At the Tower Records in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there is a small kiosk near the main counter. Spinning above it is a 5″ disc.
It’s not a CD.
It’s not a DVD.
It’s a DualDisc.
According to the explanation enclosed in each disc, “One side is a standard CD. The other side offers DVD content. This may include enhanced album audio, 5.1 surround sound, music videos, artist interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, documentary films, photo galleries, lyrics, computer-ready digital song files, and Web links. It all depends on the artist”.
In the racks of the kiosk were a handful of titles including:
- AC/DC: ‘Back in Black’ (Sony)
- Audioslave: ‘Audioslave’ (Sony)
- Bare Naked Ladies: ‘Everything to Everyone’ (Warner Music Group)
- David Bowie: ‘Reality’ (Sony)
- Dave Brubeck: ‘Take Five’ (Sony) – subsequently recalled (licensing issues)
- Good Charlotte: ‘The Young and Hopeless’ (Sony)
- Donald Fagen: ‘The Nightfly’ (Warner Music Group)
- Linkin Park: ‘Reanimation’(Warner Music Group)
- R.E.M.: ‘Automatic for the People’ (Warner Music Group)
Supposed to be available, but not in stock:
- 3 Doors Down: ‘Away from the Sun’ (Universal)
- P.O.D.: ‘Payable on Death’ (Warner Music Group)
- Andrew W.K.: ‘The Wolf’ (Universal)
Just arrived but not yet out on display was Usher’s ‘8701’ (Arista) and there are unconfirmed reports of discs from Jane’s Addiction and Fischerspooner (EMI) also being in the test.
For launch statements from Warner Music Group and Sony Music, please see our related news story: DualDisc – Major Record Labels Launch Hybrid CD/DVD Format
Tower Records has priced the DualDiscs at $18.99, which is above their CD pricing but less then most DVDs. High Fidelity Review acquired all the available discs for further examination. The results are promising.
The DualDisc packaging is similar to a standard CD jewel case, but with significant improvements. The hinge area is smaller than on a Jewel case, allowing room on the opposite side for a small lever, which opens the cover when pressed.
When viewed from the front, the case has a curve on the right side that is both aesthetically pleasing and an easy visual identifier, signifying this is something more than just a CD. The dimensions are about the same as a Jewel case so it will fit in standard racks.
Inside, the spokes in the hub that grasps the center hole of a CD has been replaced with a hub with a three point clasp and a central small, round lever with “PUSH” molded into it. This releases the disc, however as with all the samples purchased, this arrangement was not secure enough to hold the disc in place if the case is inverted.
The Sony discs have a red plastic thread around the bottom that helps tear open the thin plastic film sealing the case. Someone must have asked one of the label executives to attempt to open one of their own packages.
Most of the discs have a small label promoting DualDisc as “One disc. Two experiences” followed by a description of some of the contents.
The contents vary quite a bit. While the CD side is standard 44.1kHz 16-bit PCM on all of them, it appears that the Sony discs have only two-channel PCM on the DVD side. Here, in keeping with the DVD standard, the PCM audio sample rate is 48kHz, (there is no indication of the bit depth). The AC/DC album proclaims the DVD side contains the ‘Entire Album In Superior Sound’, which in this case means it has two-channel 48kHz PCM.
The Warner titles sampled appear to be essentially the same as their DVD-Audio and CD counterparts. Indeed, most of them have the DVD-Audio logo on the back. Linkin Park’s ‘Reanimation’ does not have a DVD-Audio logo, but it does describe the contents quite thoroughly and offers
“Advanced Resolution Surround Sound, Advanced Resolution Stereo, and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound”.
Usher’s disc is similarly adorned but also sports the DVD-Audio logo. Interestingly, none of the discs have an MLP logo, but then most have so many logos they already look like they are suffering from NASCAR syndrome. There is room inside the cover for a booklet similar to what is offered with some CDs.
Clearly the discs can contain a wide variety of material including high-resolution audio. Are these meant to replace DVD-Audio and SACD? Certainly their existence calls into question the oft-touted advantage of the hybrid SACD and with Sony Music as one of the initial labels testing this, they might be seen as hedging their SACD gamble.
The Sales Team
Sadly, the staff in Tower Records had little information about the discs or the technology. Like the SACD and DVD-Audio discs located on another floor of the store, their knowledge about the format was very limited and often error-prone.
Fortunately the kiosk directs customers to the DualDisc website for more information – http://www.dualdisc.com/. Unfortunately, as of Feb 3rd, there is no information available there other then a promise of something ‘Coming Soon’. Clearly some work is being done, as on Monday, there was not even that rudimentary home page.
The key to any successful hybrid is its thickness – a disc that can be loaded into a player but then jams the eject mechanism isn’t going to be a big hit with consumers, and this issue is often cited by the uninformed journalist as a reason why the hybrid concept would fail. However, while disc thickness was once a stumbling block, DVD Plus overcame the problem almost three years ago. For a disc to be within specification, it can be no thicker than 1.5mm, but DVD Plus titles, with a CD layer on one side and the equivalent of a DVD-5 on the other, are typically 1.48mm (affording approximately 98% compatibility with all players) and second-generation technology will allow DVD Plus to be, in the words of the company itself, “100%” compatible.
Many readers will be familiar with DVD Plus. Based in Germany, the organisation licenses its hybrid technology to disc replication companies, and with some success, according to their own figures, seventy titles have been released worldwide. It seemed a logical conclusion therefore, that this would be the technology employed by BMG, EMI, Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music Group to bring DualDisc to market.
