August 2007

DVD Chronicles:

Digital Video and Audio Historical Perspective

By H. L. Siddons, JR

Category: Consumer Electronics

UPDATED: We look at consumer electronics, more specifically, DVD

DVD or Digital Versatile Disc is the next generation storage medium promoted by both the computer and music industry as the eventual replacement for the CD, the CD-ROM and even the laser disk and VHS tape. This format was conceived jointly by Sony-Phillips, the same corporate duo that developed the compact-cassette in the sixties and the Compact Disk in the eighties, as well as the relatively unsuccessful DCC (Digital Compact Cassette).

A Personal Historical Perspective - History of Compact Disks and CD-ROMs

In 1979, I read in an article published by the Popular Science magazine about a new medium that would use lasers to play back music, more specifically, digital music, from a 5 1/4 inch silvery disk. Featured in their popular What's New section, they reviewed a Sony prototype of a compact disk player (which had a list price of around $10,000 at the time). The promise of this new technology was a quantum leap in audio reproduction, distribution and ease of use. Of the major features, the most remarkable was the virtual elimination of surface noise such as scratches and nicks that can easily be associated with vinyl (we most all of us still remember records and LP's, right?) and the expansion or extension of the range of sound frequencies that could be recorded and played back, close to studio quality (limited to digital recordings of course). I made a mental bookmark to revisit this new technology when it finally arrived on the market for the consumer...

Well, in 1983, I purchased Sony's and the world's first commercially made model, actually the worlds first CD player, the CDP-101 for whopping $850! Today you can buy a comparable player for under $100! (us technophiles always pay premium prices to be first)

(See at in action here on YouTube) cdp101.jpg (47293 bytes)

It worked flawlessly, but had little in the way of features (at least compared to the players of today). At the time, only a handful of CD's were available and they sold for around twenty to twenty-five bucks. What was truly remarkable was the sound quality I witnessed on the digitally recorded classical Telarc CD that featured COPLAND: Fanfare, Rodeo & Appalachian Spring: the drums pounding even through my humble speakers sounded so realistic. I still have one of the first SONY/CBS CD produced for the medium, Billy Joel's 52'nd Street.

Well, I quickly told friends and relatives of my discovery and relished in demos of my new toy. Surprisingly, many thought my purchase and divergence to be dubious and perhaps hasty (not to mention frivolous). Some pointed out 8-track tape and quadraphonic records as parallel possibilities. But I stood my ground and intuitively knew this medium would storm the industry, so much so that I made a prediction that within five years, the CD would stock 50% of the inventory of record stores and departments! History shows I was just a tad too conservative, because by 1986, records and LP's were in the minority at these places and by the end of the decade you were hard-pressed (no pun intended) to locate records at all. Today the music CD is as ubiquitous as the record was fifteen years ago.

Back to 1984 and forward: I was hooked. Eventually CD's were coded with 3 letters, like DDD or ADD, which informed the consumer as to how the CD was recorded or pressed. Before long, I had begun a 12 year quest to replace my vinyl and now have over 300 CD's, and have purchased/owned five new players since then, two of boom box genre, and one in my 1994 car (factory installed). I still have my original Sony CDP-101. I wonder if it is a collector's item?

Another byproduct of the CD revolution (along with MTV), was the revitalization of the music industry as a whole which has benefited enormously.

In 1985 having already jumped upon the CD craze, I read about using a CD player and CD as a peripheral for static storage on a computer. This was using existing technology but different storage standards and requirements. CD-ROM or CD - Read Only Memory promised over 600 MB of storage that a computer could access. The possibilities were endless. In 1986 I bought CD-ROM: The New Papyrus, published by Microsoft. In 1987, I ventured out again and bought my first CD-ROM, an Amdek (Hitachi) from Sears for over $900!

Once connected to my computer I could now buy new disks like Microsoft Bookshelf (still available today) or Microsoft's Programmer Reference (which included all of the documentation for most all Microsoft developer software) and now known as the Microsoft Developer Library. What was really remarkable about having virtual books on CD was the search/find and bookmark capabilities; I also could cut and paste snippets of source code! This capability mirrored the Windows help design and foreshadowed the World Wide Web.

Well, I felt the CD-ROM would proliferate much faster than CD, but this time I was too optimistic. It's taken almost ten years for the CD-ROM to become an expected and required peripheral, but the implications are remarkable: computer games and multimedia both fostered and benefited from the CD-ROM and today it is replacing floppy disks as the preferred distribution medium for software installation.

As the speed of CD-ROM has approached over 8 times, improving performance, the music CD has remained relatively unchanged.

DVD Video

But as with many technologies, there seems to be built-in obsolescence. You cannot record (prior to 1996) on CD's (at least not the average consumer), and storage breakpoints have reached saturation (600MB is relatively small), since new applications - both computer and video are vying for more space and are gluttons for gigabits: Enter DVD!

DVD has remarkable features which practically guarantee success: MPEG 2 video, over 4 GB of storage (17 GB max) and the future compatibility with recordable DVD a.k.a DVD-RAM. Once the DVD-RAM players and software becomes available, we should see steady replacement of current video formats including laser disk and videotape (VHS), with a slower replacement of the current generation of music Compact Disks which DVD is backward compatible with. In the PC/computer arena, the first generation CD-ROMs will experience a similar fate into the next century. However, the DVD-RAM, may be incompatible with the first DVD units available.

The latest DVD news is that industries concerned with copy protection (music, movies, software, etc.) have finally agreed upon a scheme, which paves the way for the first players to hit the streets in 1997...

