HE 2003: Hybrid DVD-A Disc Dropped For Another Approach

Dolby Labs hosted a DVD-A Industry Update at the Screening Room on the third floor of their San Francisco facility during HE 2003. The evening proved to be quite interesting as we heard the latest news about the Hybrid DVD-A disc project, a new DVD-A Marketing effort, Dolby’s future plans as well as news from key record labels that are releasing DVD-A discs.

The Dolby event was attended by a large number of reporters in the audio and home theater press that were covering the Home Entertainment 2003 show in San Francisco. To make it a newsworthy event, Dolby invited the key DVD-A record labels as well as some of the DVD-A format illuminaries such as Meridian’s Bob Stuart to the event. Here are some of the highlights from the Dolby DVD-A event at HE 2003.

Hybrid DVD-A Disc Dropped For Another Approach
The big news at the DVD-A event was confirmation by Dolby’s John Kellogg that “a Hybrid DVD-A disc with a CD layer won’t happen.” Kellogg then added “but there is another” and its announcement by the DVD-A group is “imminent”.

Readers of High Fidelity Review will recall that Warner Music Group had asked the DVD Forum to consider developing a Hybrid DVD-A disc late last year to address the need for CD compatibility in the DVD-A format. The DVD Forum agreed that this would be an attractive addition to the DVD-A format. The concept was to develop a Hybrid DVD-A disc that would have both DVD-A and Stereo CD layers, much as you find on a Hybrid Layer Stereo or Hybrid Layer Multichannel/Stereo SACD today.

While Kellogg did not provide details on what the DVD-A group was working on in this area, speculation at the DVD-A press event centered around some form of DVD-A “flipper disc”. With a flipper disc, one side would have DVD-A information and when the disc was flipped over, Stereo CD information would be on the other side. We should know more soon when the DVD-A group announcement on this new development is made. We’ll certainly bring you those details at that time, however…

High Fidelity Review sources have suggested that the technology will be DVD Plus – http://www.dvdplusinc.com/ – and that the dual-sided disc will be marketed as the “Dual Disc” – http://www.dualdisc.com/ – an active domain name owned by Warner Strategic Marketing.

Dolby Plans An IPO
Dolby Labs President Bill Jasper addressed the reporters at the event and provided a historical look at Dolby Labs. Starting 33 years ago when founder Ray Dolby developed the firm’s first noise reduction system after leaving Ampex, Jasper led the group through a time line that highlighted professional noise reduction, consumer noise reduction, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital and the licensing of Meridian’s MLP technology.

Taking advantage of the assembled reporters, Jasper also provided some Dolby Labs news by announcing that Company Founder and Owner Ray Dolby plans to take the company public in “two to three years” with an Initial Public Offering (IPO). Morgan Stanley has been retained by Dolby to advise the company on the steps it will need to launch an IPO. Jasper assured the audience that Dolby was being very deliberate about this effort and would bring the IPO to market when the time is right.

This is the first that I’ve heard of this, but I’m sure stock watchers will be tracking this development given Dolby’s solid record of innovation in the audio field.

DVD-A Companies Form DVD-Audio Marketing Council
In another bit of interesting news, John Kellogg announced that several DVD-A companies had decided to band together and form a new group named the DVD Audio Marketing Council. Kellogg said that in recent months when DVD-A trade show and promotional activities were planned, the same group of companies worked together to host these events. He went on to indicate that the companies decided to formalize this activity by establishing the new group.

Charter members in the DVD Audio Marketing Council include Warner Music Group, Silverline Records, BMG, EMI Recorded Music, 5.1 Entertainment Group, Meridian Audio, Dolby Laboratories and Panasonic. The three coordinators of the Council will be the marketing/PR folks at 5.1 Entertainment (Jacqui Chazen), Dolby Labs (Craig Eggers), and Warner Music (Susan Mazo).

