|The two new formats have a higher standard of audio quality than
that available from conventional CDs. Also, both are capable of
recording data on multiple audio channels.
New products that conform to these optical disk formats will
start appearing from late 1998. Equipment manufacturers hope that
they will eventually replace conventional CDs. Recent market
growth rates indicate that conventional CDs are no longer selling
as well as before.
However, neither of the new disk formats appear to be very
appealing to ordinary consumers. Moreover, software makers, the
potential suppliers of music for the new products, aren't showing
To Stimulate the CD Market and Provide Better Protection for
Initial standards for the DVD-Audio format were decided upon by
the 10 companies that founded the DVD Forum. When the Forum's
first general meeting was held in December 1997, the 10 original
members invited more companies to participate in the group.
Work to decide on the final standards for the DVD-Audio format is
being done by the DVD Forum's Working Group 4. This is a group
that consists of 33 member companies: the 10 original DVD Forum
members, along with others, including Intel Corp. and LSI Logic
Corp., two U.S.-based semiconductor manufacturers.
The final standards for the DVD-Audio format, Ver. 1.0, will be
formally announced in May, with sales of the first players to
start before the end of 1998.
Meanwhile, the standards for the Super Audio CD format are being
independently set by Sony Corp. and Philips Electronics NV.
Provisional standards for the format will be released this month,
and the first players are expected to go on sale in March 1999.
In addition to Sony and Philips, another three equipment
manufacturers, Accuphase Laboratory Inc., Marantz Japan, Inc.,
and Sharp Corp., also have revealed plans to market players that
conform to the Super Audio CD format.
Two reasons underlie the fact that equipment makers are competing
to set the new industry standards. The first reason is the need
to revitalize the market for audio CD products, and the second is
to strengthen efforts to protect intellectual copyrights.
Since CDs were launched 16 years ago, total cumulative worldwide
shipments of CD players have reached 500 million-plus units, and
about 10 billion CDs have been produced.
However, signs indicate that the market for conventional CDs has
peaked. For example, in 1997, for the first time ever, the number
of CDs manufactured in Japan fell from the prior year. Such
output had previously shown consistent growth.
In addition, measures used to protect copyrighted material are
now considered inadequate, meaning that pirated versions and
illegal copies of CDs can easily be made. Thus, there is a
pressing need to introduce a media format featuring new
technologies, such as digital watermarking, to combat copying.
Both of the new standards will include use of a special digital
watermark in the data recorded on the disks. Also, a watermark
pattern will be visible to the naked eye, on the surface of the
Super Audio CD Format Features Two-way
Both the DVD-Audio format and the Super Audio CD format aim to
become the standard to replace current CDs. However, they differ
in their level of compatibility with conventional CDs, and in
their performance characteristics (See
The Super Audio CD format will be two-way compatible with
ordinary CDs. That means that either type of disk can be played
on both players. In order to make this possible, Super Audio CDs
will consist of two layers, a high density (HD) layer and a CD
layer that is identical to that found in conventional CDs.
On the other hand, with the aim of keeping costs down, the DVD-
Audio format will only be downward compatible with normal CDs. A
DVD-Audio player will be able to play conventional CDs, but an
ordinary CD player will not be able to play DVD-Audio disks.
The two new formats also are dissimilar in that they use
different encoding methods to achieve high-quality audio.
The DVD-Audio format employs the linear PCM encoding method, the
same as that used for the current CD format, with a maximum
sampling frequency of 192 kHz and resolution raised to 24 bits.
Because the linear PCM method is in use, software producers will
benefit because they will be able to continue using much of their
existing editing equipment and their accumulated know-how.
By contrast, the Super Audio CD format employs an encoding
technique called direct stream digital (DSD), with a maximum
sampling frequency of 2.8224 MHz. This makes it easy to down-
convert to existing media formats, such as CDs, mini-discs (MDs)
and digital audio tapes (DATs).
DVD- Audio Disks Capable of Storing Over 11 Hours of
Because they can handle multiple audio channels, both of the new
disk standards have something else in common. DVD-Audio disks can
record audio data on either five or six channels. Super Audio CDs
also can store data on four to six audio channels, as well as the
two normal audio channels.
However, with regard to recording times the two formats have
differences. With a disk capacity of 4.7GB, or seven times more
than that for current CDs, DVD-Audio disks can be used to make
lengthy recordings of musical software. If the quality of sound
is set to be equivalent to that of ordinary CDs, then a DVD-Audio
disk can hold up to 704 minutes of music data. That would make it
possible to have the complete works of many composers on a single
Super Audio CDs, however, cannot be used to store long recordings
of music. The maximum playback time for Super Audio CDs is 74
minutes, or the same as that for current CDs. That is the same
maximum playback time for the audio channels of the CD layer and
for the audio channels of the HD layer.
Software Producers Aren't Overly Enthusiastic
Because the two standards feature differing specifications,
manufacturers must come to terms with other problems. Music
enthusiasts will find the new disk formats enticing, but they are
not yet sufficiently appealing to attract attention from the
regular buyer of CDs.
Few consumers think that they need a better level of sound
quality than that of current CDs. Around 90 percent of users are
satisfied with the current level of CD audio quality. In fact,
the audio quality of MDs is worse than that of CDs, but MDs have
enjoyed rapid market growth.
Also, the new disks feature multiple audio channels. However, not
many households (especially the typically cramped households in
Japan) will accommodate the numbers of speakers necessary to take
full advantage of the enhanced sound systems.
A music critic has also pointed out that many people listen to
music while they are on the move or while doing some other
activity such as working, and in those cases a multi-channel
environment is not necessary.
As concerns the ability of the disks to hold long recordings,
while this is an attractive feature for consumers, software
makers may find it challenging to set appropriate prices.
If the length of a recording is doubled, the price cannot
necessarily be doubled.
The price of a conventional CD is usually set around 3,000 yen
(US$23.30). DVD-Audio disks will cost around 4,000 yen (US$31),
while it is thought that Super Audio CDs will be even more
expensive. Such high prices may curtail sales.
Because of these uncertainties, Japan's producers of musical
software have been slow to jump on the new format bandwagons.
Both Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. (SME) and PolyGram
K.K. are undecided about their basic policies regarding either of
the two standards.
Meanwhile, Toshiba-EMI Ltd., Nippon Colombia Co., Ltd. and Victor
Entertainment, Inc. are moving toward more concrete plans.
Only a few companies, including Warner Music Japan Inc., have
actually said which format they will support.
Table: DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD Specifications
Eight different lengths of playback time are possible for a
single DVD-Audio disk,
depending on the maximum sampling
frequency and resolution, and the number of output channels.
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Related story : Sony, Philips Offer Nominal Royalty on Super Audio