Sony Europe Announces First PC With DSD, ASIO 2.1 and Blu-Ray Disc

At the recent Musikmesse 2005 Show, Sony’s IT Europe Division announced what they are calling the World’s First PC with three cutting edge technologies: Direct Stream Digital (DSD), Steinberg’s Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) 2.1 and a Blu-Ray Disc Drive. PCs with this group of features will be known as Sound Reality by VAIO and are scheduled to be available for purchase by the end of 2005.

Sony officials say that the combination of these three technologies into one PC will address the needs of several groups they call “the music professional, the home studio user and the enthusiastic domestic music consumer”.

Direct Stream Digital (DSD)
High Fidelity Review readers are familiar with Direct Stream Digital or DSD technology. It was developed by Sony and Philips and is the underpining of their Super Audio CD (SACD) disc system as well as a new recording and archiving technology for recording engineers, mastering engineers, recording artists and studios.

Serge Stevenart, Manager, New Technologies at Sony IT Europe says that “DSD effectively re-wrote the audio standards when it was introduced in 1999, creating a new benchmark for high-resolution surround sound but until now it has only been available for use in the professional audio industry sector. Now, we have achieved the same high audio standard within the PC environment. We have products scheduled for 2005 which will integrate this technology. They target the needs of a range of audio groups from the professional user to Home Studio prosumers and consumers that wish to upgrade their CD (stereo PCM)-based music collections to fully featured high-resolution surround sound that will play back at high quality on their home entertainment systems.

DSD is revolutionising the audio industry and Sony’s Sound Reality initiative is an important bridge to the future of high-resolution audio in the PC environment. Whether it’s used in the home, home studio or a professional music recording environment, Sony Sound Reality represents an important milestone in the convergence of AV and IT technology.”

Steinberg’s Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) 2.1 Adds DSD
Another key part of the Sound Reality by VAIO PC line is the use of the new 2.1 version of the Audio Stream Input/Output standard developed by Steinberg.

Steinberg is a German firm that makes several popular PC based Digital Audio editing software programs for the Home and Pro Studio market including Nuendo, Cubase and WaveLab. The programs are in wide use for Stereo and Surround Sound work by top engineers including Elliot Scheiner and Chuck Ainlay.

Sony and Steinberg describe ASIO as “a cross-platform, multi-channel audio transfer protocol that is being adopted by many of the manufacturers of audio/MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) sequencing applications. It allows software to have access to the multi-channel capabilities of a wide range of powerful sound cards.

ASIO expands on the basic capabilities of a standard computer sound card, most of which can only provide stereo (two-channel) audio input and output. The ASIO specification defines the interface that manufacturers of professional audio sound cards must use to create an ASIO driver for their hardware. This driver allows the host audio/MIDI application to “see” all of the inputs and outputs available on the sound card. The user can then assign these I/O ports as needed for recording or playback when using an ASIO-compatible software program. This allows the users to record more tracks simultaneously than the previous limitation of two channels imposed by a standard sound card.

The Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) architecture forms the backbone of Steinberg’s Virtual Studio Technology. ASIO supports variable bit depths and sample rates, multi-channel operation and synchronization. The user gets low latency, high performance, easy set up and stable audio recording within VST. The entire system becomes controllable and offers complete and immediate access to the audio system’s capabilities. Since its introduction, ASIO has become a supported standard by many leading audio hardware manufacturers.”

With ASIO 2.1, the protocol “now supports DSD delivery between all DSD-ready hardware and software”. The Software Development Kit (SDK) for ASIO 2.1 with DSD is now available for downloading from the Steinberg web site. Steinberg says that the addition of Direct Stream Digital to ASIO 2.1 was accomplished “following an intense technological cooperation with Sony”.

Claus Menke, Steinberg’s Head of Product Management says that “At Steinberg we are firmly committed to developing open and inclusive audio technologies. DSD support within ASIO opens up new possibilities for audio application and hardware manufacturers to include DSD in their products.”

A One-Chip DSD Processor and DSD Upsampling
Sony says that the Sound Reality by VAIO PC will include a one-chip DSD processor. This will offload the DSD audio processing to minimize the impact on the PC’s CPU performance.

Also included will be a new edition of Sonic Stage Mastering Studio software from Sony. According to Sony, the new version “empowers the user to record, playback and edit music in both DSD and PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) audio formats. Its PCM recording capability is critical since this is CD’s core enabling technology. Users can take a standard stereo CD, rip it to their PC hard drive and then use their Sound Reality PC to up-convert the audio signal to a fully uncompressed DSD audio stream.”

Blu-Ray Disc Drive
Sony officials also indicated that the Sound Reality by VAIO PC will feature a Blu-Ray Disc drive. This isn’t surprising since several of the Blu-Ray licensees at January’s CES 2005 show (HP, Pioneer and Sony) indicated that they planned to offer Blu-Ray Disc ROM Drives (also known as BD-ROM Drives) for PC use by the end of 2005. That prediction appears to be coming true – although one wonders if the recent talk of a unified Blu-Ray/HD-DVD format might slow the timetable a bit.

SACD Playback?
While the new Sound Reality by VAIO PC offers many features, one thing that it apparently won’t have is SACD disc playback. For that, the PC would need an SACD enabled drive. To date, there hasn’t been any mention of such a feature from Sony.

We’ll keep an eye out to see if future entries in the upcoming Sound Reality by VAIO PC line bring that to the table as well. In the meantime, with features including DSD, ASIO and Blu-Ray, the Sound Reality PC could be a very interesting item for audio fans at year’s end.