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Old 03-06-2008   #1
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Default Record Labels Ignore Blu-ray Format To Replace The Ailing CD

Blu-ray is the reigning HD disc champion having recently beaten out HD DVD in a bloody war for High Definition supremacy. Yet, in a surprise to no one who follows the music industry, the record industry is basically doing nothing about Blu-ray as a media for the future. Sony/BMG has stuck their toes in the water with some 24 bit/96 kHz audio soundtracks using Dolby TrueHD on Blu-ray for artists like Celine Dion, Dave Matthews and David Gilmore, but those are music video discs not just audio discs. There are a few handfuls of 24/96 titles for download from Music Giants and iTrax but that is about the extent of what you can buy for music in high resolution these days.

During the lose-lose battle between SACD and DVD-Audio in the early 2000s, there were a number of issues at hand that kept mainstream consumers (far) away including: a lack of any volume of meaningful titles beyond Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon" and Queen’s "A Night at the Opera", players priced at $1,000 for far too long, the need for a new receiver or preamp with at least one, six channel analog input, the need for eight or more cables to make a connection, and lastly the overall parallelizing fear from major labels that consumers might steal their music in high resolution. We now know that people were going to steal what they were going to steal and that the four major labels, as they slide down the toilet along with their yearly sales, as well as their cultural relevance, can today, at best, sell you a $0.99 download that is one quarter the resolution of a Compact Disc - a format that is over 25 years old. Best yet is a computer company gets a king’s ransom of the profit from the sale in the transaction.

Blu-ray offers solutions to all of SACD's and DVD-Audio's weaknesses, yet it is being completely ignored. Blu-ray players today are priced closer to $300, not $1,000, and are likely to get significantly less expensive in the next six to 12 months. Blu-ray players offer meaningful copy protection via HDCP (post hate mail on AVRevForum.com) over a one-cable solution, instead of the upwards of nine cables needed for a DVD-Audio machine. Unlike DVD-Audio and SACD players, there are millions of Blu-ray players in the market right now thanks to the Playstation 3, plus the stand-alone units. Millions more Blu-ray players will follow in the months after the death of HD DVD and as consumers head toward the 2008 holiday season, where Blu-ray is sure to be a big hit. A hit record or important archival album released today on Blu-ray, complete with HD video supplemental materials, Dolby TrueHD and or DTS-HD Master audio tracks would actually offer the customer a value for his or her $20, and possibly would inspire them to look at investing in a music collection that is something more than a bunch of files waiting for a hard drive to crash.

Step One - Bring back the oldies but goodies from SACD and DVD-Audio:
The first step in launching high-resolution music on Blu-ray would be to repackage the top 100 to 250 titles from DVD-Audio and SACD in a meaningful and value-laden package, targeted to music enthusiasts and audiophiles. Now, audiophiles as we all know, cannot make or break any audio format, but they do start trends. The momentum that comes from audiophiles and music enthusiasts would start the ball rolling with relatively little cost. In fact, artists today would be more likely to consider new venues to sell their music now as opposed to back in 2000 when they thought they could fight music on SACD and or DVD-Audio.

Step Two - Look to back-catalog titles for the future of audio:
The four major labels need to remaster their top 100 selling records into a high-resolution format (like uncompressed PCM or DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD) and pair it with HD video content, HD video interviews and beyond. It should be different for each release. Kids might like video games along with their discs. Boomers might like to see what Eric Clapton looks like at his age, close-up in HD. To each their own. All the records don't have to have surround sound tracks. In fact, they can be re-sold later with surround sound as a “remastered” release, but they do need high-resolution stereo audio such as 24-bit/96kHz (or higher) resolution. To the music buying public this is a better value proposition than buying a crappy, over-priced Compact Disc for $14.95 that can be stolen for free off the Internet. Imagine how many Boomers would buy the top 100 Blue Note records in high resolution on Blu-ray even if sold as a boxed set. Imagine how many pre-teen kids would buy a Hannah Montana record loaded with supplemental materials just play them on their PS3. It would be a platinum hit on both fronts, and would represent a profit model that is exponentially superior to that of selling low-resolution downloads.

Step Three - Lights, Camera, Rock and Roll Action:
The majors could quickly repackage the DVD-Video disc concert videos into HD, considering many of them were shot natively in high definition. Remastered surround sound tracks and beautiful high-definition video would make the “new album” be an audio/video experience that is worth the $20 per disc price of admission. Next, send all of the biggest and best artists on the majors out on tour this summer with HD cameras and recording equipment capable of capturing an event in HD. Record bands rehearsing. Record bands playing small venues. Record bands backstage. Make the “new album” be more in tune with a society that socially networks. Make the “new album” on Blu-ray more in tune with people who worship celebrities and watch reality TV. It's time record labels understand that Myspace and Facebook are a bigger deal than any new artists they have in their stables, and that it is time to really change the product being sold, beyond silly downloads.

Conclusion
Now that I have teased you with a concept that you would spend money on, don’t expect for a minute that the majors are smart enough to realize that their problem is their CDs, and Downloads aren’t worth the money people pay for them. This is in fact the reason why their sales are down more than 20 billion a year in domestic sales – not kids stealing music off the Internet. Music sold just fine when I was a 10 year-old kid, recording songs from FM radio and making cassette recordings. The music was better then and the CD (a brand new format at the time) was irresistibly sexy. Blu-ray is that for today’s market. It's time for the labels to wake up to the cold reality that they suck at doing business. They have no clue why their customers are spending money on movies in HD, games in HD, televisions in HD, while they are selling music in one quarter the resolution of what you can get from a CD sold in 1983. It's pathetic, but it's true. And, what is even more pathetic is that the majors are unlikely to do anything meaningful about it.

by: Jerry Del Colliano
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