DVD makes DVD-Audio a natural progression for music lovers who are already owners of DVD players, taking them from the familiar world of stereo to the 21st Century world of multi-channel surround sound."

Kenswil adds, "Universal has always played a leading role in the development and implementation of new technologies and formats." But with its five recent Police SACD releases, Universal made the curious choice to issue only one of the series as a SACD/CD hybrid in the US, leading to some confusion in the record aisles. Music fans interested in the non-hybrid Police releases are forced to choose between the old and new formats or must buy both for playback in both a high-rez SACD home system and in a car/computer/portable player.

Side note: DVD-Audio discs are still rumored to be moving to a hybrid model similar to that used by SACD, enabling them to be played on both DVD and CD machines. Billboard.com reported last week that dual-layer hybrid DVD-As should be hitting the shelves in the next six months.