One reporter at the event asked Kellogg what role the DVD Forum and other earlier DVD-A marketing efforts would have with the formation of the new DVD-A Marketing Council. Kellogg replied that “You’ll have to ask them.” So I’m gathering that there may be some coordinating issues that remain between the new Council and the DVD-A marketing efforts/groups that have been active in the past. Even so, this would appear to be a step forward for the marketing of the DVD-A format.

DVD-A Industry Update
Craig Eggers, Dolby’s Director of Consumer Electronics Technology Marketing, provided the reporters present with an update on the state of the DVD-A format. According to Eggers, there are now more than 500 DVD-A discs available worldwide with most of these titles being multichannel DVD-A discs.

In terms of music, Eggers stressed the variety of music available on DVD-A disc. He told the reporters “We realize that the establishment of a new format is not just about jazz and classical releases.” To attract the interest of “Generation Y listeners”, he touted the rap and hip hop material now available on the DVD-A format from Missy E and Linkin Park. Also noteworthy in this area was 5.1 Entertainment’s plans to launch a new label named New Utopia that would bring additional DVD-A titles in this musical genre. Eggers also noted that DVD Audio’s ability to include “MP3 files” on the disc would be another big selling point of DVD-A discs to the youth market.

On the hardware side, Eggers said the DVD-A format players cover a wide range of price points from $149 up to $18,000. Today there are over 30 DVD-A hardware makers including several high end audio firms such as Bel Canto, Lexicon, Linn and Meridian.

Eggers noted that there are 50 DVD-A products on the market today and he indicated that there could be as many as 100 DVD-A products on the market by years end. Included in this group of products are many DVD-A player types including portable, table top, home theater in a box, PC, automotive and mobile.

In terms of DVD-A player hardware sales, in 2002 the DVD-A group reported sales of 1.4 Million DVD-A equipped players. That number has risen to over 2 Million today. Dolby projects that number will increase to 5.5 Million by the end of this year and 12.5 Million by the end of 2004. Eggers predicted that “these numbers will encourage record labels to take another look at DVD Audio.”

Warner Music Plans for DVD-A
Next up was a series of speakers from the record label officials in attendance at the event. David Dorn, Senior Vice President of Media at Warner Strategic Markets and Robin Hurley, Vice President of DVD-A Production and A&R gave the reporters an update on Warner Music’s DVD-A plans.

Dorn said Warner Music was “solidly behind the DVD-A format” with 90 DVD-A titles issued to date with “more coming”. Dorn noted that “DVD-A is a copy protected product and this is very important to us”. He also stated that “DVD Audio offers far better sound than the Compact Disc.”

Hurley noted that he and Dorn came to Warner Music in Warner’s purchase of Rhino Records and said they were often referred to in the company as “the Rhino guys”. He said that Warner’s DVD-A projects focus on the quality of the sound mix with an eye to providing “compelling extras” on the disc as well. In the future, Hurley hopes to issue more “day and date” DVD-A and CD releases such as the recent new albums by Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan. He also indicated that Warner would be part of the format’s push in the Hip Hop arena as well as more rock DVD-A releases.

In terms of upcoming DVD-A releases, Hurley said Warner planned an additional 30 DVD-A discs by years end. Included in this group will be DVD-A discs by Madonna, Seal, R.E.M. (4 discs), Neil Young (4 discs), Cars, B-52s, T. Rex, Brian Wilson Live, Frank Sinatra (3 discs), Doors (2 discs) and Little Feat. Hurley also indicated that he would like to issue Close to the Edge by Yes on DVD-A but the master tapes of Side 2 of the album had yet to be located.

Hurley demonstrated cuts from some of the upcoming DVD-A releases. Included in the demos were “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra from Sinatra at the Sands, “25 or 6 to 4” from Chicago II, “Things I Miss the Most” by Steely Dan from Everything Must Go and a track from the Flaming Lips that featured extensive use of the surround channels. After playing the Flaming Lips cut, Hurley assured us that the band had been involved in and approved the surround mix. He also said the Sinatra estate said they had “never heard Frank’s voice sound so good” as on the upcoming Sinatra at the Sands DVD-A disc.

