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DVD-Audio Format Gets Nod From Universal

The DVD-Audio format got a boost with the announcement that Universal Music, the world’s largest music company, would launch its first 20 DVD-Audio releases in the second half in the United States.

That means four of the world’s five largest music companies will be marketing DVD-Audio discs in the U.S.: BMG, EMI, Warner and Universal. EMI and Universal, however, also offer SACD. Sony markets SACD discs exclusively.

In its announcement, Universal said it would include Dolby Digital backups on its DVD-Audio discs and would make a combination of best-selling artists and catalog titles available with the first 20. Universal declined to explain why its SACD launch in late 2002 preceded the DVD-Audio launch.

In other DVD-Audio developments, the DVD Forum is waiting for formal proposals for hybrid dual-sided CD/DVD-Audio discs, a forum member said. Tests of another solution, a hybrid single-sided dual-layer disc, found a majority of DVD-Audio players either played the CD layer, instead of the DVD-Audio layer, or rejected the disc outright. Likewise, a majority of DVD-Video players rejected the hybrid disc or failed to play the disc’s backup Dolby Digital 5.1 music tracks, which contain the same material as the DVD-Audio tracks.

Nonetheless, the single-sided, dual-layer disc is still under discussion by the forum, one member said.

In updating hybrid-disc developments, the Forum member said multiple dual-sided hybrid-disc solutions are in development but haven’t been presented to the Forum for testing. One solution, from JVC, allows for a dual-sided disc whose 1.5mm thickness would be at the maximum allowed under Redbook Audio specs. Manufacturing tolerances, however, could result in thicker discs whose drawbacks include jamming in some slot-load CD players.

For his part, Hiroaki Suzuki, a JVC executive involved in forum deliberations, claimed the single-side, dual-layer disc “is still under discussion” in the forum. “It is not right to say that the forum or WG-4 [the main DVD-Audio subgroup] has voted down the solution.”