What about music on DVD: DVD-Audio and SACD?

Dec 11th, 2009 by dvdxplayer 1,711 views |Comments Off

When DVD was released in 1996 there was no DVD-Audio format, although the audio capabilities of DVD-Video far surpassed CD. The DVD Forum sought additional input from the music industry before defining the DVD-Audio format. A draft standard was released by the DVD Forum’s Working Group 4 (WG4) in January 1998, and version 0.9 was released in July. The final DVD-Audio 1.0 specification (minus copy protection) was approved in February 1999 and released in March, but products were delayed in part by the slow process of selecting copy protection features (encryption and watermarking), with complications introduced by the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). The scheduled October 1999 release was further delayed until mid 2000, ostensibly because of concerns caused by the CSS crack, but also because the hardware wasn’t quite ready, production tools weren’t up to snuff, and there was lackluster support from music labels. Pioneer released the first DVD-Audio players (without copy protection support) in Japan in late 1999.

Matsushita released Panasonic and Technics brand universal DVD-Audio/DVD-Video players in July 2000 for $700 to $1,200. Pioneer, JVC, Yamaha, and others released DVD-Audio players in fall 2000 and early 2001. By the end of 2000 there were about 50 DVD-Audio titles available. By the end of 2001 there were just under 200 DVD-Audio titles available.

DVD-Audio is a separate format from DVD-Video. DVD-Audio discs can be designed to work in DVD-Video players, but it’s possible to make a DVD-Audio disc that won’t play at all in a DVD-Video player, since the DVD-Audio specification includes new formats and features, with content stored in a separate “DVD-Audio zone” on the disc (the AUDIO_TS directory) that DVD-Video players never look at. New DVD-Audio players are needed, or new “universal players” that can play both DVD-Video and DVD-Audio discs. Universal players are also called VCAPs (video-capable audio players).

A plea to producers: Universal players are rare, but you can make universal discs easily. With a small amount of effort, all DVD-Audio discs can be made to work on all DVD players by including a Dolby Digital version of the audio in the DVD-Video zone.

A plea to DVD-Audio authoring system developers: Make your software do this by default or strongly recommend this option during authoring.

DVD-Audio players (and universal players) work with existing receivers. They output PCM and Dolby Digital, and some will support the optional DTS and DSD formats. However, most current receivers can’t decode high-definition, multichannel PCM audio, and even if they could it can’t be carried on standard digital audio connections. DVD-Audio players with high-end digital-to-analog converters (DACs) can only be hooked up to receivers with 2-channel or 6-channel analog inputs, but some quality is lost if the receiver converts back to digital for processing. New receivers with improved digital connections such as IEEE 1394 (FireWire) are needed to use the full digital resolution of DVD-Audio.

DVD audio is copyright protected by an embedded signaling or digital watermark feature. This uses signal processing technology to apply a digital signature and optional encryption keys to the audio in the form of supposedly inaudible noise so that new equipment will recognize copied audio and refuse to play it. Proposals from Aris, Blue Spike, Cognicity, IBM, and Solana were evaluated by major music companies in conjunction with the 4C Entity, comprising IBM, Intel, Matsushita, and Toshiba. Aris and Solana merged to form a new company called Verance, whose Galaxy technology was chosen for DVD-Audio in August 1999. (In November 1999, Verance watermarking was also selected for SDMI.) Verance and 4C claimed that tests on the Verance watermarking method showed it was inaudible, but golden-eared listeners in later tests were able to detect the watermarking noise.

Sony and Philips have developed a competing Super Audio CD format that uses DVD discs. Sony released version 0.9 of the SACD spec in April 1998, the final version appeared in April (?) 1999. SACD technology is available to existing Sony/Philips CD licensees at no additional cost. Most initial SACD releases have been mixed in stereo, not multichannel. SACD was originally supposed to provide “legacy” discs with two layers, one that plays in existing CD players, plus a high-density layer for DVD-Audio players, but technical difficulties kept dual-format discs from being produced until the end of 2000, and only then in small quantities. Pioneer, which released the first DVD-Audio players in Japan at the end of 1999, included SACD support in their DVD-Audio players. If other manufacturers follow suit, the entire SACD vs. DVD-Audio standards debate could be moot, since DVD-Audio players would play both types of discs.

Sony released an SACD player in Japan in May 1999 at the tear-inducing price of $5,000. The player was released in limited quantities in the U.S. at the end of 1999. Philips released a $7,500 player in May 2000. Sony shipped a $750 SACD player in Japan in mid 2000. About 40 SACD titles were available at the end of 1999, from studios such as DMP, Mobile Fidelity Labs, Pioneer, Sony, and Telarc. Over 500 SACD titles were available by the end of 2001.

A drawback related to DVD-Audio and SACD players is that most audio receivers with 6 channels of analog input aren’t able to do bass management. Receivers with Dolby Digital and DTS decoders handle bass management internally, but 6-channel analog inputs are usually passed straight through to the amplifier. Without full bass management on 6-channel analog inputs, any audio setup that doesn’t have full-range speakers for all 5 surround channels will not properly reproduce all the bass frequencies.

If you are interested in making the most of a DVD-Audio or SACD player, you need a receiver with 6-channel analog audio inputs. You also need 5 full-frequency speakers (that is, each speaker should be able to handle subwoofer frequencies) and a subwoofer, unless you have a receiver that can perform bass management on the analog inputs, or you have an outboard bass management box such as from Outlaw Audio.

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