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(Japanese Site)

  • DVD-Audio, Super Audio CD Formats Appear, Aim to Replace CDs
  • March 16, 1998 (TOKYO) -- Provisional technical standards will be announced in the next few months by the developers of the digital video disk-Audio (DVD-Audio) and Super Audio CD formats, both of which are new types of optical storage media for music.
    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 much interest.

    To Stimulate the CD Market and Provide Better Protection for Copyright Material

    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 disks.

    Super Audio CD Format Features Two-way Compatibility

    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 table).

    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 Recordings

    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 disk.

    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.

    (return to news)

    Related story : Sony, Philips Offer Nominal Royalty on Super Audio CDs

    (Nikkei Electronics)

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    Updated: Sun Mar 15 14:15:50 1998