DVD-Audio Idles, SACD In Gear

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DVD-Audio/Video players will be lined up at CES like jets queued up at a fogged-in airport waiting for clearance to fly to Las Vegas for an early-January convention. The engines are whining, but no one knows when the planes will be allowed off the ground.

At CES, companies such as Denon, Panasonic and Pioneer will show DVD-AV players, and Thomson will display a mockup under the ProScan name. But shipments, previously targeted by many manufacturers for the spring or first quarter, are on hold until the summer or fall while the music industry and the DVD Forum's 4C entity reassess the encryption system.

This follows the hacking of the DVD-Video format's Content Scrambling System (CSS) by a Norwegian hacker who used a PC and DVD-ROM drive. DVD-Audio's encryption system is a CSS variant called CSS2.

Jordan Rost, senior VP of new technology at Warner Music, said he sees potential for a hardware-software launch anywhere between June and September - if an agreement on encryption technology is reached quickly. On the other hand, a BMG Entertainment executive has said that while BMG is "shooting for summer releases," fall "is probably more realistic."

While DVD-A idles, new Super Audio CD (SACD) players are ready to land in Las Vegas. Marantz, for example, will unveil the final version of its long-awaited two-channel SACD player and Sharp will demonstrate its two-channel SACD player. The Marantz and Sharp models will join a pair of Sony two-channel players already in stores.

In other developments, SACD will prepare to jet into the multichannel age at CES, where Philips will demonstrate a prototype multichannel SACD player whose ship date was not available at press time. SACD will also put in an appearance in a combination DVD-AV/SACD player from Pioneer, but its shipment awaits the results of the encryption reevaluation.

Suppliers at CES will also unveil a limited range of amps, integrated amps and speakers said to deliver the wide bandwidth, increased dynamic range and other sonic improvements promised by the DVD-A and SACD formats. Check out the Marantz, Pioneer and Sharp booths for some of these products.

At press time, JVC had not determined whether a DVD-AV player would be on display. Kenwood was not planning a demo or display but Denon was planning to show more than one DVD-Audio player. Details were unavailable.

For its part, Aiwa said it doubts it would ship DVD-Audio or SACD in 2000 in the United States but "both are under development," said senior marketing VP Akio Imanishi.

Here is what select suppliers will show in DVD-AV and SACD players:

Marantz: The Reference Series SA-1 SACD player, not seen at previous trade shows, will be demonstrated regularly during the show. The company called early summer the probable ship date at a price of more than $5,000. Additional details were unavailable.

The company will also unveil an integrated amp and an amp designed with resolution and fidelity said to match that of SACD. Both are two-channel models due in February or March in the Reference series. The PM-17SA integrated amp is targeted to retail for $1,200-$1,500. The SM-17SA power amp will be priced lower. Additional details were unavailable.

Pioneer: Production models of two DVD-Audio players, both with progressive video outputs, will be shown. One, the DV-AX10, is a combination DVD-AV/SACD player that supports multichannel DVD-A discs and two-channel SACD discs. It will retail for less than $5,000 with six-channel analog outputs, XLR output, and a proprietary six-channel digital audio output that Pioneer has submitted to the DVD Forum for approval. Additional details were unavailable. It will be demonstrated.

The DV-08A Elite-series player, which lacks SACD capability, will be displayed but not demonstrated. It will ship at less than $2,000 and incorporate built-in 5.1-channel DD and DTS decoders.

The company will also show an integrated amp, power amp, and speakers intended to support the bandwidth, dynamic range, and other characteristics of the two high-resolution audio formats. The components and supertweeter-equipped speakers are rated to deliver response up to 100kHz. The integrated amp will accept digital audio from the DV-AX10 via Pioneer's proprietary digital interface. U.S. shipment dates and prices haven't been determined, but Japan market prices are roughly $5,500 for the integrated amp, $4,500 for the power amp, and $4,800 for the pair of floorstanding speakers.

Sharp: The U.S. price of the DX-SX1 SACD player, due here sometime in the second half, has not been determined, but it is slated to sell in Japan for about $2,400. Its specs include dynamic range greater than 105dB and 2Hz-100kHz frequency response.

It is designed to spit out digital one-bit SACD signals directly to a pair of one-bit-digital amplifiers that will amplify the signals in the digital domain. The two amps are the SM-SX100 2x100-watt integrated amp, due in February at around $15,000, and the SM-SX1 2x50-watt amp, due around midyear. Its U.S. pricing hasn't been determined, but in Japan it is priced at about $3,400. The amps' output is rated from 5Hz to 100kHz into 8 ohms. They deliver 100dB dynamic range.

A Sharp whitepaper says the amps create a signal that is "a digital representation of the analog input - simply a stream of 1s and 0s that can switch high-power output transistors from saturation to cutoff."

The technology is as efficient as Class D but yields lower distortion, wider frequency response, and improved transient response, the whitepaper said.

Initially, Sharp's high-end audio components will probably be sold through the company's SharpVision sales force, which sells LCD projectors to authorized SharpVision home theater retailers, but the company won't exclude other dealers capable of demonstrating the products, the company said.

The products will bear the Sharp brand, not the SharpVision name.

Sherwood: The company intended to show a DVD-AV player, but now that CSS2 is up in the air it will show a DVD-V version of the product. Although the unit will incorporate many of the elements, including Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP), needed to gain sanction as a DVD-Audio player, Sherwood said is not sure whether the unit will be upgradable to DVD-A. It ships in March at less than $1,000.

Thomson: A mockup DVD-AV player will be seen at CES "to send a message that DVD-Audio will be an important format," a spokesman said. DVD-A is needed to "maintain a stairstep of features" now that DVD-Video players have fallen to $149, he said. Thomson will most likely ship its first DVD-AV player under the ProScan label, he said.

In other displays, Harman Kardon, Madrigal, Lexicon and Meridian again will show high-end DVD-Video players that can be upgraded to play back DVD-Audio discs.

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