Just as compact disc players are finally moving from high-end option to standard equipment, a new format is threatening to send CD players the way of eight-tracks and audio cassette players. Panasonic Automotive Electronics Co. is demonstrating its DVD-Audio format at this week's Digital Car Conference and Exhibition.
A DVD audio disc looks just like a compact disc or the DVDs that contain movies and music videos.
The difference, however, between DVD Audio and CD audio is even higher quality, a surround sound effect, and less of the too-clean "digital" sound that some audiophiles despaired when vinyl all but vanished, said Elliot Scheiner, a recording engineer working with Panasonic.
"It was a low-resolution format. It never sounded like it did when we were making it," Scheiner said. "Now for the first time it sounds like what we're doing in the studio."
The difference is achieved by increasing what's known as the sampling rate, or how much audio signal is read. The sampling rate for a CD is 16 bits, DVD audio is 24 bits, Scheiner said.
Not only is the dynamic range fuller, allowing the listener to hear the highest highs and lowest lows, there is the added dimension of surround sound, which has the effect of putting the listener smack in the middle of the music.
Currently there are only about 200 DVD titles available, but Panasonic's Tom Dunn says that number could quintuple by the end of the year as more recording companies buy into the format.
Basic home units that will play DVD audio and video are available for as low as $300, Dunn said. Aftermarket automotive entertainment units that include DVD video players also will play DVD audio discs.
Several automakers are looking at the technology and may offer optional, factory-installed DVD audio systems within 12 to 18 months, Dunn said.
Meanwhile, Dolby Laboratories' Pro Logic 2 system provides the surround sound effect regardless of format. Pro Logic 2 has been available for some time in home units, but not for vehicles. It employs computer chips encoded with special circuitry and the addition of a center speaker to achieve the surround sound effect.
At least four, mostly high-end audio system manufacturers produce aftermarket systems with Dolby Pro Logic 2, said Brent Butterworth, director consumer technology marketing for Dolby.
It will be available this fall as a factory-installed option in the new Volvo SC90 sport utility vehicle, Butterworth said.