After talking to fans over chats and reading message boards, it became obvious a lot of them haven't been explained what a DVD Audio is. So let me put on my teacher's robe for a while…
You all know DVD's. They contain movies or concerts in digital video and audio forms.
But just as what everyone calls CD should actually be called CD-A (audio), these DVD's should actually be refered to as DVD-Video, as their primary function is to store image data.
But there are other types of DVD's. One of them is DVD-Audio. This format, along with competing Sony's SACD, is supposed to represent the future of CD.
It's important to understand that DVD only refers to the format of the disc (12cm) and the size of all the 0's and 1's on it. It has nothing to do with what's actually inside those 0's and 1's.
More precisely, unlike the CD-A which had a fixed sound resolution that allowed them to be played on any CD player, DVD's only have to respect a minimal standard and therefore can contain various standards. As a matter of fact, they most often contain the same data in different resolutions to let everyone use formats compatible with their tastes or equipments.
And then there was DVD Audio !!!
Ever trying to sell us new stuff, the Industry people have developped a new encoding format which goes beyond the regular DVD Video (which already went beyond the CD we all use) : the DVD Audio.
Still on the same 12cm disc, this format can only be read by specific players.
Nevertheless, as it's always risky to introduce a new standalone format on the market, these DVD-A also include 'lower quality' data fully compatible with our current DVD players.
The DVD Audio is supposed to be the state of the art way of reproducing audio but it may contain visual data, such as lyrics, biographies or whatever content manufacturers may wish to include onto that huge storage medium.
In short, this thing is not quite a DVD, contains more than audio, and regular DVD players will read them but they will be unable to play the best part of it.
How satisfying is this ? Not very I'm afraid but the worst is yet to come :
Today I received the DVD Audio version of ELV1S 30#1 Hits. This was my first DVD-A so the mere fact of holding it in my hands was exciting enough for me to wait about an hour before unwrapping it.
Then I was very disappointed to notice that the 24-page booklet was the exact same one as the one included with the CD version.
The only difference being a little two-sided glossy leaf placed over the booklet : the front displays the same cover with a black background to stand out from the CD version and the back features some brief explanation about the content of the disc.
I placed it into my DVD Video player not knowing what to expect, since there was no indication of sound format, apart from the fact that it would 'play on DVD players but not in car stereos' and that it had been 'mixed in 5.1 surround sound' (which to the format-aware guy doesn't mean a thing).
It's a bit like being sold an expensive bottle of 'wine' without being told its origin, its year, barely if it's red or white !
Halleluja : the DVD-A did play on my regular DVD player !!!!
I only checked a few songs and I can testify that it does brings more space and clarity to the songs, providing that you have a pretty good system and spent enough time setting it up properly....
You will find song-by-song reviews on many Elvis sites, so I am not going to dwell here.
I have my doubts as to what a track that was originally recorded in mono (or with mono in mind) can gain with a so-called 5.1 mix, but it's so rare to see Elvis in avant-garde products that I will not put the release down.
And numbers like Burning love or Suspicious minds are definitely worth an ear....
Apart from the occasionnal odd placements, instruments seem to occupy both a more defined spot and more space in the sound image. They seems to fill the room a lot more than on conventionnal stereo mixes and there will even be details you never heard before on those very tracks you thought you knew by heart.
However easy it may be to add effects to a mix to make it flattering without actually adding anything musical or artistic to it, I am still unsure of the validity of such an approach.
But it remains true that the songs are more than pleasant to listen to and that there is great risk that one might end up finding the regular CD mixes rather flat after that experience.
As to the packaging itself, it is quite disappointing : no real booklet of its own, no DVD menus, no reference to an actual DVD Audio layer and no extras of any kind are included (a bit like the first DVD's 5 years ago !).
You've all heard of the few outtakes : they are in plain stereo and not always complete.
While it's nice to have them, they can't compare to what you usually get on a regular movie DVD (bios, unused scenes, trailers, interviews or even a picture gallery!).
I had to go and get information on some DVD sites to be assured that my copy was not a budget release and that there IS an actual high definition (2 to be accurate) version of the songs to be played on DVD Audio players only.
I have yet to wait until I receive my new Pioneer player to tell you if changing gear is worthwhile and I will keep you posted if reactions show I'm welcome to.
In the meantime, don't get me wrong: I did enjoy that release and you probably will too.
I think it goes as far as engineers can go with Elvis recordings and if you have good equipment, you'll love it !