By Steve Harvey
Los Angeles, CA (May 26, 2005)--The hybrid DualDisc, a so-called "flipper disc" that comprises a music-only CD bonded back-to-back with a DVD-Video disc, is off to an auspicious start. Following a "soft" launch in October of last year, the new disc product has already racked up its first platinum hit--a far cry from the poor sales performance of both the DVD-Audio and SACD formats.
Released on DualDisc in October 2004, Simple Plan's Still Not Getting Any was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) after selling one million copies in its first 10 weeks. The instant appeal of the new product may well be due to the video extras--and perhaps even the enhanced audio--on the DVD side, but perhaps no less important is the fact that DualDisc releases are readily found in retail outlets in the CD racks, and that some albums are being released exclusively on the format.
Still Not Getting Any was also made available as a 2-disc CD/DVD package, but the platinum sales of the DualDisc version must have record executives excited about the release of the solo debut by Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas, ...Something To Be, and Bruce Springsteen's Devils & Dust, which are being released only on DualDisc in the U.S.
Though praised for their sonic potential, and still attracting a small but intensely loyal group of promoters among certain smaller labels--stronger in some foreign markets than in the U.S.--the industry appears to have learned a lesson from the largely moribund high-resolution, surround-sound DVD-A and SACD formats. Now, nearly five years old, these formats were held up initially by copy-protection issues then--briefly--by the cost and availability of specialized players. In contrast, DualDisc simply combines two existing formats that are playable on millions upon millions of existing machines.
More to the point, says Bob Michaels, president of 5.1 Entertainment Group's 5.1 Production Services, "Consumers want video; they want video more than they do just audio. Being a longtime producer of DVD-Audio discs, we've heard that loud and clear."
Avoiding the rights issues associated with re-purposing archive material--another area where those high-res 5.1 formats got bogged down--the new 5.1 LIVE! imprint from 5.1 Entertainment captures current artists in their prime. Loaded with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, the multi-camera, high-res audio sessions will be released on DualDisc.
Is it the video extras that are leading to stellar sales? Former B2K frontman Omarion's solo debut, a day and date release with the CD, saw 30 percent of its first week 180,000 sales on DualDisc. Upcoming DualDisc releases from artists renowned for their visuals, including Nine Inch Nails and Beck, are also hotly anticipated.
Not that DualDisc is entirely free of controversy. Unlike other disc formats, which were driven by equipment manufacturers, it is the major labels that initially experimented with the manufacture of various hybrid discs. But it is German firm, DVD Plus International, that holds the patent on the CD/DVD format in the EU and has an application pending in the U.S. The possible threat of future legal action didn't stop Warner Music Group--one of those initial developers--and Silverline Records, part of 5.1 Entertainment Group, from introducing dozens of DualDisc titles in Q4 2004; other major labels have since joined them.
Those initial experiments by the labels hit a stumbling block when it was discovered that the thickness of their hybrid discs made them unplayable in some machines and caused jamming in others. To minimize that problem, since the DVD spec stipulates a minimum allowable thickness, the final DualDisc spec for the audio-only side is reportedly too thin to meet the CD Red Book standard, leading to advisories from over a dozen player manufacturers. As a result, Philips, one of the inventors of the compact disc format, is not licensing its CD logo for DualDisc products. That has led a number of marketing departments to adopt the terms "audio side" or "non-DVD side" rather than "CD side." The audio-only side permits only 60 minutes of recording time, according to a Sony BMG statement.
And on the flip side, the DVD audio component described by the DualDisc content spec, as agreed by the labels and administered in the U.S. by the RIAA, appears more flexible than for DVD-A and SACD. The 2-track version is described as an LPCM Enhanced Stereo mix; LPCM being uncompressed encoded audio and Enhanced Stereo referring to a higher sampling rate than that of the audio-only side, 48 kHz/16-bit versus 44.1 kHz/16-bit.
The DVD side is actually a DVD 5 of 4.7GB capacity. Subject to that capacity, it includes a DVD-V zone as a minimum, complete with PCM stereo and/or a version of stereo/surround material encoded with lossy compression, and may also include a standard DVD-A zone.
"It doesn't even have to be surround sound," reported 5.1 Production's Michaels. "For instance, the Sony discs are all produced in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a PCM high-resolution stereo track. That qualifies as a DualDisc."
By Steve Harvey