Rival new disc systems get off to poor start in Britain: Battle between Philips and Sony fails to capture the imagination of the public

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The Independent Online
THE BATTLE between Philips' new Digital Compact Cassette and Sony's rival Minidisc system has got off to a feeble start in spite of the hype that surrounded their launch late last year.

Sales of either system have failed to impress retailers, although Minidiscs appear to have an edge. The competition between the two formats is seen as a key factor in deciding who will dominate the consumer electronics market in coming years.

DCC offers compact disc quality on tape. The equipment has the advantage of players that can play existing analogue tapes so that consumers need not throw them away and start again. DCCs can also be used for recording, although there are safeguards against pirating built in. The Minidisc is a smaller, recordable and robust version of the compact disc.

A spokesman for Virgin Records, now owned by Thorn EMI, said: 'We support both formats. We have a small catalogue available on both but we have sold very few. No one out there is saying they are going out in bucketloads.'

He said the problem was a combination of recession and general slowness in the UK for people to pick up on a new format, adding: 'When the CD was launched it represented a quantum leap forward in sound quality. But, although the new products may have a lot to offer, the sound itself is not a great leap forward.'

During a busy lunchtime at Virgin's Megastore in Oxford Street no one was perusing the range of pre-recorded Minidiscs and DCC cassettes, both priced at around pounds 14. Latest weekly sales figures showed Minidiscs doing better than DCC - only four discs had been sold in that week but that was better that DCC sales, which the store declined to reveal.

A spokesman for the store said that the maximum number of Minidiscs to have sold in any one week was 10 and that, again, DCC fared worse.

Sales of blank Minidiscs, which cost pounds 8.99, have also proved dismal, according to the spokesman.

He said: 'It is going very badly, to be honest. I sell as few as one blank Minidisc a week, which in a store this size is pathetic.'

At HMV the picture for minisdiscs was rosier. The company claimed that Minidiscs have been selling 'quite well' but would not give figures. DCC had not been so good, but were improving.

One Oxford Street shopper, art and antiques expert Philip Zusolms, was clutching several conventional CDs and confessed to having bought a DCC player shortly after the launch. His verdict was: 'DCC is not better than CD - I think you lose a bit in depth. When you record a CD on to DCC it is not that good. But DCC is very good for recording old jazz records.'

At one of Dixons' central London stores, staff confessed to believing that the equipment - both DCC and Minidisc - was still too expensive. Dixons is starting to stock DCC players. Prices range from from pounds 499.99 to pounds 999.99. The chain already sells Minidisc walkmans at about pounds 500.

Both Philips and Sony say that sales of hardware and software are encouraging and in line with expectations. Although no figures are available, it is claimed that they are doing better than the compact disc did when it was launched 10 years ago. In the first year of sales in the UK about 300,000 CDs were sold.

Philips has the support of many hardware and software manufacturers for the DCC systems and believes that this, and the ability to play old tapes, are crucial to success. The company also says that sales elsewhere in Europe are better than in the UK and DCC has been well received in Japan.

The British Phonographic Industry has as yet no trade delivery figures yet for DCCs and Minidiscs. These should be available soon.