Influx Of Digital Innovation Enlivens Audio Industry

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Just when you thought the audio industry was getting stale, an influx of new digital technologies promises to freshen things up.

In the fourth quarter, the energy level in the home component business could rise with the expected commercial launch of the first DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD (SACD) players, which are touted as the DVD-based music successor to the audio CD. A growing selection of audio CD-recorders from a growing number of manufacturers will also energize the fourth-quarter business.

Portable audio will generate its share of excitement later this year as suppliers from both the home audio and computer industries launch a growing number of headphone portables that store compressed music in flash memory.

In late 2000, digital satellite radio broadcasts from at least one of two licensed providers could begin. And under one optimistic scenario, some earth-bound AM and FM stations could be putting digital music on the air in the late third quarter or early fourth quarter of 2000, with receivers available for purchase in the first quarter of 2001.

Besides injecting a measure of excitement into the business, the new technologies will usher in a more restrictive era of copy-control technology. Take DVD-Audio, for example. Under an agreement worked out between the DVD Forum and the music industry, consumers will be able to use existing CD, MiniDisc or DAT recorders to make a two-channel digital recording of a two- or multichannel DVD-Audio disc, but the quality level isn't guaranteed. All that's promised is two channels at no more than DAT's 16-bit, 48kHz sampling rate.

In the future, additional restrictions will go into effect. The music industry will be able to restrict the number of allowable multichannel (same-as-source) digital copies made by future licensed DVD-Audio recorders. The music industry could even prohibit all same-as-source copies of a particular DVD-Audio disc, and the ability to make a same-as-source recording will vary not only from disc to disc but from track to track depending on the copyright holder's desire.

Strict copy control is also promised by the music industry's Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). The initiative's first priority is to protect the interests of copyright holders when their music is distributed over the Internet to PCs and from there to portable audio devices that store music in solid-state flash memory. The initiative is expected to branch out to control copying of Internet-downloaded music to other digital recording devices as well as safeguard digital music broadcasts.

The initiative is voluntary, however, and nothing prevents hardware and software makers from making non-compliant software and portables.

The stories on page 40 outline what various digital technologies promise.


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