The widespread commercial release of the CD/DVD-Audio flip
disc is “coming to stores in the next 30 days” says a
high-level executive at one of the major record labels.
According to sources the flip disc (CD on one side and
DVD-Audio on the other) has passed critical functionality
tests that earlier discs had failed this past fall. The big
concern with the flip disc is that the width of the
multi-layer discs may cause them to physically get stuck in
car players. Disc manufacturers have overcome this problem
and the discs are now very close to production. Reportedly,
test marketing is to be done in Seattle and Boston in Q1,
2004. A spokeswoman from Warner Music Group refused to
confirm the rumor. However, she reemphasized WEA’s support
for the DVD-Audio format.
The SACD camp has had the only significant commercial
success thus far in the high-resolution format war with
their hybrid SACDs, which can play on both CD players and
SACD players. Titles from the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and
Bob Dylan have sold very well, partly because of the
backwards compatibility of the high-resolution format to CD.
The star power and creative excellence of the titles also
certainly have helped sales as well.
If the DVD-Audio flip disc makes it to the marketplace,
music enthusiasts should watch to see if DVD-Audio
supporters like EMI and WEA (and maybe even Universal) start
to release stereo versions of the discs in large numbers to
populate the CD bins at record stores with flip discs. Even
if the flip disc has a higher-resolution stereo DVD-Audio
version on the flip side, the format will have made a major
marketing breakthrough. Just as Microsoft sells the same
software over and over again, the record companies can
release 24-192 DVD-Audio versions of thousands of their
records relatively easily. Mixing them into surround is a
lot harder, but as either SACD hybrids or DVD-Audio flip
discs grow in consumer acceptance, the temptation to remix
(and of course resell) the titles will be strong. This one
change in format could likely save the music business model
of saving discs.
As long as SACD and DVD-Audio discs are banished to the
“audiophile’ bins at music retailers, neither format has
much of a chance at becoming “the next CD.” If one or both
formats can make it into the main CD bins, you might see a
trend towards a potential winner in the format war.