DVD - Audio: Six Months On And Going Anywhere?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of Ian Morris, and not necessarily those of Michael D's Region 4 DVD Info Page. Nonetheless, Ian makes some very valid points in this editorial.

    Six months on from the official launch of DVD-Audio in Australia in June and it seems an appropriate time to ponder just where the format has gone in Australia in that time.

    To be fair, it should be made clear that my enthusiasm for the format has waned faster than I would have imagined and in my own mind I have to sort out why. So I beg your indulgence, for my sorting out of the reasons why my enthusiasm has waned may well indicate just where the format has gone in the last six months.

    You may recall that I came away from the official launch with a degree of pessimism over where the format was likely to go. Nonetheless, as soon as 4th June rocked around, I was searching for stores who were actually carrying the 20 titles that were supposedly now readily available for sale in this country. Nothing. Six months on? Nothing. None of the music outlets, both specialist and discount store, that I regularly frequent have indulged in the format (and as a side note, the continuing parlous state of music retailing is evidenced by one of those music outlets having closed in that period). Now I am quite sure that someone in Perth must be carrying the format but the fact remains - if I cannot see it, I cannot buy it. It is called instant gratification, and the lack of the product on shelves means I don't spend the money.

    Thank god for the Internet then - at least the discs will be found there, right? Well, yes but even then one is hardly overwhelmed by the number of Australian online e-tailers carrying the format. There are only two e-tailers that I regularly check out who carry the format and so far my entire collection of three DVD-Audio titles has come from one of those sources. Now that collection should have been four titles but for some reason that frustrated the heck out of the e-tailer, they could never get any stock of that fourth title - despite it being available by all accounts at the distributor's warehouse. In the end we just gave up trying to get it. Now if the product is supposedly available at the warehouse, why can't the e-tailer get it? Welcome to the wonders of music distribution in Australia - a system that has been designed with everything in mind, except getting the product from the warehouse to the retailer it seems. I am quite sure that your local music retailer can probably tell stories that would have you scratching your head trying to work out how anyone can operate a business that way. Simply put though, how do they expect to promote any new format if the distributors cannot supply product to the retailer, who then can sell it to the customer?

    One of the problems for the format in Australia has been that it is very much seen as a single hardware/software supplier - Toshiba and Warner Music Australia. On the software side of things, as far as I am aware there remains just the one local distributor. The only difference is that Warner Music Australia has pulled the plug on trying to do the distribution itself and has hived the task off to Warner Vision Australia. That is probably the best news the format could get for Warners in Australia, as Warner Vision Australia have a lot of experience with music DVD-Video and it would make sense to use their distribution network rather than try to create another one.

    To my knowledge, no other local distributor has yet taken the plunge with DVD-Audio. Universal Music would have been the next logical source, since they already have overseas affiliates with DVD-Audio in their catalogues, but I am not certain that they have taken the plunge at this time. Naxos have moved into DVD-Audio in Europe and I was told that they would be releasing at least one of those discs (the obligatory The Four Seasons by Vivaldi which I have seen very enthusiastically reviewed in Europe) before Christmas locally. Since I have heard nothing more about the copy I have on order, I am presuming that it has not made that date and will be released in the New Year. As for anyone else? Who knows. And so basically the format really has not thrown the impression of being a single software supplier format yet. Ultimately that has to be seen as a serious problem for the format.

    If anything, the hardware side of the story has even been more frustrating. Regrettably, I have never had much joy with Toshiba product and it is not a brand that I would normally contemplate (especially at the moment on the strength of the ridiculous "no black bars is good" theme of their adverts for their DVD-Video players). However the good news is that their combo DVD-Audio/Video players are generally very good and in the last six months have been dropped in price quite significantly - a trend that will hopefully continue in the new year. If that trend continues then the lower price should hopefully see greater interest in these combo players. But what else is out there?

    Two brands for me that stand out are Denon and Pioneer. I was very interested in the Denon 3300, a player that Michael D swears by, even at the price tag that matches the model number. So where do I find one of these gems? Head down to my local Denon dealer right? Here is the gist of the conversation:

I am interested in the Denon 3300

Don't have one

But can you get one?


How much is it?

Don't remember - hang on, I will find out (scrabbles around in their Denon file for the right page) $3,300

If I order one, how long will it take to get it?

Has to come from Sydney so if you ordered on Monday we would have it by Friday

But if I order one, what happens if I don't like it?

Sorry, but this is a special order item only - no refunds or exchanges

Is there any way of sampling one before ordering?

Well, I could see if the local rep has one...

    ...by which time I was so fed up with the whole way the conversation was going that I simply gave up. So basically I look at it this way - I am $3,300 better off than I would otherwise have been and in the light of four months further thought it turns out to have been the best piece of non-salesmanship I have ever experienced. The story with the Pioneer was pretty much the same.

    Basically, the players are hardly noticeable as available for sale and for the average punter the price is enough to cause apoplexy and the range not much better. Not even I am going to fork out $3,300 without having seen the player, listened to the player and watched the player. So if I cannot kick the tyres, you aren't going to light the fires. So I bought a car instead...

    So at the end of the day, I do have three discs but no player to play them on. Which seems a bit odd for a prime demographic target for the format - 40 to 50, male, single, and therefore having decent disposable income. An early adopter of CD way back when, in the first six days of switching to that format I had acquired 10 discs. By the end of the first six months I had over 200 CDs. Makes the (sort of) move to DVD-Audio look very sick indeed - even if I wanted to spend the money, there is simply not enough of a catalogue for it to happen. Of the 37 locally available DVD-Audios, there are only seven in which I have any interest either from a musical point of view or a performance point of view. Even if I stretched to the 144 titles listed on Digital Audio Guide (www.digitalaudioguide.com), there would be no more than 20 in which I would have any interest. Ultimately, that remains the reason that I see DVD-Audio as a format going nowhere, a format with no point and no direction - the silver disc version of DAT.

    The CD created a buzz because of what it was - that shiny little disc with near perfect reproduction every time instead of those 12 inch pieces of vinyl that were a dirt magnet, a sod to store and prone to damage from several sources. The CD was a no-brainer of an upgrade. It was universally embraced and music companies pushed to get as much product out as soon as possible on the format. DVD-Video was a similar no-brainer of an upgrade path - that shiny little disc with near perfect reproduction every time (DVD rot notwithstanding) instead of those VHS tapes that were a dirt magnet, started degrading the moment you started playing them and, lets face it, were not that good to look at most of the time. I had thirty DVD-Video discs before I had a player to play them on. Whilst some companies chose not to back the format initially, those that did did so with a great deal of enthusiasm generally. There is now no question that it is the format for digital home theatre and liable to be for a while.

    DVD-Audio unfortunately just lacks the buzz. It is not an obvious upgrade path, there are some concerns that the Audio is not actually as good as it should be (all DVD-Audio discs are watermarked and that digital watermark is not as transparent as it should perhaps be if you listen to some people's arguments) and there is the ever-present question of the cost of the discs themselves. So the doubts about the format I expressed six months ago remain very much the same today.

    Is it all doom and gloom for Warner Vision Australia as they take on the marketing of DVD-Audio in Australia? To be honest, I very much think so. Unless they get the retail price of the discs straight down to $30, I see nothing but an uphill battle to market the discs - and this in a CD market that has shown a strong tendency to Top 30 CD price points of $18.83 and $19.97 at the two big discount stores in the country. Be interesting to see how wrong I am in six months time.

© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
22nd December, 2001.