The major players are tuning up for the next audio revolution.
Molders, engineers, artists and stereo makers are betting that audio digital versatile discs are about to take off, eventually replacing compact discs as the new high-definition standard for recording and listening.
And later this year, luxury carmaker Acura joins the crowd, installing DVD audio as a standard part of one of its TL sedans.
``The car is the perfect environment for this,'' Elliot Scheiner, a Grammy-winning recording engineer, said Aug. 4 at the auto industry's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City. Scheiner teamed with Panasonic Automotive Systems Co. on its ELS Surround Sound system set to debut in the Acura in October. ``You don't have the issue of how people are going to set up the speakers. It's an enclosed space.
``It's the car that determines how we deliver the music. All the marketing research says that when people are asked where do you listen to music more, in your home or in your car, the answer is the car.''
The switch further will support a DVD system that already is overtaking videocassette tapes, prompting manufacturers like Cinram International Inc. to bulk up production.
``We see it all going to DVDs eventually,'' said Jacques Philosophe, executive vice president of operations for Scarborough, Ontario-based Cinram. ``Within a year or two, you will see much more out on the market.''
Cinram recently expanded DVD capabilities at its Ipswich, England, manufacturing site - previously dedicated to videocassette production - following up on a 62 percent boost in DVD sales for the company's first quarter of 2003.
The firm also recently inked an agreement to buy the DVD and CD manufacturing and distribution business of media giant AOL Time Warner Inc. for more than $1 billion.
Audio DVDs, like CDs, begin from a basic injection molded polycarbonate disc, but are encoded with more information, increasing their overall value. So far, audio DVDs have sold to consumers for about the same price as CDs.
As CDs were an improvement over previous audio formats, DVD audio is poised to take the digital revolution further. It is designed specifically for the multispeaker, surround-sound systems now coming of age both in homes and cars, said Tom Dunn, business manager of marketing and new business development for Panasonic.
Scheiner and other engineers taking advantage of the advanced technology embedded in the discs can isolate specific sounds to place an echo from Queen's ``Bohemian Rhapsody'' in a rear speaker or make it possible to discern individual guitars out of the orchestra of 16 in the Eagles' ``Hotel California.''
``You're maximizing the equipment that is available out there,'' Scheiner said.
It is like when stereo systems first came on the market, he said, and music fans could hear the sound bounce from side to side. But now, there are six channels.
Most upscale cars already have multiple speakers, Dunn noted. Drivers exposed to the potential of audio DVD through their cars probably will seek out the audio systems and the discs themselves.
``If there are more DVD players on the market, that's good for us,'' Philosophe said.
DVD players also can play CDs, although major music fans may want to seek out upgraded recordings of their favorites to get the full impact, potentially boosting that production.
Scheiner is involved in re-engineering previously released music for DVD audio releases, including recordings by the Beatles, Eric Clapton and REM, providing new sounds to classic albums.
And there are more than audiophiles backing the switch to DVD. Music companies are pouring money into the systems because they are - so far - immune to copying. Sales of CDs have dropped more than 30 percent as computer-savvy listeners download music from file-sharing systems on the Internet. DVDs are expected to draw many of those customers back into stores.
``If this doesn't take hold soon, there won't be a music industry,'' Scheiner said. ``It can't survive as it's going now.''