Convergence. We knew it would happen. In fact, a lot of talented people have been hard at work to make it happen as soon as possible. But, be careful what you ask for, you may get it. Most thought the two final obstructions, throughput and real estate, were all that stood between expectation and bliss, with DVD (digital versatile disc) being the next solution. We are now no longer on the verge of convergence. We are converged. And we're up to our hips in media and content management.
The jump from a CD's measly 650MB quarter-acre lot to DVD's 17 GB of prairie farm surely should provide more digital acreage than we could think of using, at least for a while. But just like the truism, "you can't have enough inputs or tracks," the work in progress on the Travis Tritt triple-platform DVD may have filled the space to the point where disc management is a concern. Triple platform, in this case, refers to DVD-Video, DVD-Audio and DVD-ROM partitions, all on the same two-sided disc. The DVD-Audio and Video portions will be playable on your new DVD player; the DVD ROM portion will be playable on your computer's DVD drive. Currently, the ROM part of the disc is being programmed for PC machines, with every attempt to be compatible with Macs.
David Newcomb is director of DVD services for Henninger in Arlington, Va. His background at NB Digital Solutions, a development and engineering company making DVD-ROM and DVD-Video titles for corporate, government and military clients, has served him well now that he sits in the DVD hot seat. "Before I came to Henninger, we did the corporate demo for Toshiba and Panasonic for their DVD-ROM products. Henninger's got the ability to do just about anything under the sun for audio, film and video. We also have a multimedia group at Henninger in Nashville that works on Enhanced CDs and CD-ROM. They had already done a multiplatform CD release for Reba McEntire with screen savers, virtual 3D photographs and a custom Web browser."
Newcomb says that because the DVD spec supports a wide range of capabilities and offers up to 17 GB of storage, the opportunity for evolving multiple audio presentations became obvious. "Henninger has both a DVD-Video facility and a multimedia group," he says. "That gave us the ability to produce DVD titles that include content and programming for computers, as well as for DVD-Video players. In the summer of '98 Sonic Solutions informed us of the developments they had made in DVD-Audio, a product called HD Studio. We used it on this Travis Tritt project, although Sonic Solutions didn't announce the product until AES [in September 1998]. As far as I know, at the moment, Sonic Solutions is still the only software/hardware provider with a high-resolution solution for DVD-Audio."
Newcomb says connections other than technical still had to be made before the project started. "Our job was to provide the information to the label and artists about what could be done. Henninger Elite Post had a long-standing relationship with Warner Bros. in Nashville. They were both involved in a proof-of-concept trial. We contacted Warner Bros. and said that we had a unique project in mind. They seemed to be very excited about it. The more we talked, the more ideas and the better direction we got before we started. The tools and format and content were there; the 24/96 audio for DVD-Audio, live performance for DVD-Video and music video content for DVD-ROM. Sonic Solutions also helped us with connections at Hank Williams' MasterMix in Nashville, where the Travis Tritt audio was remastered at 24/96." Newcomb says that even though Henninger has a wide range of services, including audio, he felt MasterMix's expertise in high-resolution mastering was invaluable.
Remastering of the original 1/2-inch 30 ips Travis Tritt 2-track masters was done on an ATR 102 with extended LF heads. The analog portion of the chain consists of an Avalon AD2077 Class A mastering EQ and Manley Variable Mu compressor. The digital chain consists of a Prism Dream AD-2 A/D converter at 24/96, a Daniel Weiss digital EQ, level and compressor (formerly known as the Harmonia Mundi BW102), and a Sonic Solutions High Density DAW. Williams' expects the final mix to be delivered on DLT (digital linear tape) or an Exabyte.
With the DVD-Audio angle covered, Newcomb turned to the DVD-Video portion of the disc, and questions arose about how to mix surround for the live performances. "That's new to the consumer and to the professional and has been the biggest variable in the project," Newcomb says. "We did what we thought was a very conservative surround mix for the AES show. It was very subtle. The comments ranged from 'beautiful' to 'butchered.' It is sort of similar to what we have seen with compressed video streams. Some videophile purists can't stand it, others think it looks fantastic."
The DVD-Video portion is based on concert footage with multicamera angle options for the viewers, and will be mixed in Dolby Digital by Henninger's Tom McCarthy on one of the Arlington facility's AMS/Neve Logic II systems. The audio and video will be input to a Sonic Solutions system with DVD Creator video and audio encoders and DVD Producer. Unlike with CD-ROM, the higher throughput and disc capacity allow for full-screen and full-motion MPEG2 video. While opinions continue to be gathered, the decision on whether to do every song in one or more surround versions has yet to be made. At this point, there will be a number of cuts that will be mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 at the Henninger facility in Arlington, in addition to a 24/96 stereo mix of every song. Newcomb says the bit budgeting process may force the rear surround channels to be recorded at 24/48, while the front channels remain in 24/96.
According to Roy Giorgo, director of interactive services at Henninger Nashville, the Tritt DVD is a step up from the CD-ROM Henninger did for Reba McEntire. "At this point, one whole side is DVD-Audio," he explains. "The DVD-ROM and DVD-Video are partitioned on the other side of the disc. I think there will be six hours of video on that side. There's more interaction due to the green-screen video we shot with Travis. He'll explain the disc and dodge buttons and screens. He'll direct you to the enhanced stuff, where to go to see his videos, how to connect to his Web site, and how to get T-shirts and other merchandising. The DVD-ROM partition also includes some 48kHz audio from D2, from three older music videos. The audio will be converted to 44.1 kHz when it's put on the disc."
Giorgo says that as of November, they were still working on the DVD-ROM video material. "We are teetering on how to present DVD-Video," he admits. "When we started this, everybody had to go MCI (Media Control Interface) because there were no compatible DirectShow drivers for the DVD drives. But now over half of the drives in the market are DirectShow-compatible. The DVD-ROM portion will be in the mUDF Universal Data Format, compatible with virtually all mainstream operating systems. David Newcomb and his team will create the master on their Sonic System. I'm not sure how they will create the partitions."
More pieces of the puzzles-both the evolving DVD market and the Travis Tritt project-will have come together by the time this article reaches you. Within a year's time, all of what's still being figured out will seem old hat. What's interesting is that everyone in the project is very aware that the goal is content and providing an enhanced listening and viewing experience for the consumer. It is, after all, they who will have to feel compelled to throw down the dollars for a DVD playback system for home, and maybe one for the car.
While there are reportedly well over a million DVD players in the market already, the universal DVD players won't be due out until sometime in 1999, most likely for Christmas. That will be key in the triple-format's acceptance, because they present a single product for consumers. The current plan is for universal players to be able to play all forms of DVD, including DVD-Audio, which means the user can listen in the car and listen and watch at home. That DVD player, of course, will also play all of those outdated CDs. Well, they'll be outdated as soon as the auto sound industry is ready with 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS DVD solutions for the road. Hopefully, they won't forget the heavy-duty alternators to keep your ignition system from shutting down when the "1812 Overture" cannons explode.
What's very clear is that audio-only facilities are already beginning to find themselves having to become more familiar with video and images as a result of DVD's introduction. If you're running an audio facility and are experiencing increasing pain in the pineal region, the cause is not fluctuations in barometric pressure, it's nature's way of telling you to stick your face into the maelstrom of DVD before it converges and leaves you in its dust.
Reach Ty Ford at www.tyford.com.