SACD II to be Announced in September

SACD II will be announced in September. That is the news reaching us here at High Fidelity Review from a number of different sources.

While there has been no word of the extended format from representatives of Sony or members of the SACD project (not even an acknowledgement of our enquiries), officials from Philips Europe have not been so tight-lipped.

High Fidelity Review has learnt that SACD II will introduce at least two significant changes; enhanced video content and improved copy-protection measures.

The first of these changes may send a shiver down the spine of the ‘purist’ SACD follower who believes the introduction of a display device into a listening room is the root of all evil, but the possibility of adding basic photo galleries and the like has been a part of the SACD specification since day one, albeit unused. The current high-volume, ‘Joe Public’ software market expects a multimedia experience having enjoyed the supplementary materials found as standard on the majority of DVD-Video discs, and this is one area where DVD-Audio currently has a distinct advantage. Consider ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on SACD, only with additional content similar to that of ‘Pet Sounds’ from EMI or ‘Awaken’ from 5.1 Entertainment, two DVD-Audio titles that boast all manner of multimedia goodies.

However, aside from ‘audiophile’ nervosa, the possibility of video content does raise one serious concern, and that involves the time it takes to get a disc to market. The reason some DVD-Audio projects have been delayed is because of difficulties obtaining copyright clearance – not on the main programme itself, but on the images or video clips that accompany it.

A heightened copy protection method with improved software/hardware authentication is the second area where SACD II will build upon the existing format. The DSD layer(s) of an SACD disc are already fairly secure, largely because there are no PC drives capable of reading the high-resolution content due to something called Lead-in scrambling, or the “Super Audio CD mark”. This prevents drives that are not licensed for SACD playback from reading the lead-in data area of disc, the portion that describes the remainder of the content. The DSD data itself is also encrypted using a unique 80-bit key, carried via a physical watermark within the pits of the disc known as Pit Signal Processing Physical Disc Mark (PSP-PDM).

So one would think all this would be enough, but amongst today’s paranoid content providers, immunity to piracy is seen as a huge selling point and theoretically at least, the high-resolution layer of DVD-Audio currently affords greater security. For example, DVD-Audio players have a unique key embedded in their hardware that could enable individual players to be revoked and CPPM, the encryption system, has three elements, including a key on each disc, a revocation table on each disc and a key in each player, whereas the current version of SACD only has a key on the disc (much like CSS).

So what of backward-compatibility? Current stand-alone SACD players will not be able to access any video material simply because of their lack of video playback circuitry, but how about combination DVD/SACD machines? While they have the video hardware required, speculation surrounds the nature of the video encoding upon SACD II discs and whether they will be allowed to take advantage of DVD-Video technologies, all of which are tightly controlled by the DVD Forum, and they might decide to withhold licensing in an attempt to protect their own format (DVD-Audio).

The situation surrounding straightforward audio playback on legacy machines is also uncertain, will an SACD II disc with heightened encryption be readable by any of the current SACD players? This is the most important aspect for existing users, but if Sony/Philips are sensible the answer will be “yes”. However, we do know that full SACD II capabilities will become mandatory within all newly produced players by the year 2007, which will mean the slow demise of the SACD format as we know it today.

The introduction of SACD II is interesting in a number of ways, not least of which being the format’s move towards replicating some of DVD-Audio’s capabilities, especially in light of an impending hybrid DVD-Audio disc – the ‘Dual Disc’ – which will boast DVD-Audio/Video content on one side and CD on the other. The uninformed often cite the reason for Dual Disc’s delay as being compatibility issues regarding disc thickness. This is true to a certain extent, DVD Plus discs are 1.48mm thick and therefore compatible with ‘only’ ~98% of players, but the company behind the technology is soon to release DVD Plus v2, which via a new sputter (target) material will reduce disc thickness to 1.2mm and therefore afford 100% playback compatibility.

Of course, the irony of all this is that with SACD II affording video playback opportunities to content providers and Dual Disc bringing a CD layer to DVD-Audio titles, the market might end up with two formats that are essentially identical in terms of playback functionality. The arguments in favour of one or the other will then come down to personal preference, label allegiance, available production tools and software selection rather than features and/or playback compatibility. Thecontents of this news story are exclusive to and the sole propertyof High Fidelity Review, copyright 2003, all rights reserved. This story cannot be reproducedin whole or in part without the written permission of High FidelityReview.