Sunday Oct 21, 2007

How to burn high resolution DVD-Audio DVDs on Solaris and Linux (And it's legal!)


This weekend I've burned my first DVD-Audio DVD with high resolution music at 96 kHz/24 Bit.

It all started with this email I got from Linn Records, advertising the release of their Super Audio Surround Collection Vol 3 Sampler (Yes, targeted advertising works, but only if customers choose to receive it), which is offered in studio master quality FLAC format files, as a download. Gerald and I applauded Linn Records a few months ago for offering high quality music as lossless quality downloads, so I decided to try out their high resolution studio master quality offerings.

The music comes as 96kHz/24 Bit FLAC encoded files. These can be played back quite easily on a computer with a high resolution capable sound card, but computers don't really look good in living rooms, despite all the home theater PC and other efforts. The better alternative is to burn your own DVD-Audio and then use a DVD-A capable DVD player connected to your HiFi-amplifier to play back the music.

There's a common misconception that "DVD-Audio" means "DVD-Video" without the picture which is wrong. DVD-Video is one standard, aimed at reproducing movies, that uses PCM, AC-3, DTS or MP2 (mostly lossy) for encoding audio, while DVD-Audio sacrifices moving pictures (allowing only still ones for illustration) so it can use the extra bandwidth for high resolution audio, encoded as lossless PCM or lossless MLP bitstreams. Also, note that it is not common for regular DVD-players to accept DVD-Audio discs, they must state that they can handle the format, otherwise you're out of luck. Some if not most DVD-Audio Discs are hybrid in that they offer the content stored in DVD-Audio format additionally as DVD-Video streams with one of the lossy DVD-Video audio codecs so they can be played on both DVD-Video and DVD-Audio players.

 

Now, after having downloaded a bunch of high-res FLAC audio files, how can you create a DVD-Audio disc? Here's a small open source program called dvda-author that does just that: Give it a bunch of FLAC or WAV files and a directory, and it'll create the correct DVD-A UDF file structure for you. It compiles very easily on Solaris so I was able to use my Solaris fileserver in the basement where I downloaded the songs to. Then you give the dvda-author output directory along with a special sort file (supplied by dvda-author) to mkisofs (which is included in Solaris in the /usr/sfw directory) and it'll create a DVD ISO image that you can burn onto any regular DVD raw media. It's all described nicely on the dvda-author How-To page. Linn Records also supplies a PNG image to download along with the music that you can print and use as your DVD-Audio cover.

And how about iPods and other MP3-Players? Most open source media players such as the VideoLan Client (VLC) can transcode from high resolution FLAC format to MP3 or AAC so that's easily done, too. For Mac users, there's a comfortable utility called XLD that does the transcoding for you.

Here's common misconception #2: Many people think AAC is proprietary to Apple, mostly because Apple is heavily advertising its use as their standard for music encoding. This is wrong. AAC is actually an open standard, it is part of the ISO/IEC MPEG-4 specification and it is therefore the legitimate successor to MP3. AAC delivers better audio quality at lower bitrates and even the inventors of MP3, the Fraunhofer IIS institute treat AAC as the legitimitate successor, just check their current projects page under the letter "A". Apple developed the "Fairplay" DRM extension to Quicktime (which is the official MPEG-4/AAC encapsulation format) to be able to sell their iTunes Music Store as a download portal to the music industry. Fairplay is proprietary to Apple, but has nothing to do with AAC per se.

As much as I love Apple's way of using open standards wherever possible, I don't think it's a good thing that their marketing department creates the illusion of these technologies being Apple's own. This is actually an example of how AAC suffers in the public perception because people think it's proprietary where the opposite is true.

How is the actual music, you ask? Good. The album is a nice mixture of jazz and classical music, both in smooth and in more lively forms, great for a nice dinner and produced with a very high quality. Being a sampler, this album gives you a good overview of current Linn Records productions, so you can choose your favourite artists and then dig deeper into the music you liked most.

There's one drawback still: The high-res files available on the Linn Records download store are currently stereo only, while the physical SACD releases come with 5.1 surround sound. It would be nice if they could introduce 5.1 FLAC downloads in the future. That would make downloading high resolution audio content perfect, and this silly SACD/DVD-Audio/Dolby-TrueHD/DTS-HD Master Audio war would finally be over.


P.S.: A big hello to the folks at avsforum.com who were so kind to link to my previous high resolution audio entry!

 

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