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SACD Backers Say Format Poised For Mass Market

Las Vegas – A growing SACD software selection, hardware prices as low as a suggested $299, and growing software visibility at retail locations will make 2002 the year that SACD begins penetrating the mass market, SACD proponents said yesterday during a press conference.

Shizuo Takashino, Sony’s corporate senior executive VP, said his company is entering Phase 3 this year of its SACD launch program, expanding selection and reducing price points to set the stage for the “true beginning of mass marketing of SACD.”

Larry Kenswil, president of Universal Music’s eLabs new-technology group, said the format has the “potential to become the standard for the industry.” And Guy Demuynck, president of Philips’ mainstream CE unit, said about 600 SACD titles are available worldwide. About 275 were available in the U.S. at the end of 2001, Sony said before the show, and that number well grow to 364 in the U.S. by the end of March.

During the event, Universal Music Group announced spring availability of its first SACD titles in the U.S., having late last year announced its intentions to offer the format. Although the world’s biggest music company was short on specifics, Universal’s Kenswil said the first releases would include a combination of best-selling artists and catalog titles, with a “large percentage” offering multichannel sound. Stereo, he noted, “is easier to get out” because of the additional effort needed to author multichannel titles. Kenswil also said some titles will be hybrid CD/SACD discs, although “eventually they won’t be needed” as consumers buy more SACD hardware. In addition, he noted, “you can’t charge more money” for hybrids, reducing the profitability of such discs.

Initial Universal titles will include discs by Diana Krall, Shelby Lynne, John Coltrane, Steely Dan, the Allman Brothers, and Muddy Waters.

After the event, Kenzwil also said Universal is “pretty close” to reaching a licensing agreement for DVD-Audio. “It’s not the price,” he said. Instead, details in the copy-protection portion of the licensing agreement are complex to negotiate and affects “other parts of the company (Vivendi Universal),’ including DVDVideo and settop boxes.

He also said he was unaware that a Universal unit, Deusche Gramophon, has begun marketing two DVD-Audio titles, saying the unit might have farmed out production independently to a company that has negotiated a DVD-Audio license.

To create awareness, Sony’s music and consumer electronics units have collaborated on hardware/software displays available now in more than 1,000 stores, including Tower Records, Best Buy, Circuit City and Tweeter. The Wiz will offer it in all stores in 30 days. The display program launched six months ago.

Also to promote SACD, Tower Records will add a soundroom to demonstrate SACD in its Sherman Oaks, Calif., store, and hopes to replicate the room in four or five more stores big enough to accomodate the room, said Tower president Russ Solomon. The record retailer offers “as many SACD titles as we can get,” he said, who has no plans to incorporate DVD-Audio playback in the room even though he also stocks DVD-Audio software. Solomon said he personally favors SACD.