Hi-fi anxiety

By Barry Fox SONY and Philips launched their new Super Audio CD system in Japan last week—only to be met with criticism from rival Matsushita that a key feature of SA-CD could inconvenience consumers. The feature in question is the ability of an SA-CD format disc to play on the 600 million CD players already in use round the world. Sony and Philips see this as a major selling point, and is made possible by SA-CD’s use of a hybrid disc that stores both a standard CD recording and a higher fidelity SA-CD recording. This is economically important as music companies only want to release one type of disc. But Matsushita says that its own experiments show that up to 200 million of the existing CD players may not play the hybrid discs, which store the two recordings at different depths. The lower layer is a conventional CD recording adhering to the “Red Book” standard for CD. The upper layer conforms to the new SA-CD standard and is made of semi-reflective material, like a two-way mirror. The laser optics in a standard CD player are designed to focus on the lower layer, ignoring the semi-reflective layer. But Matsushita claims that not all CD players do this. Matsushita wanted to use hybrids with DVD-Audio, its rival super hi-fi format which will be launched worldwide this year. But its engineers found that the laser optics in existing CD players may detect a semi-reflective layer, fail to make sense of it, and eject the disc as unplayable. So the firm abandoned the idea of making their new format compatible with CD players. But David Walstra, general manager of Sony Europe says properly configured CD players will have no problem with hybrid discs. “We are 100 per cent certain that hybrid discs will play on players if they conform to the Red Book CD standard—we can’t speak for other manufacturers,” he says. But Ted Abe, head of Matsushita’s audio group, says many existing CD players do not exactly match the standard. Abe says:
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