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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: DVD -- Eyes Have It, & So Do Ears

25 May, 2001 By: Bruce Apar


Record stores have an edge on video stores. Record stores can ply their trade on both the audio and video sides, while there’s a very good reason VHS shops stay away from mixing music software into their inventory: By law CDs may not be rented and the rental trade, whether Blockbuster or Buster’s Video, is wary of -- ssssh! -- selling.

The sheer versatility of DVD makes this one-way street for video stores more problematic than ever in terms of growth and remaining competitive in the market. The next phase of the digital era is DVD audio. As this and even more configurations of DVD roll out -- eg, ROM and RAM (recordable) -- it will all blend together in the consumers’ eyes and ears.

Since our stubborn culture insists video and DVD are separate entities and since video stores will have to rename their class of trade "DVD stores" so people don’t mistake them as VHS one-trick ponies, over time (the next four to five years) customers will come to assume a merchant of DVDs carries not just DVD-V movies, but DVD-A music, DVD-ROM games, DVD-R blanks and all other DVD hyphenates as well.

The first blush of DVD audio titles -- which I’ve been happily sampling on desktop, set-top and laptop DVD players -- also show glimpses of visual content. It will become increasingly difficult to discern the distinction between DVD video and DVD audio titles as the content of both evolves to the point where video is a constant.

In the DVD audio releases I’ve heard and seen, such as Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature (Giant) and Mahler Symphony No. 2 (Teldec), the visuals are limited to stills or simply an onscreen playlist. One exception is Warner Music’s Fleetwood Mac Rumours DVD-A hitting store shelves. It has as much supplemental material as a full-scale DVD video movie package, including alternate track commentaries with each song.

One of the most active, if lesser known, labels in pumping out DVD audios is Silverline Records, which has more than 15 current releases, or 25% of the total DVD audios available. Warner labels account for fully half of all current DVD-A titles.

Silverline’s Classic Jazz release in its Inside the Music series features a main menu that includes Dolby Digital or DTS surround selection, photo gallery or current selection graphics (both are static stills), a text screen explaining "What is DVD Music?" and a simple, voice-enhanced tutorial on the testing and placement of surround speakers. (What left me mystified is when I clicked on main menu’s "Inside the Music Series" up popped the same screen as when I clicked "Playlist." It’s either Silverline’s technical glitch or my desktop’s DVD software (which is entirely possible, temperamental as it can be).

You don’t need a new DVD audio player (which also plays DVD video) to enjoy the superior sonics of these next generation pressings. The twice-as-good-as-CD sound quality claimed in publicity bromides sounds like a reasonable conceit. Even when these DVD audios are played on a plain vanilla DVD video machine, the difference is perceptible, if not squared.

Smartly, juggernaut DVD-A suppliers like Warner print a boilerplate message on the package indicating where the discs will and will not play. To distinguish DVD audio from DVD video 5.1 channel sound, the term "Advanced Resolution" has been coined. That full-tilt reproduction can only be decoded on a player designated with the DVD audio logo.

That’s because DVD audio specs include six-channel audio recorded at a sampling rate of 24 bits (versus 16 for CD) and up to 192 kHz (versus 44 for CD).

DVD audio would seem to present a prime opportunity for particularly enterprising video stores, as well as record stores. There are many questions still to be answered about DVD audio, not the least of them being: Will existing software copyright laws treat it as a non-rentable CD or a rentable DVD?


Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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