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Draft for DVD-Audio announced

The DVD Forum's Audio Working Group released its draft to members and several music industry associations.

A trade group announced a draft specification for DVD-Audio, the next-generation audio technology with seven times the storage capacity of a compact disc (CD), a key step toward DVD-Audio products reaching the consumer market later this year and also one that illustrates the ongoing convergence of PC and consumer technology.

In conjunction with the start of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the DVD Forum's Audio Working Group released its draft to members, potential licensees who signed non-disclosure agreements, and several music industry associations, including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). One of the principal challenges to reaching an industry standard for DVD-Audio is copyright protection, a major focus of groups like RIAA.

The draft's unveiling puts to rest rumors that a DVD-Audio standard had already been settled upon, while demonstrating that representatives of PC manufacturers, consumer electronics firms, and the music industry are collaborating to advance the technology. A specification precedes a standard, which insures that the industry manufactures interoperable products.

Although the process is two years old, reaching an audio standard is not expected to prove as difficult as the Forum's struggle to agree on a standard for rewriteable DVD (see related story). Besides copyright, key issues for DVD-Audio include whose intellectual property is incorporated into the standard, how that property is licensed, and backward compatibility with CD-Audio and recordable CD-Audio.

The music industry has been most concerned with the choice of an encryption technology and also an embedded signaling system, used for encoding property identification and other information within the music, according to an RIAA spokesman. The industry has also been looking into "interface characteristics," to ensure safeguarding of digital broadcasts and transmission over the Internet, the spokesman said.

But copyright protection remains a preeminent concern. "Copy protection plays into the convergence of PC and consumer technology. It addresses issues with packaging and also transmission," observed a Warner Music spokesman from CES.

"People aren't going to make players until there's copyright," a source familiar with the Forum's working group on audio told NEWS.COM late last month.

DVD-Audio will be able to record in "six-channel" surround sound, which extends the CD's "left and right" capability. Currently, CDs can deliver sound as if it were coming from the listener's left or right. The innovation will take up additional storage space.

But DVD's high storage capacity may actually work against its commercial acceptance. While the change to six-channel sound will eat up some of that additional space, most of the cost of a CD is its content, and a DVD-Audio disc with many times the content would presumably cost many times the price.

DVD-Audio titles and players are expected to begin appearing in late 1998. Although they are both DVD Forum members, Sony and Phillips are currently working on a competing DVD audio technology, toward delivering products to market by early 1999.