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Weekly AUDIO NEWS for July 23, 2002

Universal Music Dropping Opera on CDs in Favor of DVD-V - Sometime next year Decca, DGG and Philips will discontinue the release of new complete opera recordings on CD sets and issue only video opera productions on DVD. Opera collectors are already making the switch on their own, as sales of opera DVDs are matching the demand for operas on CD and even occasionally out-distancing them. Opera as theater comes thru with an unmatched impact via the excellent image quality and sound of DVD. Though many of the first releases are the same as were issued on both videotape and laserdisc, with only a 4:3 image and mono or stereo, the improvement of both picture and sound put the DVDs in an entirely new context. (I recall a local Tower store once set up a large section devoted to music laserdiscs - primarily operas. Just a few months later the entire section was gone due to almost no sales. But DVD is a different story.) Newer productions are enhanced for 16:9 widescreen with 5.1 surround sound (such as those reviewed in our AA DVD-Video section most months). Another major advantage of DVDs - especially for opera newbies - are the optional subtitles; you won't find that on CDs!

New All-In-One Chip for Camcorders - Chip designer Divio Inc. has introduced a new integrated digital chip that allows videocam manufacturers to offer a single-chip codec capable of natural motion 30 frames per second (NTSC) or 25 (PAL), top-quality MPEG-4 video, high fidelity AAC stereo audio, and up to 4 megapixel digital still camera functionality. Included are 64 Kbps to 2 Mbps video functionality, 24K to 48K user-selectable audio sample rates, and user-selectable still image compressional ratios. Known as the NW901, the chip will allow consumer camcorders to boast more features, be more compact and at lower cost.

HDTV Struggles Continue - The May deadline originally established for all U.S. telecasters to be on the air with DTV transmissions at least part of the time has long passed, and of course many stations didn't make it. On the other hand, the networks have announced more DTV programming (not all of it actual high-definition) for the fall. Mitsubishi Digital Electronics - the biggest supplier of big-screen TVs, and HDTV's biggest supporting manufacturer - has announced it would discontinue making analog sets. They peg this step to their strong belief that by April 2006 all of the nation's TV stations will stop broadcasting analog signals, as scheduled originally. Mitsubishi estimates that we will reach critical mass by the end of next year, with most U.S. households able to receive DTV (if they have a set, that is). "HDTV-grade" RPTVs will account for an estimated 70% of the big-screen market this year, and prices are falling fast. Big screen HDTV now costs less than comparable NTSC big-screen sets cost in l997. Many of the newer models feature integrated DTV tuners, meaning you don't need to buy a digital set-top box to decode HDTV broadcasts. And for those with "HDTV-ready" sets who have resisted buying the separate decoder, a new generation of improved decoders (with greater resistance to the multipath problem) will be introduced late this year.


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