BMG DVD-A Release News
Kevin Clement, Senior Director of New Technology at BMG Records in New York was next up to present BMG Records U.S. plans for DVD-A releases. Clement says that BMG U.S. plans to work with “top line artists” in their upcoming DVD-A releases. This includes titles by Sara McLaughlin, Santana and Annie Lennox in their first group of 10 DVD-A releases. Clement also told the reporters to expect an announcement of 10-15 more DVD-A titles shortly from BMG U.S. with the goal of releasing all 20 to 25 of these DVD-A discs by year’s end.

As a preview of things to come, Clement played three tracks from the upcoming “Bare” DVD-A by Annie Lennox. The selected tracks were “1,000 Beautiful Things”, “Bitter Pill” and “Pavement Cracks”. Clement noted that BMG was still new to the DVD-A format and promised to have more audio highlights to play at the next DVD-A event.

Mark Waldrep’s AIX Records
Mark Waldrep of AIX Records was also at the evening’s DVD-A event. Waldrep joked that he had “an unfair advantage” over the other DVD-A labels since all of his DVD-A releases were newly recorded high resolution audio titles. Waldrep described how he uses DVD-14 discs to provide a variety of audio mixes and video features on his AIX DVD-A releases.

Waldrep also played three samples from the AIX catalog for the attendees. These cuts were “Mujaka” from the album Latin Jazz Trio, “Now Is The Month of Maying” by Zephyr and “Cannery Row” by Lawrence Juber. Waldrep stressed that his original recordings for DVD-A use no equalization or compression and “real reverb”. He also talked about his monthly routine which is 2 days of recording 3 albums and then using the balance of the month to put the pieces of the DVD-As together and make the discs.

5.1 Entertainment
Wrapping up the record label portion of the event, John Trickett and Jeff Dean of 5.1 Entertainment talked about their DVD-A releases. According to Trickett, 5.1 Entertainment releases 10 DVD-A discs per month, largely through their Silverline label. To emphasize 5.1 Entertinment’s array of musical styles, he played “California Rolls” from Tipper Surrounded, “I Am” by hip hop artists Black Eyed Peas and “When You Go” by Gus Black. Trickett told reporters that “We have a long way to go to establish this format and we’re glad to be a part of this.”

In terms of future Siliverline DVD-A releases, Dean told the audience to watch for upcoming DVD-A discs from Eddie Money, Sammy Hagar, The Mavericks and a second DVD-A release by Gordon Godwin’s Big Band. He also hinted at a deal to bring the Vanguard Classics catalog to DVD-A via a licensing deal with the label’s new owners Artemis Records.

Meridian’s Bob Stuart
Bob Stuart, the man behind Meridian Audio and the MLP coding technology used in the DVD-A format provided some technical talk and background about DVD-A. He noted that MLP is based on “Linear PCM Audio” and is “the only truly transparent coding system”. He also said that MLP is stable and widely adopted with no changes to the encoder code in the last 12 months.

In terms of future uses of MLP, Stuart suggested that Books on Tape – or in this case – Books on Disc – would be a natural. Using MLP coding, Stuart says that one could take the 26 CDs that the new Harry Potter takes up and convert it to 1 DVD disc with MLP coding. No word on whether the Harry Potter publishers are pondering that option.

Stuart was also one of the developers of the Ambisonic format with the late Michael Gerzon. He noted that MLP can support Ambisonics and announced that Nimbus Records is now planning to release 30 of their Ambisonic recorded albums on DVD-A in the near future.

Wrapping Up and A Concert
Wrapping up the evening’s events, Dolby’s John Kellogg noted that Ted Cohen from EMI had been invited to attend but was unable to due to family committments. Kellogg said that Cohen sent his best wishes and said that EMI remains a supporter of the DVD-A format.

After the wrap up, we rode back to the Westin St. Francis for a Dolby-sponsored concert by Richard Thompson. It was an enjoyable wrap up to an informative evening from the DVD-A group and the folks at Dolby Labs.

Craig Eggers

Craig Eggers of Dolby Labs Delivering The DVD-A Industry Update at HE 2003