Sony, Toshiba, Matsushita Announcements Raise Clouds Over Future of DVD Audio

Tokyo. Sony Corp. yesterday confirmed industry speculation that it will not introduce DVD players until next spring. Sony blames the delay on the looming initial scarcity of software.

The DVD format is touted by many as an eventual replacement for CD’s, videotape, and CD-ROM. The discs are the same size as CD’s, but they are capable of storing as much as 14 times the amount of digital information.

Sony’s decision follows more positive announcements earlier in the week by Japanese makers Toshiba Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., and Hitachi Ltd.

Toshiba says it will market two DVD models in October or November, in time for Christmas shopping in both the U.S. and Japan. One of the Toshiba units will play both CDs and DVDs, while the other will be equipped for karaoke.

Pioneer will market two DVD players in October, one compatible with CD’s and the other with laser discs. Parent company Matsushita plans to announce a Japanese sales date and pricing at a news conference today. And Hitachi still plans to introduce an unspecified lineup of DVD players by the end of the year.

According to Sony spokesman Masanobu Sakaguchi, disputes about copy protection have delayed the production of software, as well as the DVD players. “We believe that was a reasonable business decision,” he said. “You can’t do business just coming out with the hardware.”

The DVD format is also hobbled as a vehicle for audio recordings by the lack of an agreed standard. Dolby’s AC-3 is specified for surround sound accompanying video. But there are currently several proposed standards for independent DVD audio, including 24-bit resolution with 96 kHz sample rate, 24-bit 88.2 kHz, and 16-bit 44.1 kHz.

The bottom line: don’t expect to see much movement on the DVD Audio front for quite some time.