The Digital Duel: DVD-Audio...

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One of two proposed DVD-based music-disc formats, DVD-Audio is supported by the DVD Forum. DVD-Audio uses single-sided or dual-sided discs with up to two layers per side for up to 17Gbytes of data storage. It allows for up to six full-bandwidth channels of LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) information at sampling rates up to 96kHz and in 16-, 20- or 24-bit word lengths. Two-channel LPCM material is supported to 192kHz/24-bit.

This format is not to be confused with music-video discs based on the DVD-Video format and delivering audio in compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 audio or in two-channel LPCM.

It's also not to be confused with DVD-Video discs positioned primarily as music carriers with two-channel 96kHz/20-bit or 96kHz/24-bit audio programs. These discs are sometimes known as Advanced Audio Discs (AADs) or Digital Audio Discs (DADs).

The DVD-Audio format also has the approval of all major music companies, and it is positioned as a more mainstream product compared to the first generation of Super Audio CD players.

The first DVD-Audio players are expected to be available late this year if, as expected, a watermark technology is approved in time. Prices are expected to be relatively mainstream, at about $1,000, compared to the price of Sony's first SACD player at $5,000.

At these prices, the DVD-Audio players will also play DVD-Video discs. Sony's SACD player, and a model due later from Marantz at an unspecified price, won't.

All of the first DVD-Audio titles - or at least the vast majority - will be multichannel recordings, and they will include a broad selection of musical genres.

Although the DVD-Audio and SACD formats are incompatible, suppliers expect some companies to deliver players that play both formats as well as DVD-Video discs.

Disc prices of about $24.95 are expected, and for that price, some discs will probably feature two versions of the same music: one in DVD-Audio, and the other in lower fidelity Dolby Digital 5.1, which would expand the format's appeal because the discs would then be playable on existing DVD-Video players.

Music industry executives said the first wave of DVD-Audio discs is far less likely to include backward-compatible "hybrid" discs that would feature one layer of DVD-Audio and a second CD-audio layer that would be playable on any existing CD player.

... vs. Super Audio CD (SACD)

The other DVD-based music format, Super Audio CD (SACD) was developed by Philips and Sony. SACD features single-sided two-layer discs that allow for six-channel and two-channel audio using Direct Stream Digital (DSD) coding.

The spec includes technology allowing for optional Redbook CD tracks on one layer for backward compatibility with CD players.

As with DVD-Audio, discs could contain song titles, lyrics, graphics, multiple still images, and full-motion videos.

The first player is due in October in the U.S. from Sony at a suggested $5,000. It will be accompanied at launch by 56 titles from three Sony Music and six independent labels.

Major music companies other than Sony have withheld their support of the format until Sony and Philips agree to a comprehensive set of copyright-protection standards that have already been adopted by the DVD-Audio camp. But a handful of independent specialty labels have embraced SACD and consider it the superior format.

Sony's player and the first SACD discs will be two-channel products, ostensibly to position the format as an audiophile format but also because recording industry infrastructure based on SACD's underlying DSD technology probably won't be available until late next year.

The first SACD titles will consist largely of jazz, classical and blues titles. Most of the 16 titles supplied by the independent labels will be backward-compatible hybrid discs featuring a separate CD-audio layer readable by existing CD players. But Sony Music's first discs will not be hybrids.

Even without the support of BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner, SACD's consumer appeal will no doubt broaden late next year when multichannel recordings and players are expected to come to market. Around that time, Telarc hopes to release its first multichannel SACD discs.

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