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Hi-Res Audio Growth at Crawl

5 Apr, 2004 By: Debbie Block

The jury is still out on whether one high-resolution music format will prevail or whether DVD-Audio (DVD-A) and Super Audio CD (SACD) can exist together.

SACD has the edge on releases, with more than 1,900 titles worldwide. Three new titles are released every day, according to David Kawakami, director of the SACD project for Sony Corp. As for DVD-A, more than 700 titles are available, and the number is growing rapidly.

While Kawakami said it's hard to gauge hardware penetration, 117 SACD-compatible models from 26 manufacturers were counted at the last Consumer Electronics Show. The DVD-Audio Council, on the other hand, said more than 160 DVD-Audio player models are available from more than 35 manufacturers.

As for major record labels, BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner support DVD-A. EMI, Sony and Universal support SACD. Labels have played it safe in the hi-res arena, releasing catalog titles first, to some measure of success.

According to Nielsen SoundScan data through Feb. 26, the bestselling SACD so far is Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol), which has sold more than 221,000 copies. Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (Elektra) is the best-selling DVD-A, with more than 28,000 units sold. Kawakami said these figures are probably a little low because not all retailers who carry the product report to Nielsen SoundScan.

New frontline releases are starting to make some noise. For SACD, 200,000 units of Sting's Sacred Love (A&M Records) were shipped in Europe initially. On DVD-A, many frontline titles are debuting shortly after the CD. BMG will release R. Kelly's Chocolate Factory, Britney Spears' In the Zone and Pink's Try This by May.

According to Mark Waldrep, president of the independent label AIX Records, his is the only supplier putting out new content created exclusively for DVD-A.

“We make some of the most compelling stuff of marginally known artists,” Waldrep said. Some forthcoming titles from AIX will be from Jennifer Warnes and singer/songwriter Paul Williams.

5.1 Entertainment offers more than 200 DVD-A titles. The supplier recently announced a licensing deal with Artemis Classics to release 39 DVD-A recordings originally released under the Vanguard Classics and Omega record labels.

As the labels watch legal and illegal downloading continue to erode sales of packaged music, the hi-res sound format is still an attractive option from a supplier viewpoint, even though consumer adoption has been slow.

Jeanne Meyer, SVP, corporate communications, EMI Music, said: “We want our music to be available on as many legitimate platforms as we can. It's not about putting allegiance on any one format. That's why we'll put out titles on both.”

While not in its original specification, SACD could offer video, but right now its proponents see it as an audio-only format. However, “video is the most important reason for DVD-A, with the feature of Surround Sound running as a close second for reasons to buy the product,” said Kevin Clement, senior director, new technology, at BMG Entertainment.

A big problem for both formats is that the labels haven't done much on the marketing front, BMG's Clement said.

“Retailers want to see we're supporting the format, so we're just focused on putting out titles,” he said. “Once we get a set of titles out there, then we will start working with retailers to get them positioned properly in the stores. We can't start marketing to consumers until then.”

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