Warner Bros. CD and DVD-Audio Parity Pricing, Day/Date Release Plans

Commencing June 17th, Warner Bros. will introduce parity pricing between CD and DVD-Audio releases together with a day/date release policy across the two formats.

The ramifications and importance of this news cannot be underestimated; new titles will be released on Compact Disc and DVD-Audio simultaneously and both versions will be identically priced. In other words, if a Warner CD carries a retail price of $16.98 – the typical RRP of a mainstream title from a ‘bricks and mortar’ outlet – then the DVD-Audio version will also be $16.98. The same is true for albums priced at $14.98.

Retailers will also have the ability to retain parity between the two formats even if one – usually the Compact Disc version – finds its way into a special promotion or a store ‘bargain bin’, the DVD-Audio version of the title can be similarly discounted.

Industry sources have lead High Fidelity Review to believe that retailers’ profit margins will remain the same even when the new parity pricing scheme comes into being and that outlets with current Warner Bros. stock will be receiving credit (to the sum of the difference between the old and new pricing) for their existing inventory.

Many industry commentators are seeing the primary positive aspect of this news as being the price reduction of DVD-Audio discs (which in real terms will be between 25 and 33%), but more importantly, the real story is that consumers with DVD-Audio and DVD-Video players no longer have any valid reason, aside from playback in car systems and boom boxes, to purchase their favourite albums on CD. Even the mobile audio market will be addressed shortly, as many automobile manufacturers are intent on introducing true, multi-channel DVD-Audio in-car systems.

DVD-Audio has obvious resolution advantages over CD, 24-bit at 96kHz or 192kHz as against 16-bit 44.1kHz for Compact Disc, together with the ability to deliver multi-channel audio in suitably equipped systems (a two-channel mix is always available), but titles can also benefit from all the added supplementary features afforded by the DVD platform. They include, but are not limited to, song lyrics, music videos, behind-the-scenes footage, artist interviews and DVD-ROM interactivity menus with Internet links, all of which leave the humble Compact Disc languishing in the last century.

One of the hurdles any new format faces is that of pricing. Initially both playback hardware and software are often out of reach of the average consumer. In the last year however, the price of DVD-Audio players has been falling considerably and DVD-Audio capabilities are now becoming commonplace in standard, affordable DVD-Video machines. With the news from Warner, it is now clear that the price of the discs themselves is also to be reduced, with other software manufacturers likely to follow their lead. This effectively removes the final barrier that has been preventing high-resolution DVD-Audio from moving into mainstream acceptance; a bold and forward-thinking move for which Warner must be congratulated.