The current situation is well-known
and unsatisfactory: the simultaneous market-introduction of two
competing standards for high-resolution audio and surround-sound
(DVD-Audio and SACD) is leading to big problems in the audio industry
- and additionally, to frustration for audiophiles and "consumers"
who are, in some cases, unable to reproduce on their audio-players
a disc available for the competing standard.
As even DVD-Video is apt to
distribute audio-recordings (and, of course, music-video), it
could be said that there do exist three potential "CD successor"
formats at the same time.
While the SACD standard allows
a hybrid disc-form containing a CD-layer compatible with CD-players,
DVD-Audio discs are often mastered as DVD-AudioV, containing audio
recordings for normal DVD-players (Video), often in stereo (for
example, PCM-96kHz), or in compressed surround-formats (Dolby
Digital, DTS). Of course, DVD-AudioV discs can include music-video
and further "extras".
As a "general" solution
for the ongoing format-war between SACD and DVD-formats, it is
often demanded that all new and advanced audio reproducers were
"hybrid players", supporting both formats. These hybrid
players should support the "DSD" (kind of high-resolution
bitstream) modulation of SACD, and PCM in all quality levels of
DVD-Audio (up to 192kHz, 24Bit). Although this sounds very convincing,
it won't happen, in my opinion.
It is quite possible to equip
hybrid players with chips supporting both formats, and also to
design combined DACs supporting both DSD- and PCM-modulations.
However, good reproducers will need different analogue paths after
the conversions. The price of audio reproducers is mainly a consequence
of good analogue components and DACs, not of ICs supporting two
or three formats "digitally".
Some of the announcements
made by Chinese manufacturers about the possibility to offer DVD-players
with DVD-Audio- and SACD-support, for maybe $100, have to be considered
from a critical point of view. The problem is not to support a
format "digitally" and to reproduce it "somehow";
you have to do it well, especially in the case of audio. Otherwise,
you wouldn't have to replace the "Compact Disc" at all,
which already can sound quite well, but certainly not "perfect
It is difficult to design
a DVD-player with "good" audio-quality. It is needed
experience and know-how for this task. Up to now, hybrid SACD/DVD
players are usually better for ONE of the two formats, for example,
because they convert DSD to PCM (up to 192kH) and vice-versa.
This conversion isn't completely "without loss", and
will result in "PCM with less dynamic bandwidth", or
in "DSD with less temporal resolution".
It is revealing that hardly
any hybrid SACD/DVD-Audio player can be considered to be a CD-player
of "reference-class", which, considering sometimes high
prices, is quite amazing, because you can very well "upsample"
PCM in 44.1kHz/16Bit both to PCM in 96kHz (or 192kHz) AND to DSD,
all in the digital domain. Expensive CD-players are quite often
doing exactly this...
The current (and maybe future)
low market-share of such hybrid players has very understandable
reasons. The DVD-player market is extremely price-competitive.
If a DVD-player is also a hybrid DVD-A/SACD player, it would be
too costly and in a too high price-category for most customers.
Audiophiles would consider buying such hybrid players, but they
will be normally too expensive to be competitive in the mass-market.
A DVD-player supporting both formats won't be a best-selling model,
for price-reasons. Today, and probably also in future, obviously
not every DVD-player is even supporting only ONE of the two high-resolution
The new proposal
However, there might be a
"soft" solution for the ongoing format-war: the introduction
of hybrid two-sided discs, with one SACD-layer on one side (at
least) and music in the formats DVD-Video and/or DVD-Audio on
the second side (maybe the same). This solution works easily,
because in the most basic case, a SACD half-disc is glued to a
DVD half-disc. The consequence is a normal optical disc (1.2mm),
containing "correct" layers for both DVD- and SACD-players.
SACD- and DVD-Audio-players will see their respective layers,
with the right specifications. Obviously, there isn't any problem
This format (SACD/DVD) has
at least two main applications. Firstly, it is probably the only
"practical" possibility to include music video into
Music video has a broad range
of uses and applications (video-clips for pop/rock music, live-concerts,
musicals, ballet, operas...). In my opinion music video on videodiscs
has a great future ahead, especially combined with high-resolution
tracks and surround-sound. Philips and Sony might have thought
to extend the SACD-standard for video (using the "Extra Data
Area"); however, a new standard SACD-Video wouldn't have
any chance beside the (mighty and official) DVD-Video.
Secondly, every record-label
would have the possibility to release a record on SACD/DVD-Audio
(V), offering both formats in one medium. Of course, this is an
absolute future-proof solution for the customer, who knows that
at least one of both standards will survive. In this case, a further
advantage for the record-label would be that they will not have
to consider parallel editions for both DVD-Audio and SACD formats
any more, which has happened in some cases and seems to be completely
Both hybrid SACD/DVD-Video
and SACD/DVD-Audio discs can be produced without big problems
as "DVD 10" (double-sided DVD) on all existing DVD production
lines. A more complete SACD/DVD-Audio/Video disc, containing music
and maybe video in three formats, will be manufactured (normally)
in a "DVD-14" process. Of course, (at least) one of
the used "masters"/matrices for the injection moulding
process has to be "cut" as SACD-master by a special
Laser Beam Recorder (LBR).
