What do you guys think ? I for one think when mainstream mags are carrying columns from contributors questioning the merits of SACD & DVD-A for audio due to their multi-channel formats, are we seeing a backlash beginning to occur ? ************************************************ Sound Affects by Alan Sircom in this months HiFi + magazine As someone who wholeheartedly accepted the home cinema revolution in the mid-1990s, you might think I would be equally enthused about multi-channel audio replay. Sadly, that's not the case. DVD-Video and home cinema digital surround sound systems brought a whole new thread to the home entertainment party. They brought films into the home with an increasingly high degree of fidelity, just like records did for music enthusiasts a century earlier. They also added an entirely new sub-species of enthusiast, a new geek-speak vocabulary and gave journalists something to write about. DVD-Video became the fastest selling consumer electronic concept in history and, despite being still in its infancy, now resides in one in ten UK homes. It's not hard to see why either; in picture and sound, it is demonstrably better than the VHS alternative and is more 'consumer friendly' than the larger, now-forgotten LaserDisc. Better still, the learning curve for manufacturers was relatively light, as they had already invested in digital engineering skills to get a foot in the CD door. This made consumer electronics manufacturers complacent and willing to try new technology on the public. 'If DVD-Video is such a massive success' the logic goes, 'then surely we can produce a new music carrier that matches that success?' This created the DVD-Audio/SACD tussle that is plaguing high-end music systems today. This 'let's make another DVD' plan is a flawed argument, for a number of reasons. First, part of DVD-Video's appeal was that it 'puts films on CD'; the general public has become very attached to the 12cm polycarbonate disc, but not very good at differentiating the finer points of distinction between them. Collar a passer-by and they will likely be able to distinguish three flavours of 12cm disc; music CD, computer CD and DVD-Video. You might get lucky and find someone who adds CD-R or even CD-RW in there, but talk about CD-Text or DVD-Audio and you'll get a blank stare in return. Second, DVD-Video is proving to be a hurdle in its own right. The 'Video' part of the name 'DVD-Video' is effectively invisible; people buy software 'on DVD' and do not make the distinction on what kind of DVD it is. The majority of DVD-Video player owners think that their Mariah Carey DVD-Video is a DVD-Audio disc because it has music on it. What the industry is trying to do with DVD-Audio and SACD is as difficult as attempting to explain the difference between MOSFETs and transistors to someone who is about to buy a clock radio. At best, it appears useless information to the consumer; at worst, it disenfranchises them entirely, preferring to wait until the format war dies down, lest they end up with the Betamax of the 21st Century. But to my mind one of the most significant stumbling blocks to new surround sound music formats is surround sound itself. Although sales of DVD-Video have gone through the roof, attendant sales of home cinema receivers and speakers have not risen as dramatically. Of course, more home cinema kit is being sold, thanks to the sheer number of DVD players in circulation, but the numbers don't suggest that every DVD-Video owner has a burning desire to add surround speakers. Most surround sound TV manufacturers will admit that the speakers supplied with a TV set are often left in the box, even if the owner has a DVD-Video player. The all-in-one DVD home cinema system is at least a step in the right direction for surround sound, but few of these have speakers of sufficient performance to get decent quality CD audio, let alone cope with the increased bandwidth and resolution of SACD or DVD-Audio. Through such a system, these multi-channel formats don't offer better than CD sound; they simply offer more than CD sound. And that alone suggests what direction the disc manufacturers will take in order to make SACD or DVD-Audio take off. At first, I had great hopes for the formats. The first run of stereo only SACDs, mostly back catalogue classics, offered a chance to hear people like Miles Davis in a manner only someone with access to the master tapes had before. While such releases are continuing to stun listeners and justify the format, this is commercial suicide in today's quick hit market. If DVD-Audio and SACD hardware is starting to appear in affordable systems, companies will pin their hopes on multi-channel Britney Spears discs and the like. And that will spell the end of these formats as the audiophile's friend. Perhaps I am too harsh on DVD-Audio and SACD. They are beginning to take hold in the US and some of the SACD stereo recordings are true masterpieces. But I can't help feeling that these are the glory days for next generation music carriers. It's quantity, not quality, that's in the pipeline.