In our recent Optical Storage coverage from Computex Taipei, we were very excited to hear about BluRay set top devices sampling in late 2005. BluRay and HD-DVD have some time before they start battling it out as the next accepted DVD Video (DVD-V) successor, but in the meantime, high fidelity audio format wars already began several years ago. As of now, the two strongest formats are DVD Audio (DVD-A) and Super Audio CD (SACD).

Above, you can see how various existing audio formats compare in terms of bandwidth.

While little known outside enthusiast high fidelity circles, SACD and DVD-A media are already shipping. As you may have guessed, DVD-A is simply higher fidelity audio written to DVD media instead of CD. However, DVD-A has a data rate of almost seven times that of an audio CD. This allows us to encode/playback more channels at higher frequencies and bitrates. DVD-A supports five-channel audio while CD uses only two.

Sampling Frequency
Stereo 44.1kHz 96kHz 96kHz 192kHz 2822.4K 192kHz
Multi Channels - - 48kHz 96kHz 2822.4K 192kHz
Quantization Bits 16 bits 20 bits 16/20/24 bits 16/20/24 bits 1 bit 32 bits
Still Picture Recording No - Yes Yes No -
Media Player
CD Yes - - - Yes -
DVD-V Yes - Yes - - -
DVD-A Yes - Yes Yes - -
SACD (Hybrid) Yes - - - Yes -
Encoding Methods PCM - PCM, DD PPCM/LPCM DSD -
Max. Data Rate 1.41Mbps 12Mbps 6.144Mbps 9.6Mbps 16.8Mbps 48Mbps
DSD - Direct Stream Digital
PCM - Pulse Code Modulation
PPCM - Packed PCM (Lossless)
LPCM - Liner PCM (Scalable)

Azalia, Intel's 8-channel digital audio codec, raises the bar significantly over the aging AC'97 codec. Although Azalia (and other derivative codecs) apply more channels and higher stereo frequency, the most conspicuous feature is a data rate four times that of AC'97. Similar 8-channel audio solutions from VIA will also utilize similar bandwidth and bitrate specifications.

With the newer 8-channel audio codecs, we will be able to listen to multiple DVDs with 5.1 channel audio while operating VOIP/telephony/modem devices on the same digital signal processor (DSP), completely unhindered. Using AC'97 based solutions (including the nForce2 Soundstorm MCP), playing two DVD's with stereo audio is not possible.

Although the newest Intel Alderwood and Grantsdale chipsets have multiple downfalls, audio processing is not one of them. On paper, Azalia audio puts AC'97 to shame and gives VIA's Envy processor a good run for the money. Although many of us will defend our M-Audio cards to the death, perhaps new, integrated hi-fi codecs will raise the bar of the enthusiast market even closer to professional grade audio.

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  • KristopherKubicki - Tuesday, June 15, 2004 - link

    I have two ears and HD-600s. I think audio was meant for 2 channels :)

  • CoZMoSiS - Tuesday, June 15, 2004 - link

    What no one has mentioned about the prospect of multi channel audio is really quite significant. I think it's safe to say, that probably at least (at a guess) 98% of people who will be interested in it will have far from an ideal listening room.

    If you think about it, the reflections and aucoustic resonances created from music coming from that many speakers would at the end of the day sound far worse than a well set up 2 channel hifi system. Unless someone is willing to go the the length of acoustic absorption and diffraction in thier room i fail to see the benefits of multi channel audio, it would just create a 'mess' of sound.

    I consider myself a bit of an audiophile, i have some simple acoustic dampening on the walls of my listening room etc. but i can safely say there is no WAY i'm going to move to multi channel audio any time soon, the prospect of 192kHz 2 channel is far more inviting to me.
  • jliechty - Monday, June 14, 2004 - link

    #19 - I tried that logic in another news comment somewhere around here... making a statement that either expressed or implied that this stuff has no way of competing with the likes of Aardvark, M-Audio (their pro cards anyway), MOTU, etc. I'm fairly certain it was me that Kris had to take a personal st@b at with his comment about "defending M-audio cards to the death." But I'm sorry, like it or not, a 24/96 pro card will still whip your 32/192 integrated setup's derriere, unless the motherboard manufacturers suddenly stop scrimping on DACs and such.
  • Pariah - Monday, June 14, 2004 - link

    "While little is known outside enthusiast high fidelity circles, some DVD-A media and sampling are already shipping. Mitsubishi's newest line of DVD players uses the processor that supports DVD-A."

    Unless I'm missing something here, you seem to be implying that DVD-A hardware and software is just reaching the market. Both DVD-A and SACD has had hardware on the market since 1999 from major electronics companies. These formats are not new at all and there is plenty of music available in both formats.

    Don't get the Mitsubishi line either. Almost every DVD player sold for over $100 today supports DVD-A. There is no DVD-A "processor", just as there is no CD audio processor. There's nothing to decode except the encryption and then the digital signal is converted to analog for playback.
  • DAPUNISHER - Sunday, June 13, 2004 - link

    "$.75 codec + $1.00 PCB + same noisy PC power supply = ???" That is the problem with any new audio standard I've been told. Unless this formula is improved on then "you only get out of it what you put into it".

  • Koing - Sunday, June 13, 2004 - link


    Becuase hardcore people will buy it first and enjoy it with their crazy setups. Eventually this will get cheaper and 'everyone' will have it. Then comes something else which the hardcore people can get their hands on. Then the cycle repeats.

    Everyone with cheap 32" widescreen tv's a few years ago anyone? No didn't think so but it is cheap now.

  • CaptainSpectacular - Sunday, June 13, 2004 - link

    kristopher - point taken.

    btw, is the 8 channel azalia stuff designed to be used for 7.1 audio? or is the 8th channel a full bandwidth channel with a separate sub channel? or is it 8 channels total that can be used flexibly? (is that a word?)
  • KristopherKubicki - Sunday, June 13, 2004 - link

    CaptainSpectacular: All arguments made when we moved from cassette to compact disc. If it doesnt cost us any additional premium, does it really matter?

  • madgonad - Sunday, June 13, 2004 - link

    Eight bloody channels (who really has that many speakers hooked up to their system?) and bloated bandwidth that provides detail beyond the ability of human hearing to discern. Why do we care?
  • CaptainSpectacular - Saturday, June 12, 2004 - link

    ultimately, i think for the vast majority of people, SACD and DVD-A are simply going to be ways for music to be presented in surround sound. I find it unlikely that the majority of the market is going to be able to hear the difference in sound quality, just like most people think MP3's sound just as good as CD's. in fact, i think a large portion of the people buying this technology won't even have an audio system good enough to even reproduce the improved sound quality.

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