Acura demonstrated the ELS DVD-Audio system that will come standard on its 2004 TL sedan. The system was designed by Panasonic Automotive Electronics with Grammy-winning producer Elliot Scheiner (Steely Dan, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Faith Hill) who has been working on surround projects since the mid-1990s. When he became involved with Panasonic and Acura, Scheiner understood that bringing a new experience to the consumer would be key, and knew from his own experience that DVD-A fit that bill, with a resolution about 500 times that of a traditional compact disc. That lets listeners feel like they're hearing familiar tunes for the first time. "I worked on The Eagles' Hotel California. When I received the track sheets, I found that out of the 24 tracks, there were 14 tracks for guitars. I've listened to that song a thousand times, and I never imagined there were that many guitars on there," Scheiner says. "Most people listen to that song on DVD-A like they've never heard it before. But in reality, they have just never heard it that clearly before."
The ELS Surround System provides six independent distribution channels of audio source material instead of the usual two. It also plays DTS CDs as well as standard compact discs. And while the Acura announcement brings DVD-A to the highway, the format has been making slow but sure progress in the home market. Panasonic Entertainment Group says there are now 100 models of DVD-A home players from 37 manufacturers, ranging in price from $129 to several thousand dollars. While Silverline Audio and AIX Media Group have been the pioneers (Silverline has the most DVD-A titles so far), Warner, Universal, EMI, and BMG plan a blitz this year with old and new titles from big-name artists including R.E.M., Flaming Lips, Alicia Keys, Usher and Bonnie Raitt.
Panasonic will become more aggressive with its retailer advertising during the holiday season and in early 2004. "There are approximately 500 interactive displays nationally at key retailers," says Panasonic's Jeff Samuels." The system includes an award winning receiver (HE100 in most locations) and a five disc DVD-A changer, along with a speaker package from Polk. Each display has an LCD panel that tells the DVD-A story to help educate the end consumer."
Not to be outdone, Sony Electronics held its own briefing in conjunction with Rolling Stone to announce a Super Audio CD promotion that is also supported by Circuit City and Clear Channel Communications' Premiere Radio Networks. It will begin on November 21st and run through the end of the year to coincide with a Rolling Stone feature picking the magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Each issue will contain a six-page gatefold that contains a nine-song SACD sampler featuring music from some of the top 500 albums. The songs on the sampler have not been revealed as to keep up suspense for the Rolling Stone list, according to David Kawakami, director of the Super Audio CD project for Sony Corp. of America. "We haven't seen the ballots or final results, either," he says.
"It's a straightforward promotion on a big scale," Kawakami says. "We heard about the Rolling Stone issue through reading the trade pubs, so we called them up. We instantly knew that a lot of the albums named are already out on SACD. We tried to assemble a sample of what we thought would be top-500 caliber tracks." The sampler disc includes a high resolution stereo and a multi-channel version of each song so that the disc can be played on standard CD players as well as SACD units. Readers who don't have an SACD player will be able to take their sampler to one of 600 Circuit City locations where they can hear it on a multi-channel SACD display. The retailer will also be holding an SACD sweepstakes drawing.
In addition to the latest SACD players from Sony and Philips, and the manufacturers noted above, there are a total of 26 manufacturers offering more than 83 Super Audio CD-compatible products, and there are more than 1,500 titles currently available worldwide; almost half of which are multichannel surround titles. Capitol/EMI, Sony, and Universal Music Group (UMG) offer stereo and multichannel surround titles. ABKCO Records' Rolling Stones "Remastered" hybrid SACD series (replicated at Sony Disc Manufacturing plants in Japan) gave the format a major boost in 2003, and its sales have reached the 2 million mark in worldwide.
"It has been a logical roll out. We started with catalog because it is the foundation of any major record label. If you are going to rebuild your house…you should start with the foundation," Kawakami says. "The obvious next step was to see if SACD would work on a frontline release. A&M released Sting's Sacred Love on SACD in September. A single SKU hybrid was released in Europe. Some 600,000 units were shipped in Europe in September."
Other major releases will come from audiophile and independent labels including Chesky, Concord, Domo, Groove Note, Harmonia Mundi, FIM, Fantasy, Mobile Fidelity, Sugar Hill, Rounder, and Telarc. Blue Note Records released its first five hybrid Super Audio CD titles in June, including Norah Jones' Come Away With Me. "While most people are probably buying the title as a CD, that's still a big step forward," Kawakami says, "because you placed in his hand something that is going to put him on a migration path to the new format."