I recently witnessed my first demonstration of a DVD system at a local consumer electronics store. The Panasonic DVD-100/300 series playing a demo version of "Twister" was unimpressive compared to Laser Disk quality, but an obviously digitally recorded video tape reproduced on a DVD disk was remarkable.

Finally, I have just purchased the Pioneer DVL-700, a DVD/LD/CD combo player. I now have both Twister and Blade Runner which I bought at the only place in Orlando that sells/rents DVDs (also laser disks), LASERIFIC.


1997 PREDICTION: Computer based DVD units and software will explode this year and grow exponentially into the next century, while audio/visual units for TV/stereo will grow at a more moderate rate, not replacing CD's, Laser Disks or VHS tape until DVD-RAM establishes itself when the next century begins...

Latest DVD news and updates

1998 Update:

str-de915.gif (9461 bytes)I now have roughly 75 DVD's in my collection, and bought a new tuner/amplifier, AC3 (Dolby-Digital 5.1), the Sony STR-DE915 (see at left), several new Bose 701 speakers, so I can enjoy the full 5 channel surround sound we all experience in theatres.

2000 Update:   I now have over 100 and DVD's now rule!  They have by-passed laser disks and are catching up with VHS. Today all major film producers are releasing new and old movies and you can rent them at BlockBuster.  Players can now be had for under $300.  Most DVDs sell for around $19.95 but can vary from $14.99-27.99 depending on studio and features.

2001 Update: I now have almost 125 DVD movies - you can check my entire DVD collection as listed at my DVD Profile website DVD Profiler is both an online/offline database that provides a great way to track what DVD's you own or would like to buy. Check it DVD Profiler out at InterVocative Software.  You can download a free version as well as Premium edition for $25.00.  This is one of the best applications I have seen in a long time and my only wish is that there was a CD Collection version!

The new DVD format became the fastest growing consumer format product of all time!

Last year, my Sony STR-DE915 as mentioned above died (it had a tendency to run hot). I now own a new Sony STR-DE945 which boasts DTS (the DE915 did not have), 110 watts per channel, an LCD remote and overall better performance. With the Klipsch KSW-10 Sub-woofer I got, the bass finally comes through in all it's glory: this is what the .1 in 5.1 stands for (the sixth speaker).  The system with some DVD's really gets the walls shaking!    

Next generation DVD and CD:

DVD-Audio debuts

  Panasonic DVD-A7 

This year, 2000, DVD-Audio has debuted!  This new audio format could be the next generation for music CD's!   I took the plunge and made another upgrade paying $500 for a unit that MSRP is $1000.  The composite output now provides better pictures on my RCA MM 36100 and even existing CDs shine and sound better.  There are only a handful of DVD-audio CDs out there, and although I have sampled a few, I have yet to purchase one.  More on this new DVD spin-off later...

SACD Audio from Sony, a competitor to DVD-Audio debuted in late 1999. In 2002 I obtained a reasonably priced second generation model, the DVP-NS500V. In addition to 5.1-channel SACD playback, the player also provides decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS (through its 5.1 analog out).

2003 Update:

SACD Audio from Sony

SACD comes in several formats. Traditional stereo, 5.1 multi-channel, and a hybrid of those and CD compatible, meaning the disk can play on a regular CD.

Although not as many releases as DVD-Audio are available, Sony/Columbia and a few other labels are contributing to a growing catalog of SACD releases. In fact in March of 2003, EMI will release a hybrid SACD of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.  Releases of the entire Rolling Stones and the Police catalog have come out as well.

In fact, you can play most if not all of the DVD-Audio discs on any SACD player and you will get the DTS/Dolby Digital version in all its glory.  Of course you would need a DVD-audio player to get the full resolution.  However, you cannot play a SACD disk on a DVD-audio player unless it is the hybrid format, which is plays just the CD version.

A hybrid that would play both DVD-audio and SACD would be the ultimate player, but they run close to $1000 in 2003.  Perhaps when come down below $300, I will get one. 


2006 Update:  HD-DVD and Blue-Ray battle

High Definition DVD's are the next evolutionary step for the DVD platform and two major formats/implementations are vying for dominance: HD-DVD and Blue-Ray Disc.  An HD-DVD player from Toshiba should be available for around $500 in March 2006.

DualDisc is a relatively new hybrid CD/DVD format that has come out in the last few years.  This is a competitor to SACD by major record companies and has been more successful. In most cases a DualDisc consists of a regular CD on one side, and a DVD audio and/or video on the other side providing added value releases.

2007 Update:  Denon Hybrid DVD-audio/SACD combo player

In 2003 I mentioned that I would not buy a hybrid DVD-A/SACD player unless the price was reasonable. The Sony SACD I had no longer played the SACD's with the 6 channel sound so I decided to look into getting a replacement that would also replace my aging Panasonic DVD-A player. 

I found the Denon DVD-1930I for around $350 which was pretty reasonable. And the player does an admirable job at playing both formats.


Other DVD Links

DVD-Audio specification

DVD-Audio Preview - find out what DVD-Audios are available

DVD Forum

DVD Information

DVD Review

DVD Demystified and DVD FAQ

DVD 101 and Then Some - TechTV

DVD Angle

DVD Forum

DVD Revolution (PC Computing)

DVD Info a comprehensive site worth looking at with just about everything you would want to know. FAQ a Frequently Asked Questions page on DVD. Also diehard DVD fans should frequent the USNET group


DVD Replaces CD, VCR - ABC News One Day It May Replace Your CD Player, VCR and Disk Drive DVD Could Rock Your World

Special Report: DVD-Day Arrives - ZDNET 8/2/1998


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