It was to Phil Carson, President of the North American Divison of DVD Plus, to whom I turned for his thoughts regarding the launch of DualDisc, fully expecting an enthusiastic statement from a man whose technology was on the brink of major label support, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
Mr. Carson was, to put things mildly, furious at the news, and it wasn’t long before he had passed me on to Dieter Dierks, Chief Executive Officer and founder of DVD Plus International, who just happens to be the owner of the DVD Plus patent.
The Reaction from DVD Plus
“I have not seen the ‘DualDiscs’ in question,“
Mr. Dierks said (they are only available in the Boston and Seattle areas),
“but from the description I have, they appear remarkably similar to DVD Plus. In fact, if they are optically read hybrid invertible discs, they would appear to infringe upon a patent that has already been granted to me in all EEC markets, and other countries. If this disc is manufactured as reported, no company will be able to release such product where the patent is certified.”
But what about the United States, the market where DualDiscs are being tested?
“In the USA, they are running a very real risk since the [DVD Plus] patent has the protection of a pending status there. Currently, the exclusive replicator of DVD Plus to the latest specification (1.43mm) is Digital Valley in France. Digital Valley make a perfect disc that plays everywhere and we are very interested to see if it proves to be the case that the majors have copied our invention, and how well they have done so.“
DVD Plus discs circulated at MIDEM, manufactured on Singulus machines by Digital Valley caused quite a stir. It seems odd therefore, that five major record labels would launch a format that uses currently patented technologies, were they not aware of DVD Plus?
“It is worth noting that the highest levels at all of the majors participating in Dualdisc were certainly aware of my patent position and our DVD Plus discs,” Mr. Dierks continued. “My partner, Phil Carson, visited many of them personally. For example, after visiting WEA in late 2002, we received an E-mail from Jim Caparro commenting that ‘this is the future of the physical disc’. At the time, Jim was CEO of the WEA group. Indeed, there is an agreement signed in April 2000 between WEA and me regarding the development of DVD Plus discs. EMI should perhaps have talked to their German office where they would have had enthusiastic reports of sales of the Herbert Gronemeyer double DVD Plus set that has sold over two hundred and fifty thousand copies.”
Indeed, the suggestion from some quarters is that Mr. Dierks actually developed DVD Plus while employed by WMG, so one can understand his annoyance.
“By inventing and patenting the concept of a hybrid invertible disc, DVD Plus has led the industry in developing new technology, and we started it years ago. If DualDisc truly is theft of DVD Plus, a technology that is clearly my property, I shall be talking to our lawyers and examining the possibility that the majors have conspired to defraud us.”
Serious stuff. If a lawsuit does transpire (something that DVD Plus has threatened in the past regarding hybrid CD/DVD discs), we will keep you posted, but those involved with DualDisc who would provide us with on-the-record reactions are having none of it.
Warner Music Group was the first to respond: “There are no patent issues that prevent WMG from releasing DualDiscs,” their representative told us. Not much to misinterpret there!
Perhaps the situation would become a little clearer if we knew where the DualDisc technology did come from?
Cinram is replicating the discs currently on sale in the U.S., so we approached them for a reaction to Mr. Dierks’ claim.
“There are no patent issues that prevent Cinram from manufacturing DualDiscs for its customers,“
a Cinram spokesperson told High Fidelity Review.
And what about reports of the disc content capabilities being compromised to reduce thickness?
“DualDisc has the standard DVD layer thickness on one side and a slightly thinner than normal CD on the other.” Cinram informed us. “The DVD capacity is equivalent to a standard single layer DVD at 4.7GB, and the CD layer can hold approximately the same amount of data as a regular CD.“
The DualDisc format’s major flaw, one that has been widely overlooked, must therefore be the lack of storage space on the DVD side, a 4.7Gb disc can hold approximately seventy minutes of six-channel 96kHz 24-bit audio compressed using Meridian Lossless Packing together with a DVD-Video compatible Dolby Digital mix, but that doesn’t leave any room for a high-resolution stereo track and only a limited number of supplementary features could be included.
The choice for producers is going to be a difficult one, use DualDisc to add a CD compatible layer and dispense with any thoughts of including a high-resolution stereo mix, or use existing DVD-9 (or DVD-18) technology and abandon the idea of Compact Disc backward compatibility.
The Test Markets
Dieter Derks doesn’t see much value in a disc that gives consumers a CD layer together with high-resolution audio.
“It is difficult to justify the WEA concept of using the hybrid disc exclusively to present two forms of audio,” he commented “It is a secondary and limited use of cutting edge technology. The primary use must be to give the consumer the added value and excitement of a video element on the same disc as an audio product that can be enjoyed for years. We could have saved these majors the trouble of test marketing as we have already sold two million DVD Plus discs in our test-marketing phase in Australia and Europe.“
What he perhaps overlooks is that Compact Disc audio is not something we want to “enjoy for years”, the attraction of DualDisc, for the readership of High Fidelity Review at least, must be as a technology that can deliver high-resolution audio with CD backward-compatibility, just in case one wants to listen to the disc in the car or down on the beach.
Meanwhile, DVD Plus marches on.
“I am delighted to note that Rounder Records have made an agreement with Public Television’s flagship New York station, WNET, to release a selection of the wonderful films created by American Masters on some of the most important artists in music, and they will be on DVD Plus The audio side of these discs will most likely carry ‘best-of’ compilations and wherever possible some unique gems.“
“I suppose I should be flattered that one of the artists that these majors have chosen to launch a technology that they appear to be mistakenly claiming as their own, is an artist signed by my DVD Plus colleague Phil Carson almost thirty years back. AC/DC always led the way in hard rock and it’s wonderful that they’re included on what seems to be our technology.“