Blu-ray Audio: gimmick or game-changer? http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2013/Dec13/
Posted by John Quinn on December 9, 2013, 11:09 am
Dan Morganís characteristically well-informed and thoughtful piece on Blu-ray Audio (BD-A) is, I would suggest, required reading for anyone interested in investigating this latest audio innovation. Recently, I had the chance to experience BD-A for the first time in the MusicWeb Listening Room and was amazed by the enhanced sound; a report on that listening session will appear very soon on MusicWeb. |
However, though what Dan has to say about sound quality is excellent news thereís also a good deal of very worrying comment in his piece. Firstly, itís a major concern that the record labels donít seem able to agree on a common format for BD-A. I understand, of course, that they operate in a competitive market. However, itís also a very challenging market with sales of CDs in decline. Surely it shouldnít be impossible for the labels to get together and, in the interests of their customers, agree some common standards. Once thatís been done thereís plenty of scope for them to compete against each other on quality of product and value for money.
The second major issue concerns the Blu-ray players and the fact that most, if not all, players currently on the market have no display panels beyond a simple display showing the time elapsed on the track that is playing. The industry seems to have got it into its head that they are selling to one market only, namely home cinema enthusiasts. If this is so may I respectfully ask if any serious market research has been done to substantiate this belief for Iím far from sure that itís the case? Of course, there will be music lovers, especially opera fans, who either link their TV to their hi-fi system or are content to have Blu-ray sound through their TV or home cinema sound system. Dan is absolutely right to say that home cinema systems have very different characteristics to hi-fi audio systems; I have a home cinema system but if I were to buy, say, the BD-A version of War Requiem I wouldnít want to play it through that system. I suggest that the home cinema and audiophile markets are quite distinct.
I have been pondering an investment in Blu-ray for a little while but my TV and hi-fi are not linked Ė itís simply not feasible, given the layout of my lounge Ė and thereís no prospect that I can link the two in the future; indeed, I donít think Iíd want to do so. Therefore, the fact that one can only access the full menu of a BD-A disc either through oneís TV or by setting up a separate monitor linked to the Blu-ray player is a major barrier. Surely it wouldnít be difficult Ė or add significantly to costs Ė to equip Blu-ray players with a decent small display screen which is built-in?
The benefits of BD-A are potentially huge; music lovers will find that the sound from the new medium is a significant advance on anything theyíve heard before. There are two ways of looking at BD-A: some see it as a fad that will soon wither while others think it could be the next Ďbig thingí in audio. At the moment, having experienced the vastly enhanced sound, Iím in the latter camp, albeit with reservations. I donít believe that BD-A is ever going to be more than a niche market but, with well-thought out marketing that niche could be made quite substantial because serious music lovers who want to hear their music in superior sound are out there, ready to be convinced. However, in my view the producers of Blu-ray equipment and BD-A discs need to smell the coffee, consider their customers and address the two issues Iíve mentioned as a matter of urgency. A little bit of co-operation at this early stage between the hardware manufacturers on the one hand and the software (i.e. disc) producers on the other could be a really wise investment on their behalf. If they can make it as easy as possible for consumers to invest in BD-A then they could really reap the benefit of a lively and competitive market place.