CES: Meridian Flies the Flag for DVD-Audio

CES Advisory: Meridian Audio Limited, international leader in digital audio and video for home theater and music systems (Booth #17220, Las Vegas Convention Center, South Hall 1 and 2), has dedicated part of its booth at CES to promoting the increasingly-successful DVD-Audio format, with displays of a sample of all the available titles, a Meridian DVD-Audio replay system and a computer with DVD-Audio replay capability, as well as a selection of the twelve-million-plus players sold by manufacturers all over the world.

DVD-Audio is a member of the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) family, the most successful consumer product ever. DVD-Audio extends the medium to include super-quality surround-sound with core technology from Meridian: lossless compression. Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) was developed by Meridian and is licensed via Dolby Laboratories, whose adjacent booth (#17214) also features DVD-Audio products and technology. Six channels of advanced-resolution 24-bit, 96kHz sampling surround-sound and two channels of stereo at up to 192kHz sampling give DVD-Audio the highest level of quality available in a consumer audio format, with a frequency response up to 100kHz and a full 144dB of dynamics maintained across the entire frequency range.

The maximum data rate of DVD-Audio is 9.6 Megabits per second. This would limit the playing time of five-channel audio at 96kHz sampling to 65 minutes and 20-bit resolution, while six channels of 24/96 would exceed the allowable data rate. The obvious answer was compression, which is how a movie can fit on to a disc, but lossy compression had been ruled out by the record industry in specifying DVD-Audio. So lossless compression – where the data recovered from the disc is identical to that originally encoded on it – was the way to go. An international competition was held to choose the technology, and Meridian’s MLP was the clear winner.

MLP allows six channels of 24/96 super-quality PCM audio to be carried on the disc, with a playing time of up to 86 minutes – or 74 minutes while leaving room for popular extras such as music videos, lyric sheets, slide shows, DVD-Video player compatibility and all the other features that make DVD-Audio the outstanding advanced-resolution music carrier and market leader it is today.

In a DVD-Audio player, MLP decoding is intricately woven into the high resolution PCM audio technology used for DVD, making the decode process relatively inexpensive – the cleverness is in the encoding system used during authoring, requiring much less sophisticated processing in the player itself. In addition, MLP is extensible, with metadata and flags in the data stream that can signal the player and provide information about the type of material being played. For example, in addition to supporting conventional 5.1 surround, MLP can allow DVD-Audio – or future media using MLP technology – to support different channel configurations and surround-sound techniques, including those that have not yet been defined.

In addition to superb-quality audio, DVD-Audio, as a member of the DVD family, includes all the features that make DVD-Video so popular. The DVD-Video zone on almost all DVD-A discs makes them fully backwards compatible and playable on any player with the DVD logo (though for full audio quality, a DVD-Audio/Video player is required). Discs can include lyrics, notes and slideshows that change with the music, along with extras such as music videos and ‘making of’ documentaries.

Today there are over one hundred and sixty DVD-Audio player models available that range from $93 to $20,000, from over thirty-five manufacturers including Meridian, and a selection of these will be on display at the booth. To date, over ten million stand-alone DVD-A players have been sold – almost four times the number from last year. In addition, an estimated two million computer-based players have shipped, from companies such as Creative Labs and InterVideo. A Creative Labs computer system with Audigy 2 DVD-Audio system and 5.1 speakers is also on show at the booth. And of course, DVD-Audio discs will play in any of the over one hundred million DVD players in homes all over the world.

Centerpiece of Meridian’s DVD-Audio display is a series of stands showing cases of some of the titles available on DVD-Audio, produced by all but one of the major record companies and tens of smaller ones, in every musical genre. Over six-hundred titles, the vast majority featuring advanced-resolution surround-sound content, were available by the end of 2003 and the list has more than doubled in the last twelve months, with significant additions over the recent holiday period.

A Meridian replay system featuring DVD-Audio is also a part of the display, along with on-screen presentations on DVD-Audio technology, while staff are available to answer questions on the format and discuss Meridian’s involvement, covering not only the consumer end of the process but also the authoring side, with the assistance of Minnetonka Software, Inc.

Dolby Laboratories, at booth 17214, adjacent to Meridian, are also showing DVD-Audio technology including a vehicle equipped with a DVD-Audio player. AIX Records, the award-winning audiophile DVD label specializing in new high-resolution, 5.1 channel surround recordings, will also be demonstrating DVD-Audio at the Alexis Park Hotel in Suite AP 1401.