Somewhere between that mild dissatisfaction and the onus of making a second major playback hardware purchase in a year or two—which is inevitably what "upgrading" to DVD-Audio will mean to those who bought DVD-V—there has got to be a happier medium, an extension of the CD format that gives it some sort of DVD "edge." And how is the industry to satisfy those audiophiles who've steered clear of DVD to date, waiting for an implementation more suited to them, but are not yet convinced by the tentative market entries of DVD-Audio and SACD that either is the one they've been waiting for? Sonopress Germany (http://www. sonopress.de) offers one escape route from this audio limbo: a new hybrid disc that might make DVD-Video player owners and even those who've not yet taken the plunge a little happier while they ponder their next component purchase. Sonopress has launched DVDplus, a format that grafts CD and DVD features onto the same disc.
The company has bonded a normal CD-Audio to one side of a DVD-5, which means that a whole concert can be stored as a video recording on the DVD side, while the same concert is available as an audio recording on the CD side. Consumers who don't have a DVD player can listen to the CD, and later on reap the benefits of the DVD when they purchase a player, the company says.
Thus far, the implementation of the format is not quite clear. To date, the company has released three DVDplus titles, which are all live concerts including one from Emerson, Lake and Palmer. By November, other major projects are expected to ship to various countries including the U.S., Italy, the U.K., and Australia. Order sizes will range from 35,000 to 100,000 discs, according to Sonopress marketing manager Simone Schmitt.
Manufacturing a DVDplus does present new challenges. "What are used as stampers are the negatives of the actual information layer. We need one stamper per information layer. As is the case when producing a DVD-10, both information layers of the DVDplus are molded, metallized, and bonded. The major difference in producing a DVDplus is the thickness of the disc, which is 0.6mm greater than a DVD or CD (i.e., twice as thick). "Therefore we need special tools, which Sonopress has created itself," Schmitt explained. The thickness differential has no effect on playability, according to the company, although opinions seem to vary among members of the DVD community who have experimented with the format.
Zuma Digital creative and technical director Blain Graboyes has experimented with DVDPlus and another type of half-DVD/half-CD disc. "With both discs I have found that the DVD-V portion plays great on most every player," he said, "but that the Audio CD portion will not play on any regular CD-Audio player, though it does play fine in most PCs."
Mark Waldrep, CEO of AIX Media Group had similar results. "I have had one of these discs in my possession manufactured in Germany by Sonopress," he said. "The brief check that I made of its playability was a disappointment. It would only play the DVD side on my portable and made some sounds that weren't encouraging."
Both Graboyes and Waldrep felt that the thickness of the discs was problematic. As Waldrep put it, "I believe that the thickness of these non-standard discs prohibits them from being the `hybrid' product that some in the music industry think is necessary."
However, the idea itself is still appealing to Graboyes, he said. "I think the concept of the format is something of a Holy Grail. We have many clients who would release DVD content if it provided some compatibility with CD formats."
Sonopress is confident that the discs will play well, application-wise, in the audio and DVD markets, and has also addressed the issue of how they will look as they jockey for their share of retail shelf space. While only a limited amount of printing space is available on the DVDplus, for exterior packaging, Sonopress recommends Super Jewel Boxes with the DVDplus logos stamped on them.
Costs of producing a DVDplus are similar to those incurred in producing a DVD-9, Schmitt says, and the company has not yet formulated a suggested retail price. However, the pricing ultimately shakes out, Sonopress believes DVDplus promotes the advantages of DVD technology while providing the music industry with an opportunity to significantly increase sales.
(For a more recent story on Sonopress, DVD-14, and DVD-Audio, see www.emedialive.com/r3/2003/waldrep0403.html.)