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Could “DVD-Music” Beat Out SACD and DVD-Audio With Mainstream Consumers? Print E-mail
Friday, 08 November 2002
You’d be hard-pressed to find a record executive these days who would argue that the popularity of the CD isn’t waning. The battle over the next audio format has been a bloody one so far, with DVD-Audio and SACD fighting it out but neither yet really winning the hearts - and more importantly the wallets - of music-buying consumers. A handful of music industry executives suggest that while DVD-Audio seems to have the edge over SACD in the format war, right now DVD-Video may be the tie-in that record labels and entertainment companies need to lure consumers back to the stores and away from peer-to-peer file sharing. The execs aren’t suggesting that DVD-Audio will go away at all. What they are saying is that there will be (and already are, in the form of some concert videos on DVD-Video) a “DVD-Music” format that includes DVD-Video discs with music, videos, games, interviews, concert footage – all of which focus a little more on the video element in the overall entertainment package when selling prerecorded music.

There could be a bit of an audio compromise made in promoting a DVD-Video music format with the use of a lossy compression surround sound for music like DTS 24/96 or Dolby Digital over DVD-Audio’s MLP found on DVD-Audio discs. But would the increased emphasis on video in these discs make for a more compelling product for Gen-Xers who grew up on MTV, Nintendo and the Internet? Possibly, but why not have the best of both worlds?

The main reason for SACD and DVD-Audio’s lack of mainstream popularity so far is arguably the lack of a compelling number of great titles. Complicated connections, as in the case of a DVD-Audio player -- which needs six analog connections, one analog video connection and one digital audio connection to realize its full potential -- make for unneeded consumer anxiety toward the new formats. The uncertainty of which one will ultimately win out is keeping the two formats from crossing over from audiophile fantasy to the mainstream replacement for the CD that both the music industry and music enthusiasts want so badly. Early adopters of both formats rave loudly and frequently, yet soccer moms at Costco are still rooting through the bins of DVD-Video movies and CDs, not SACDs or DVD-Audio titles.

For an even better solution, imagine a recorded music package that features both a DVD-Audio album, complete with MLP lossless compression surround, bundled with a DVD-Video of a mainstream artist’s concert performance, interviews, games, video footage relating to the artist’s designated charity, and much more. At, say, $24 for that collection of entertainment, there would be a more urgent reason for someone to purchase the album for home theater and/or to play for the kids in the back of the Escalade.

While people tend to overlook the fact that some hybrid SACDs are backwards-compatible with about a zillion CD players, and DVD-Audio discs are backwards-compatible with 50,000,000 DVD-Video players (including every Xbox and PlayStation II unit, which all play the default surround tracks on DVD-Audio discs), the real problem for both formats isn’t backwards compatibility. The primary issue is that consumers in 2003 demand more entertainment for their hard-earned dollars. First-run feature films, DVD-Video movies and video games, and pay television like HBO or Showtime all give consumers enough reasons to part with their cash in increasing amounts. CDs, SACDs and DVD-Audio discs do not do this -- so far. What are the audio formats missing? They require enough video and value to make them more persuasive as purchase items. Give the increasing number of home theater owners, car audio enthusiasts and Gen-Xers (the second largest generation in U.S. history) a more compelling reason to actually buy music and they will quickly grow tired of stealing crappy-sounding and slow-to-download MP3s and head back to Virgin, Tower and Amazon as they already do when buying DVD-Video movies, games, books and more.

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