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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
October 2000

The Universal Disc Player

Note to everyone waiting on a single player that will accommodate CDs, SACDs, DVD-As, and DVD-Vs: We're almost there. Sony used the CEDIA Expo in Indianapolis to introduce the new DVP9000ES, which plays DVD movies -- it's Sony's new top-of-the-line DVD-Video player and includes progressive-scan capability -- and SACDs. Kenwood, Onkyo, Panasonic and others showed DVD-Audio players, some as low in price as $1100 USD. With so many companies introducing players for next-generation discs, the new formats themselves become more viable. We should see more and more software rolling out, and it's then that we'll know SACD and DVD-A are here -- for now, at least.

What's more interesting, however, is the idea of a multi-format player. The new Sony model will play three of the four types of discs, and the Kenwood, Onkyo, and Panasonic players will do the same -- just not the same three. All of these companies know better than to stray too far from the DVD-V, which has been wildly successful. But it's obvious that one player can read SACDs and DVD-Video discs, so when will players capable of handling all four types of discs enter the picture? My best guess would be the next generation of players, whenever they appear, but only if SACD and DVD-A show that they have futures outside of audiophile circles. And for this to happen, prices will have to drop -- hardware and software prices -- and universality will have to be part of essentially every player sold. We'll have to have saturation before, not after, the money begins to roll in.

In situations like these, I often think of my sister, who would represent an average music consumer. She doesn't care about multiple channels -- she barely has room for two speakers, which stand at attention to the immediate left and right of her rack system -- but convenience is a must. She wants to buy a disc, pop it in, and have it play! What kind of disc she's buying is of little or no consequence -- she wants what's on the disc. To her, a lack of functionality is a big negative. It means her system "doesn't work," and it could disillusion her to the whole consumer-electronics arena because she can't simply push play and hear her music.

Another market segment is those potential buyers who already own a DVD-Video player, and it will take more than one bell or whistle to get these people to purchase something new to take the place of something older but still working. Adding progressive scan to the mix is a very good idea, as these potential buyers are into DVD for the movies to begin with, and the quality of the video image produced, but SACD and DVD-A decoding are nice perks too.

Finally, there are the oddballs -- audiophiles. Many of us have setups that will play 24-bit/96kHz software now, but we haven't taken the plunge into SACD territory (actual DVD-A discs are more scarce than hen's teeth) because we don't want to spend money that we will lose just to be early adopters. For us, a universal player will be a godsend -- provided that it plays CDs well too. We have too many CDs -- and too many still to buy -- to abandon the format. I guess if I were anxious, I would probably buy the Sony and Kenwood players, which together would have me covered. But then I'd always know we're only on the cusp of digital music's future -- and there's so much more to come.

...Marc Mickelson

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