June 02, 2020 | If you've installed a 5.1 surround sound
system in your home entertainment area or automobile and have
begun looking for music software that will take advantage of your
new multi-speaker setup, you may be confused by the variety of
products that are available. What should be a fairly simple process
can be daunting even to those who follow the world of surround
music. For instance, what are the differences between a "music
DVD-Video," DVD-Audio, and "DVD-Music" product? In fact, is DVD-Music
a product line or a new sub-category of the format?
And how do you know which features of a particular software
title will play in a particular hardware setup? Can a DVD-Audio
disc released using only MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) to encode
a 5.1 surround stream at 96kHz/24-bit play on your already installed
DVD-Video system? With the new "smart folddown" of 5.1 to stereo
or "5.1 extraction" of stereo to 5.1?, who's making the decisions
about what gets collapsed and what gets expanded?
Then there's the question of packaging and retailing new optical
discs focused on music. Do you look in the CD section at a Tower
Records store for DVDs that contain surround music and will they
be in normal CD jewel boxes or DVD-Video packaging? Maybe the
titles will be in the DVD-Video section along with the movie releases.
While the record companies and the tles that focus on musicians
or live concerts have proven very popular among devotees of the
format. Some blockbuster titles like The Eagles' Hell Freezes
Over concert have approached unit sales of 200,000, and even older
"repurposed" VHS live events, by artists like Barry Manilow or
Iron Maiden, were in the top 30 list of all music DVD-Video releases
at press time.
Clearly, there's a demand for well-produced products that you
can enjoy over and over again. A music product, unlike a motion
picture, can be played repeatedly without losing its appeal. When
produced with 5.1 surround audio tracks the experience is further
enhanced and worth buying again in the DVD format. Consumers need
a buyer's guide, a sort of lexicon "plus" to find the artists/titles
they're interested in. Something that will allow them to wade
through the techno-babble issued by the promoters and marketing
gurus that sell the stuff.
DVD-Video products, packaged in VSDA standard boxes, can contain
concert video and 5.1 surround music tracks. The surround audio
that accompanies the video is prepared using Dolby Digita or dts
"perceptual" encoding methodologies, both of which are considered
"lossy" and therefore unacceptable to the recording industry (even
though most of the consuming public couldn't tell the difference
between the input and output). If you want an audiophile-quality
listening experience you'll have to wait for the DVD-Audio format
with its "lossless" MLP encoding scheme, which is capable of presenting
full high-resolution 96 kHz/24-Bit 5.1 surround. The surround
audio track on any music release can be completely re-mixed from
the original multi-track master (using the same outboard gear,
producer, and engineer) or "extracted" from the stereo master
using phase switching, delays, reverbs, and EQ techniques. Just
because the package says there is a 5.1 audio track doesn't necessarily
mean there is a "discrete" multi-channel mix on the disc. Extractions
are required when the original materials are unavailable or the
cost of re-mixing the audio would be too great.
The pros and cons of mixing music in surround are issues currently
being debated among artists, recording industry insiders, and
the engineering community. I recently read an interview with Jethro
Tull flautist Ian Anderson of the group Jethro Tull, whose take
on the surround question was that "humans beings have two ears
therefore two speakers should be plenty." Even if an artist/producer
subscribes to the validity of the using 5.1 speakers, the placement
of the instruments in the mix can dramatically affect the overall
listening experience. Is it appropriate for individual instruments
to emerge from the surround speakers or should only room ambiance
be delivered from behind a listener?
My opinion is that anything goes. If you can enhance a piece
of music by using the full magnitude of the technology available,
including placing individual instruments in their own "sonic spaces,"
then go right ahead. One of my favorite recordings, and soon to
be released as a DVD-Video/DVD-Audio disc, is the Ives Quartet
with Delores Stevens performing the first Brahms String Quintet
in F minor. Each member of the ensemble is allocated his/her own
physical location in the 5.1 mix. The listener can experience
the music completely immersed in the sound or switch to the audience
perspective and listen as if sitting in the hall and not on stage.
But once you've decided where you stand on surround, how do
you differentiate the different DVD disc types? DVD-Music is not
a sub-format but instead a marketing moniker for music DVD-Video
discs. The DVD-Audio specification is coming but has been delayed
once again due to concerns over copyrights and encryption. The
CSS-2 "upgraded" security methodology is still undergoing scrutiny
before being installed into the new hardware. Pioneer has actually
issued "universal" hardware in Japan and promises to install new
"firmware" as the CSS-2 issue is resolved. For now, getting "into"
surround music remains an unnecessarily difficult challenge but
is still worth the attempt.
Mark Waldrep (email@example.com)
is the President and CEO of AIX Media Group, an international
company specializing in the innovative use of emerging technologies
such as DVD and the Internet. He is also a professor in the Division
of Performing and Media Arts at the California State University
at Dominquez Hills.