Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Happened To DualDisc?

Remember when records were a big deal (the first time) and they had a B side that allowed you to flip them over and play more music? Well a few years ago a group of record companies including EMI Music, Universal Music Group, Sony/BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and 5.1 Entertainment Group decided to release a type of double-sided optical disc that was like the record except it was a CD on one side and a DVD on the other. It was called DualDisc.

DualDisc is a double-sided optical disc product developed by the record labels mentioned above and it first appeared in the United States in March 2004 as part of a marketing test conducted by the same five record companies who developed the product. The test involved thirteen titles being released to a limited number of retailers in the Boston and Seattle markets. The test marketing was seen as a success after 82 percent of respondents to a survey (which was included with the test titles) said that DualDiscs met or exceeded their expectations. In addition, 90 percent of respondents said that they would recommend DualDisc to a friend. DualDisc titles received a mass rollout to retailers throughout the United States in February 2005, though some titles were available as early as November 2004. The recording industry had nearly 200 DualDisc titles available by the end of 2005 and over 2,000,000 units had been sold by the middle of that year.

So what the hell happened to them?

I remember attending a NARM convention with my mother in 2004 when they were introducing DualDisc. One of the swag gifts we were given featured this technology – it was a Dave Matthews album with their new music on one side and a concert DVD on the other. We were told the technology was going to revolutionize the record business.

Unfortunately, after graduating college in 2006 I’ve hardly seen DualDiscs. Were people just not that into a DVD on the other side of the disc or were they just not interested in watching a concert DVD at all? Or maybe it was too confusing for people to grasp – had we had been so trained to play the “correct” side of a CD that the idea of turning it over to a B side like a record was too unnatural to get used to? I hate to think that as a music-loving society we couldn’t handle the dual pressure so why has this format disappeared?

The challenge for the designers of DualDisc was to produce a dual-sided disc that was not too thick to play reliably in slot-loading drives and not too thin to be tracked easily by the laser inside the player. Engineers have tried to get around this by making the pits in the CD layer larger than on a conventional CD making it easier for the laser to read. The downside to this, however, is that the playing time for the CD layer of some early DualDiscs decreased, from the standard 74 minutes of a conventional CD to around 60 minutes.

Besides the loss of 14 minutes, the biggest issue was probably these two warnings that no one wanted to deal with:

1) “This disc is intended to play on standard DVD and CD players. May not play on certain car, slot load players and mega-disc changers.”

2) “The audio side of this disc does not conform to CD specifications and therefore not all DVD and CD players will play the audio side of this disc.”

The fact that a customer might be purchasing something that might not work in their various CD and DVD players was a gamble and quite frankly a pain the in ass. Why buy something that comes with warnings that are pretty much telling you that the technology isn’t going to work?

I’m hoping that record labels (or someone, anyone) figures out a way to make the DualDisc technology perform that way it should. I believe that given the proper technology we could get used to flipping discs again.

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