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Why high-resolution audio is an industry pipe-dream

Jonathan Seff | Sept. 5, 2013
The CEA wants you to think high-def audio is going mainstream. Don't believe the hype.

In a similar vein, the CEA has been pushing 3D HDTV at CES for years now with lackluster results. It's true that many HDTVs now come with 3D support whether you want that or not, but the content hasn't exactly caught on. Broadcasters who've dipped their toes in the 3D waters have pulled back, leaving 3D Blu-ray players and a few streaming services as the only real sources. And that's because 3D in the home isn't what the mainstream wants anymore than high-resolution audio.

The truth is that people have gotten used to convenience over sound quality. Yes, MP3 and AAC files undeniably throw away musical data in order to achieve smaller, portable file sizes. But that's a trade-off people have been very willing to make. iOS and Android devices can play lossless audio files, but download stores like iTunes and Amazon MP3 haven't even moved to selling CD-quality audio, so customers don't seem very likely to be looking for something better than CDs. As a colleague of mine put it, "consumer audio has become cheaper and crappier for so long that I don't know how [the CEA] will ever reverse that tide."

I love music, and services like HDTracks have built a nice business selling high-resolution audio to a small niche, while some bands sell better-than-CD-quality downloads of their live shows, but I fail to see a future in which the masses invest the time and money necessary to take audio to the same level as video in people's minds. Neil Young thinks that's possibly the greatest travesty since the 8-track, but sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.


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