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Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Dual-discs combine DVDs with CDs

Encouraged by the recent surge in popularity of DVD music video discs, music labels will offer dozens of special packages this fall that combine a CD with a DVD.

Some, like new releases from Jennifer Lopez, Avril Lavigne and Primus, emphasize the visual content, combining a full-length DVD and a bonus CD with a few extra tunes.

Other offerings, including new albums by Pink, Mandy Moore and Limp Bizkit, will be full-length CDs with a short, bonus DVD.

But there's a more economical and efficient way to combine these two mediums, one that's just days away from introduction, we hear. Informally referred to as the "dual-disc," this hybrid entertainment sandwich slaps an audio CD program on one side of the silvery platter, and a DVD video show on the other side of the same disc.

Music labels have been touting the cause of hybrid music discs for years, first with "enhanced" audio CDs that display videos and screen savers when spun on a PC's CD-ROM drive.

More recently, CD format co-developer Sony and its software partners have been promoting dual-layer music discs that combine a conventional CD performance with a higher-resolution Super Audio CD (SACD) version that can be appreciated on a new-generation player.

Warner Music Group has led a pack promoting the rival, high-resolution (special player needed) DVD-Audio multichannel discs. These also contain a Dolby Digital or DTS mix (and a little video content) that can be enjoyed on any DVD player.

Because of their compatibility with all CD players, the SACD/CD hybrids have been building a following, especially with remastered titles by the Rolling Stones, a wonderful set of (just out) Bob Dylan catalog gems, and Sting's new "Sacred Love."

In response, Warner Music Group has changed its strategy. Now, it's pushing development of the dual-disc - one side with DVD-Video or DVD-Audio content, the other side a conventional music CD.

Even some folks at Sony see merit in such a combo platter - say, to place a feature film (or video game) on one side and the musical soundtrack on the other.

The technical stickler has been in creating a DVD/CD sandwich disc that's not too thick.

Initial batches developed by the European disc maker Sonopress and patent holder Dieter Dierks jammed up in some cars' slot-loaded players. Now developers have slenderized the dual-discs down to just a silly millimeter more than the standard for an audio CD, and well within the tolerance of any disc spinner.

"I got hold of 50 samples, gave them out to my class and told them to try them out in as many disc drives as they could," said Mark Waldrep, owner of the audiophile music label AIX Records and also a professor of engineering. "Of the several hundred test trials, there were just six failures, mostly in PC drives."

Warner Brothers and EMI are chomping at the bit to get dual-discs out. But first, they need approval by the DVD Forum of hardware and software developers, a testing process that could take several months.

The independent label Rounder Records, however, is not beholden to the DVD Forum and is ready to jump out of the gate as soon as November with "Kathleen Edwards Special Edition." If, that is, the label's first order of the twang-rocker's dual-disc, produced by Tulsa, Okla.-based EnXnet, "works as well as the samples they sent us," said a Rounder source.

Panasonic and Acura have just taken the wraps off a truly spectacular sound system on wheels, built into the spiffy, new, $32,000 Acura TL sedan. Developed in conjunction with noted music producer Elliot Scheiner, the ELS Surround system presents DVD-Audio discs (and CDs) in an acoustically perfect, multichannel environment that thrills no matter where you're sitting in the car. Even the windshield glass has improved acoustic properties. Equipped with XM Satellite radio, too, the TL should be at the top of any "near-luxury" car buyer's test-drive list.

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