PS3: Final nail in SACD's coffin?

While Sony PS3 can allegedly play SACD's, the truth is a lot more murky and may spell the end for an already dying format.

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Much has been made of how the PS3 is Sony's not-so-secret weapon in the Blu-ray/HD DVD format war. But I actually held out some small hope--call me naive--that the PS3 might be able to breathe some new life into Sony's near-dead, high-fidelity audio format, SACD (Super Audio CD), which competes with another near-dead, high-fidelity audio format, DVD-Audio.

In case you hadn't heard, the PS3 supports playback of SACD discs. There aren't a whole lot of SACD discs out there, but I happen to own five of them. I made an effort to find them the other night, and actually popped a couple into the PS3.

My fears were immediately confirmed: The PS3 is basically useless as an SACD player. What's the problem? Well, to play back the high-fidelity multichannel tracks, you need to have a multichannel analog audio connection from the player--in this case, the PS3--to the back of your A/V receiver. However, no such connector exists for the PS3. I'm running an HDMI connection to my HDTV and an optical connection to my receiver. Even if Sony allowed for a digital connection, there isn't enough bandwidth in an optical or coaxial connection to pass a multichannel SACD track.

Eventually, Sony may allow HDMI to be the digital conduit for SACD, but even if that happens, you'll still need an HDMI-equipped A/V receiver to process the signal. (I have two calls in to a Sony rep regarding this matter, but no confirmation on whether Sony intends to make the PS3 more SACD-friendly.)

With or without the PS3, it would have taken taken a small miracle to get SACD off its deathbed. At this point, not too many people care about its fate, but from what I've seen of its implementation on the PS3, I don't think Sony cares all that much either. Though the official company line is that it will stick around as a niche, high-end format, I'm ready to stick a fork in it--especially after getting a look at the release schedule on the Sony SACD Web site.

About the author

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music and The Big Exit. Both titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, and Nook e-books.

 

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