A DVD-14 (I prefer to call
it more precisely a "DVD-14", because of the included
non-standard SACD-layer) goes through a more complicated process
of manufacturing, usually requiring the so-called "Surface
Transfer Process" from Time Warner (to manufacture a two-layered
DVD half-disc). However, this is a commercially used production
process, and not "science fiction". For example, the
DVD-Audio editions of AIX Records are usually two-sided discs,
three-layered, requiring exactly this kind of DVD-14 manufacturing
A single-sided SACD/DVD (read
from the same side, one layer SACD, the second layer DVD) can't
work. The first problem starts with the fact that both SACD- and
DVD-players would expect "their" respective "Lead-in"
on Layer 0. DVD- and SACD- Lead-Ins are not compatible and, additionally,
a SACD Lead-In would be encrypted. There are different file-systems,
and so on.
The benefits of the
In my opinion, the music market
for media should be split into two separate segments. Firstly,
I think CDs should and could be offered cheaper, which could also
help to fight increasing pirating and illegal copies. The more
expensive segment would be to offer recordings in a higher quality,
and maybe with a lot of additional features (music-video, surround-sound,
information about composers, musicians and specific recording
"histories", multimedia, "interactivity"...).
My proposals combine all the "versatile" DVD-possibilities
with the elegance, directness and transparency of DSD-recording,
the modulation used in the SACD standard. Secondly, DVD-Video,
DVD-Audio and SACD can be offered combined on ONE disc, effectively
unifying the market of the three CD-successor formats.
Every record label can decide
independently in which format(s) their records should be published.
I think the hybrid SACD/DVD proposals are helpful to both industry
and customers. The music industry should consider this new hybrid
disc - which is compatible with DVD in its various forms and SACD
- not only for their own interest, but also for the best interest
of THEIR customers. (I think somebody is still needed to listen
to music...). And perhaps, it could also offer a solution to put
an end or at least "ease" an otherwise fruitless and
costly format-war, which, in the worst-case scenario, could lead
to the complete failure of both formats at some point. In any
case, a clear winner in the "format-war" between DVD-Audio
and SACD is not yet to be seen. This time it is not a case like
"VHS versus Beta". I think it is worse! Because it doesn't
look like any one of the competitors will vanish. Both offer advantages
and disadvantages, and both are backed by big electronic companies
AND record labels.
If only the recording-industry
(and audio industry in general) could concentrate on other things
rather than in a fight between some incompatible standards, and
think in categories such as "high-resolution music",
"surround-sound", "music-video", "bonus-material",
a combined DVD/SACD format seems immediately viable and logical.
Editor's Note: The
new hybrid format is patent-pending.
1. Rumours about an extension
of the SACD-standards ("SACD II"), which seem to confirm
that a "SACD with video" is planned, underline the significance
of the SACD/DVD proposals, at least a potential solution for this
" SACD II" (only
rumoured, not "official") might be realized in two ways:
a) SACD + "SACD-video"
in the SACD "Extra Data Area". Such discs would be realized
probably as Dual Layer SACDs ("DVD-9"-version). In any
case, it is not possible to have a surround-version AND music
video on a "hybrid SACD" with CD-layer. There is not
enough space for it on ONE HD-layer.
b) DVD-Video + "new audio
standard" (based on DSD). This "idea" could be
compatible to DVD-Video, but would break "backward-compatibility"
to SACD (I). It would be equivalent to DVD-Audio/Video, which
exists already now and doesn't need new players.
The first variant is compatible
to SACD, but introduces a proprietary video-standard. The second
proposal breaks SACD into two segments, and not any person I have
asked thinks it will or "should" happen.
A SACD/DVD-Video hybrid is
a "SACD" and a "DVD-Video", combining the
advantages of a) and b). It works with existing players, and it
is obviously a "100% compatible" hybrid disc, respective
to the used standards. It is hard to see where SACD II could offer
(functionally) "more" than a SACD/DVD-V.
Not having seen any "specifications"
of SACD II (which isn't announced officially, but rumoured, again!),
I can't say anything about aspects like copy protection or DRM-management
of SACD II. However, Super Audio CD is an extremely well-protected
format already now, whereas "advantages" of DRM will
remain "abstract" or even questionable for customers.
2. Renewed efforts to introduce
a DVD-A/CD will be reviewed if something "real" is announced,
which hasn't been the case. Even if the inventor has participated
in the discussion about DVD-A/CD hybrids with industry insiders,
it is not directly related to my own proposals here.
However, the new proposal
contains as special variant also an SACD/CD/DVD hybrid. You can
manufacture such a disc, if you glue to the back-side of a "hybrid
SACD" (that is, an SACD/CD) a DVD half-disc, which itself
can have one or two layers.
This disc-form is (usually)
thicker than a "standard DVD", or CD. Usually the thickness
will be 1.7mm, similar to the already known DVD-plus (DVD+CD).
Both disc-forms are facing similar compatibility-problems, therefore.
To be fair, the DVD-plus is a commercially available format, even
if the discs are always out of some specifications, also thinner
forms of DVD-plus! However, they work mostly, especially as "DVD".
To me, it looks very unlikely
that we will see a DVD-A/CD as "single inventory disc",
that means, as a DVD-Audio which can be sold "as CD".
3. Last, but not least, I
would like to put a link to a German Internet-article on hybrid
SACD/DVD, done by Mr. Ulrich v. Loehneysen and myself. (The last
picture visualizes in a highly understandable way both forms of
"hybrid SACD" discs! It's not possible to explain it
easier, I think.)
Many thanks, to Ulrich v.
Loehneysen, and to my colleague Joe Coronado for editorial advice.