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SACD, DVD-Audio Activity Picks Up

INDIANAPOLIS –Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio activity accelerated at the CEDIA Expo in anticipation of the fourth-quarter selling season.

In the SACD camp, Philips and Sony said they hope to piggyback on the success of DVD-Video with the launch of the industry’s first combination DVD-Video/SACD players. Philips’ model will also be the industry’s first multichannel SACD player, and it’s due in December at a suggested $2,000.

For its part, Sony brought the industry’s opening price point for two-channel SACD down to an everyday $1,200 for a five-disc carousel model. Sony’s previous opening price point was $3,500 for a single-play model.

Opening prices from the industry’s other SACD suppliers — Sharp and Marantz– are $2,750 and $7,500, respectively.

In the DVD-Audio camp, more companies announced shipment dates for their inaugural DVD-Audio/Video players. They included Rotel and Meridian, which showed models targeted to ship in late November and the first quarter, respectively. Meridian also introduced its second DVD-Video player capable of being upgraded to play back DVD-Audio discs.

For its part, JVC announced September shipments of its first DVD-A/V player, having previously targeted June shipments.

Currently, Denon, Kenwood, Panasonic and Technics are shipping DVD-A/V players. Onkyo plans late-September shipments of its first model, and Toshiba plans fall availability.

Pioneer, which planned to ship its first two DVD-A/V models later this year, pushed the introductions back to January. The company cited delays in getting access to the format’s newly revised encryption technology, which was developed by Panasonic.

Although DVD-Audio software is expected to be available later this year, the quantity of titles is in dispute.

During the Expo, a marketer with a DVD Forum company said the big-five music companies, through the DVD Entertainment Group, planned a mid-October announcement of fourth-quarter title availability.

Another Forum member said music companies are targeting a combined total of 100 titles by the end of the year.

The DVD Entertainment Group, however, denied the claims and pointed out that the music companies are still in negotiations with the 4C Entity over the licensing terms for DVD-Audio’s encryption standard.

A marketer close to the DVD Entertainment Group contended that licensing negotiations are taking longer than the music companies planned, as is software authoring. In addition, authoring hardware and software is still in limited supply, the marketer said. “There will be some DVD-Audio titles this year, but the quantity won’t be as large as DVD Forum members would like.”

If 100 DVD-Audio titles were to be available this year, the selection would still be slightly behind the selection of SACD titles. More than 120 SACD titles are available in the United States, with 150 worldwide, said Tim Baxter, senior VP of Sony’s home audio division. About 60 percent of the titles are Sony’s, he said.

A growing number of SACD titles is appearing in genres other than classical and jazz, promising to expand the format’s appeal, Baxter added. New discs include Boston, Billy Joel, and Mariah Carey albums. Lower price points on new Sony players will also help broaden the market.

In Europe, a handful of multichannel SACD titles are also available, said Tom Gevers, who heads up Philips’ worldwide SACD marketing effort. Although Philips isn’t sure when music companies will offer multichannel SACD discs in the United States, the company plans to offer a multichannel sampler disc with its first player, said

R. Steven Jean, Philips’ U.S. marketing director for DVD-Video.

In the United States, two-channel SACD software is available in about 30 Tower Records stores and by special order in all other Tower outlets, said Mike Fidler, Sony’s senior home video VP. Discs are also available in a “few” Virgin stores and select Musicland outlets, as well as through online sales, he added.

About 40 hybrid CD/SACD discs are available, and more will likely hit the market, Fidler noted, now that BMG’s Sonopress disc-replication facility in Europe will turn on its first hybrid-disc assembly line later this year.

For now, only Philips is pressing discs, and that’s only as a service to music companies to seed the market and to perfect the process to raise yields.

Fidler said the SACD format has achieved Sony’s expectations, which he described as “modest” given the format’s initial high price and initial appeal to hard-core two-channel audiophiles. Although multiple independent music companies offer SACD discs, among the big-five music companies, only Sony is delivering titles.

One DVD Forum member attributed that development in part to DVD’s success in the market and the potential to deliver DVD-Audio discs playable on current-generation DVD-Video players. These discs could contain two versions of the same music, one in the DVD-Audio format and one in one of two formats playable on DVD-Video players: Dolby Digital 5.1 or two-channel 96/24 PCM tracks.

The marketer also claimed the music companies are resistant to licensing another format owned by only two companies, Sony and Philips.