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Music in the Key Of HD

6 Mar, 2006 By: Kurt Indvik

Live Nation also will re-release its hit M÷tley Cr?e: Carnival of Sins DVD on high-def disc.

DVD already tuned up the music video. Entertainment executives and artists now are singing the praises of the potential duet between high-definition picture with high-definition, multichannel audio.

All the right factors are converging to take packaged music video to new heights. Both DTS and Dolby have high-definition formats ready and compatible with both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc standards.

More than 20 million households have HDTV sets. Twice that many are set up with surround sound systems. The mounting slate of HD programming on TV, coupled with the launch of high-def discs, will further captivate anyone who has come to love music DVDs, execs said.

“We believe we are accelerating into a new era,” DTS president and CEO John Kirshner said during a demo of the company's DTS-HD Master Audio technology at January's Consumer Electronics Show. Sharing the stage with rapper Ice-T and other artists, Kirshner showcased a range of music videos in high-definition accompanied by DTS-HD's bit-for-bit transfer over 7.1 surround sound that showcased stunning clarity.

Artists Are Tuning In

For Ice-T, it was a “no brainer” to pursue the use of HD audio with HD video. After experiencing HD music videos, he said he found it “painful” to listen to stereo music.

“It's a fantastic new way to present my music,” legendary session drummer and jazz-pop producer Omar Hakim said of HD.

The number of music titles announced for high-definition release has been few to date. Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment will bring out U2: Rattle and Hum for Blu-ray. Eagle Rock Entertainment has slated for Blu-ray titles from George Benson, Usher, The Black Crowes, Miles Davis and The Pixies.

Molly Kronberg, DTS' VP of worldwide strategic business development, content, said the company's software division, DTS Entertainment, will produce HD discs this year but has not yet announced any titles.

“I think in terms of unit growth, [music video] will be somewhat behind movies,” she said. “But certainly there will be more and more music content as you see a larger penetration of HD in the market.”

Steve Sterling, SVP of programming and production at Live Nation/Clear Channel, is bullish on the potential impact of HD on music video. He said his company will release a Korn concert in both high-def formats in the third quarter. Around the same time, Live Nation also will re-release its hit Mötley Cr?e: Carnival of Sins DVD on HD disc.

“The need for HD is going to be so voracious that labels are going to have to go back into their archives and see what they have to convert to HD,” Sterling said. “The great news for anyone in the music business is that HD has finally solved all the problems artists had with being on the small screen. The picture quality is excellent, and better than that is the multichannel delivery. The whole package is now something the artist can be proud of … the home entertainment system has been injected with steroids.”

Besides shooting its concerts in HD, Sterling said Live Nation is shooting its bonus material on HD and beginning to record bonus materials in surround sound as well.

That multichannel-HD experience will bring viewers into the middle of special moments like an impromptu jam session by Korn on a 757 over the Atlantic, which will be a part of the forthcoming HD disc, Sterling said.

“On HD, everything just looks more visually lush,” Sterling said.

“The impression a frame of HD makes on you is so much more impactful than what we have now.”

Attracting Consumers

By the end of 2004, 33% of U.S. households owned a home theater system, according to a DTS announcement citing figures from the Consumer Electronics Association. And sound is an important component for owners of home theaters, noted the company's study with Nielsen Entertainment. That study found that 75% of home theater households have 5.1 or greater surround sound systems installed.

It also found, perhaps not surprisingly, that 73% of home theater owners and 76% of surround-sound owners indicate that upgraded surround-sound is the most important special feature on DVDs. The same study also found that these owners of home theater systems with surround-sound own 45% more DVDs than non-home theater owners.

Josh Martin, research analyst for IDC covering high-definition, said he believes the combination of HD disc's heightened interactivity will enhance bonus material on music DVDs as never before, and that multichannel audio is going to be important.

“But you have to temper your enthusiasm a bit when you consider how many people will be playing their HD content through the TV,” he said. “How many people do you know with 7.1-surround-sound systems?”

Bill Sondheim, EVP for Sony BMG's DualDisc worldwide, said the bells and whistles of HD disc programming will attract younger audiences more than even HD audio.

“The increased interactivity of the format mirrors the growing demands we see with our multi-tasking younger demographic,” he said. “This will act as a huge attraction to this audience and make it a relevant format for them. It's my hope that the superior audio quality that is delivered will also capture their imaginations.”

That doesn't mean he or anyone is holding his breath, at least initially.

One of the “unfortunate outcomes” of the portable music market, Sondheim said, has been the loss of appreciation for audio quality among younger consumers. “HD will draw these consumers in with interactivity and hopefully begin to raise their expectations for the quality of music they listen to.”

For Blu-ray, DTS 5.1 is the mandatory audio standard. DTS-HD, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby True HD are optional standards, according to information from both high-def camps. For HD DVD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD and DTS 5.1 are mandatory, while DTS-HD is optional.

Seven-channel DTS-HD also is compatible with existing-generation equipment, and the company said it can deliver a “significant increase in sound quality” even over current equipment.

Dolby's True HD is also bit-for-bit transfer technology with up to eight full-range channels, though the company said it can support more than eight audio channels. “We see a very big potential [for high-definition music video],” said Tom Dixon, director of the strategic marketing cinema/pro audio division at DTS.

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