DVD-Audio is the format developed by the DVD Forum to replace CD as the standard media for consumer music distribution and to meet the ISC requirements for the new generation of audio distribution media. In that arena, it competes with SACD.
The main audio program can be delivered in MLP or LPCM. Sampling rates can go from 44.1 to 192kHz. Bit depth can go from 16 to 24bits. Stereo or multichannel.
DVD-Audio can use very strong cryptography (CPPM), and it has been impossible to break it so far.*
DVD-Audio can be played on special players. Interestingly, if you try to play it on a PC, it'll only play at full resolution if you have a Creative Audigy sound card. If you have another sound card, it'll play at 44.1kHz and stereo. The reason for that, as rumoured, is that the playback software decodes at full resolution directly into the soundcard if it's an Audigy. That nullifies programs like Total Recorder that capture the decoded stream before it's sent to the hardware.
For backwards compatibility purposes, some DVD-Audio discs offer an AC3 or LPCM stream that can be decoded on any DVD Video player.
DVD-Audio's future looks grim at the moment. It didn't become nearly as popular as its creators expected, and CD sales are still strong. Some possible explanations to that could be:
- Players are usually expensive
- People aren't interested in replacing their current CDs with "higher quality" DVD-Audio
- Due to strong encryption, customers can't extract audio data - E.G, to convert to CD to playback at the car player or a discman, or to convert to MP3 to play on a digital audio player like the iPod
- Few people own equipment where the theoretical added quality would make a difference
- Usability. Why choose a DVD-Audio disc that only plays on the living room stereo, when you can buy a cheaper CD with practically the same perceived audio quality that plays on the living room stereo, the car, the discman, the computer, at your friends home...?
And, last but definitely not least,
- People are very happy with CD
Another problem with DVD-Audio is that, since it supports multichannel audio, a lot of companies who repackage older recordings now believe they have an obligation to use the surround capability - so they make a "special remix" of the old recording, and potentially mess everything up, despite the theoretical extra audio quality they were pursuing.
- A very nice introduction to DVD-Audio at Disctronics
- DVD-Audio sales went 20% down from 2003 to 2004, according to these RIAA statistics.
* There are some tools floating around the web called "DVD-A_tools" that can rip DVD-Audio titles using WinDVD.