DVD Audio and SACD explained

I have just placed on this site an article I did for the March 2002 edition of Appliance Retailer on DVD Audio and SACD.

Some thoughts since then:

  • A new option for playing SACD and DVD Audio is using the increasing number of Universal Disc Players which support both. I’m happy to see that my prediction (‘Expect within a year to see players that support DVD-A, SACD, CD, DVD Video and, probably, MP3 playback from CD-Rs … all in the one box’) came true.
  • Some DVD-A players can apparently provide a digital DVD-A signal to some receivers via a FireWire derivative. I imagine we’ll see increasing standardisation of this over the next year or so.
  • In the ‘Tips’ section I suggested the ‘just press Play’ shortcut for DVD Audio. Namely, rather than closing the player drawer you press Play with the drawer open and the DVD Audio content will immediately start playing (usually the surround mix), bypassing the menus. Unfortunately, though, this does not work with some players: specifically the higher level Denon units and the Harman Kardon DVD 30.
  • I also mention there that you ought to adjust the speaker settings in the DVD Audio/SACD player’s menus. But this glosses over the fact that SACD players do not perform speaker time alignment, and many DVD Audio players do not do time alignment, or bass management, or both for DVD Audio discs.

Finally, I am now almost of the firm conviction that both DVD Audio and SACD will never take off in a big way. At best they will remain niche products for audiophiles, in the same way that a limited range of vinyl LPs remain available. There are simply no benefits in them for the great majority of users, aside from surround sound. But while many would appreciate surround sound, want they want most of all is the particular music they like. For DVD Audio and SACD to succeed, the record companies would have to be prepared to take a big loss to get the great majority of new CD releases simultaneously released in one of these formats. Availability of music on a format determines the success of a format. Currently, you still have to ask even the biggest record shops if they have any DVD Audio or SACD titles behind the counter, compared to the dozens of square metres of display footage given over to DVD Video and CDs.

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