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A Closer Look

DualDiscs Are Uneven but Hold Promise

By Daniel Greenberg
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page F07

In the age of MP3 downloads, some record labels are trying to make the CD exciting again in a new way -- they're bringing back the vinyl-vintage custom of flipping over a disc to get a second helping of content.

That's the idea behind the DualDisc format. One side plays in regular CD players, just as a standard album does. But flip it over and you can pop it in a DVD player to see and hear the extras on that side -- usually, a surround-sound version of the album, plus videos, lyrics and sometimes a copy of the album to store on your computer or digital-music player.

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These discs are easy to spot in practice: Like dual-sided DVDs, they have no printing on either side, except for right around their center. This can make it hard to tell which side is the CD and which is the DVD, or even what album you're holding (some discs have used white letters on an off-white background).

A group of record labels developed this format, and the first such discs went on sale in early November. About 50 titles are available featuring a diverse group of artists -- AC/DC, Diana Krall, Miles Davis, Yo-Yo Ma. John Trickett, chief executive of 5.1 Entertainment Group, a firm backing DualDisc, said about 30 new titles will ship each month.

Most DualDiscs sell for about $19, although some are discounted to $14 or $15.

Even for music fans, the lure might be the DVD side. To judge from a grab-bag of discs sent by one major and one minor label (Sony BMG and Silverline), what they'll find there can be all over the map.

In most cases, the DVD side starts with an enhanced copy of the album in 5.1-channel Dolby Digital surround sound. On most current home-theater systems, that will provide a level of immersion that can make you feel like you're sitting in the middle of the stage.

Some DualDiscs, however, also add a rarer, audiophile format called DVD-Audio; to hear this ultra-hi-fi sound, you'll need a special DVD player.

Then come DualDiscs' non-music extras, which can vary in quantity and quality just as widely as the bonus bits on DVD movies.

Video features included documentaries, tour rehearsals, interviews and self-indulgent, amateur vignettes. (Look! Watch the musician hang out and play pool!) In only one case, David Bowie's "Reality," did we find any new and lengthy video content: interviews mixed with video performances of four songs on the album.

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