Does anyone remember the term “Advanced Resolution”? A fellow UK-based engineer and friend reminded me of the original campaign for “better than CD quality” that the major labels launched back when DVD-Audio’s were introduced…around 2000. It’s not unlike the marketing and messaging for High-Resolution Audio that is happening now. In fact, it’s really a déjà vu kind of moment and is quite likely to have the same result.
The DVD-Video format was imagined and developed back in the 1995-1996 timeframe. It brought together the best of the multimedia CD developed by Sony and the Super Disc by Toshiba and Time Warner. This was the revolution that brought home movies out of the VHS dark ages, added widescreen video, surround sound and random access to chapters etc. It was a hit with consumers and VHS tapes quickly went away.
Then the DVD Forum targeted the audio CD for an upgrade. DVD-Audio essentially took all of the storage capacity and bandwidth usually allocated to the MPEG-2 video stream and gave it over to the soundtrack. The audio specifications were increased to 96 kHz/24-bits, 5.1 surround sound and even stereo at 192 kHz/24-bits! The labels got on board, the CEA had HD-Audio buttons at the CES Show that year, high profile press conferences were held (with mixed results) and producers and engineers were engaged to convert the existing libraries of the major labels to the new format. This was also the time of SACD…but I’m going to leave that format for another time…the “advanced resolution” branding only applied to DVD-Audio titles.
And there were a flush of them made available. The Doors, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Steely Dan and other front line talent had their existing albums remixed and remastered to the DVD-Audio format. The labels spend lots of money having this work done. It was the beginning of surround mixing and there were lots of interesting 5.1 presentations released on these discs.
The audio quality was called “advanced resolution”, which were recordings that were “better than CDs” (Sound familiar?). That meant that a 48 kHz / 16-bit upconverted CD could wear the “advanced resolution” logo (shown below).
Figure 1 – The Advanced Resolution logo used in the early 2000’s to identify improved audio quality on DVD-Audio titles.
Back in those days, high-resolution recording systems like Pro Tools HD didn’t exist. I had a very hard time finding equipment that could capture 96 kHz/24-bit PCM audio (I settle on the Euphonix R-1 and System 5 console). Lots of engineers were still using 2″ analog tape and traditional mixing consoles. It really didn’t matter because the albums that were remixed into 5.1 and released on DVD-Audio were albums that were already successful as CDs. They may have been remastered or even remixed but the fidelity remained that same as the original.
The world needed new productions that took advantage of the new specifications and new equipment. We got some new tracks/albums but not nearly enough. So the marketing departments and organizations that help generate interest in new consumer things labeled everything “advanced resolution”. It should come as no surprise that simply naming a standard resolution audio track “advanced resolution” wasn’t any more successful than calling everything “high-resolution audio” will be…especially since the HRA definition allows every recording ever made to wear the logo.
We can certainly do better…but only if the labels and organizations agree that some recordings…in truth, most recordings…cannot be called high-resolution. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be carefully remastered and made available as “Master Quality” tracks on high quality audio download sites. If we can just be honest about a definition, I think everyone will benefit.