The seemingly unending struggle between the SACD and DVD-A formats over professional acceptance and market share marches on. These two high-resolution-capable formats not only compete against each other, they also compete to gain the attention of increasingly apathetic consumers who, in such times, seem to cling even tighter to their Rio MP3 players.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, post production
Key Features: DVD-Audio stereo and multichannel PCM authoring application for Windows; imports WAV and AIFF PCM; sample rates up to 192 kHz; 16, 20, 24-bit; allows format mixing on same disc; onscreen video display/menu options
Contact: Minnetonka Audio at 952-449-6481, Web Site.
The good news is that one does not need to be a card-carrying member of the DVD-A camp to see that a tool such as Minnetonka Audio Software’s discWelder Steel ($495) is useful in the modern recording or post production studio. Steel’s true usefulness, in my opinion, is as a means to create quick reference copies of 5.1 surround mixes and of high-sample rate/high-resolution stereo mixes that can be played outside the studio. Of course, it can also be used to author a master DVD-A disc for duplication.
DiscWelder Steel is a streamlined program to burn audio files onto a DVD-R or DVD-RW for playback on a DVD-A-compatible player. The application is for Windows-based computers with minimum requirements of 128 MB RAM, 10 GB of free hard disc space and a supported DVD-R/RW drive.
Minnetonka also offers an advanced-features DVD-A authoring program called discWelder Chrome for $2,495 (see sidebar).
Steel can burn stereo or multichannel surround files using up to six channels (5.1). The program supports the importing of WAV and AIFF files (but not SDII) in stereo-interlaced or individual channel formats.
Steel can import and burn stereo recordings at sample rates of 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz and 192 kHz and resolutions of 16, 20 or 24 bits. Surround files can be of the same format specifications as the stereo files as long as the total of the simultaneous files does not exceed the DVD standard maximum rate of 9.6 Mbps.
Surround recordings (5.1) at sampling rates greater than 48 kHz and resolutions of 20 bits and higher exceed the maximum DVD data transfer rate and therefore cannot be burned to DVD without the use of MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) data compression. MLP-compressed files are not supported in Steel, but are supported in Chrome.
The bottom line is that Steel supports burning of six-channel surround tracks at the following resolutions and rates: 24-bit/48 kHz, 16-bit/48 kHz, 24-bit/44.1 kHz, 16-bit/44.1 kHz and 16-bit/88.2 kHz. Surround recordings with less than six channels are also supported as long as the total data rate is less than 9.6 Mbps.
Minnetonka recently released Steel Version 2, adding several features previously only available in Chrome. The most significant audio improvement is the addition of Gapless PCM Track Play, allowing seamless playback of successive same-format files, bypassing the playback gap imposed by most DVD-A players.
The other new features focus on the onscreen video display appearance. Version 2 adds the ability to import image files to be used as the menu background (Version 1 used a default background only); the ability to use the same menu background as a display during audio playback; access to the Windows fonts and styles library for text display (V.1 allowed only Arial and Times New Roman in black, white and gray); and the setting of up to three vertical text columns for the Track Menu.
I installed discWelder Steel on a 3.06 GHz PC with 1 GB RAM running Windows 2000. The installation was as simple as can be and the program found the Pioneer DVR-104 DVD-R/RW recorder right away.
DiscWelder Steel is an example of exemplary programming, the result being a streamlined and intuitive application. Though I am sure Minnetonka would like purchasers to read the manual, anyone with rudimentary knowledge of CD burning software like Roxio EZ CD Creator or Nero Burning Rom will be able to burn DVD-A discs without ever cracking the cover.
The Steel interface is divided in half, horizontally. The top half is a familiar two-pane file explorer, with the folder tree on the left and the folder contents on the right called the “Soundfile” window. The Soundfile window only displays files that are compatible with Steel (WAV and AIFF files). Specifications such as track duration, number of channels, audio format (resolution/sample rate) and date are conveniently shown for each file.
The lower half of the interface is the “Album” window where the individual files are assembled into a sequenced master. The master hierarchy is as follows: Album (the overall DVD), Track Group and individual Tracks. Steel allows only one group per DVD; the group consists of up to 99 tracks (each track is a stereo file or set of up to six files for surround).
Tracks can be added by right-clicking on the Group #1 icon near the top of the tree in the Album window or by simply dragging a file from the Soundfile window onto the Group #1 listing. If an interlaced stereo file is placed in the track, an “S” icon appears and the track orients itself for stereo.
Likewise, if a single channel file is placed on the track, individual icons for L, R, C, LFE, LS and RS appear and the track is then oriented for the placement of the individual surround files. A noninterlaced stereo recording can be added by simply placing the appropriate files on the L and R icons. Right clicking on a track allows adjustment of the “Pause” time before the next track plays.
Steel allows successive tracks of differing formats to be placed in the group. This ability is one of the keys to the program’s usefulness as a one-off reference disc burner for professional studios.
For example, I was able to place the mixes at 16/44.1 kHz, 24/88.2 kHz and 24/176.4 kHz plus a six-channel surround mix at 24/44.1 kHz of the same song, one after each other (with a slight pause due to the format changes; same-spec files can be played back with no gap) on the DVD-R.
DiscWelder Steel is impressive application that quickly and intuitively allows the burning of a variety of files onto the same DVD disc. The fact that it does not import MLP files or a VIDEO_TS, for “Universal” DVDs is the major limitation that justifies the $2,000 price difference between Steel and Chrome. But Steel is a fine tool for all but the highest-end surround requirements.
Being able to play back and quickly skip between the same material mastered at standard and high-resolution formats makes discWelder Steel an excellent reference tool. It is also the most painless and convenient way to bring high-resolution tracks-in-progress and final mixes to listening environments outside the studio. Any living room with a DVD-A- compatible player will do!
Minnetonka Audio’s discWelder Chrome ($2,495) offers several advanced features not found in Steel ($495):
Allows importing of Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) compressed audio files, enabling the burning of six-channel surround recordings at 24-bit/96 kHz data.
Interfaces with Minnetonka’s SurCode MLP data compression software.
“Gapless” MLP audio file playback.
Hierarchy of selection menus
Up to 99 slide-show graphics to accompany audio tracks
Up to nine track groups per DVD (Album) with up to 99 tracks per group
VIDEO_TS folder import to create hybrid DVD-A/DVD-V formatted discs.