Science: I have heard the future - Justin Keery believes that the imminent launch of the DCC, or digital compact cassette, will revitalise the music industry's approach to tapes

SECOND-HAND shops abound with the remains of attempts by the electronics and recording industries to set new standards. Remember Betamax? Video 2000? More recently, how many bought the CD video? A couple of these turkeys have found a niche: Video 8 as a home-movie medium, LaserDisc and its derivatives in the embryonic multi-media industry.

Next month, Philips, the inventors of the cassette as we know it, will distribute demonstration copies of its possible replacement to selected British shops. On 1 September, the DCC, or digital compact cassette, together with the new DCC players, will go on public sale throughout the country. Only a year ago British people were being offered DAT (digital audio tape) and they hardly noticed. Does this new contender have what it takes to make its way on to the nation's hips, kitchen worktops and dashboards as well as into the exclusive racks of the hi-fi fiends? Or will it join the ranks of the techno-turkeys?

The designers of DCC appear to have done their homework, combating DAT's main problem: because DAT demanded such enormous data storage its mechanism had to be as complicated as a video recorder. DCC avoids this by cutting down the amount of data stored on the tape. Using signal processing technology not available when the CD was invented, the DCC recorder removes sounds that the human ear cannot distinguish. In a crowded pub, for example, although it would be impossible to hear what somebody two tables away is saying, a digital tape recorder would pick up the whole conversation. However, if you were to listen to the tape at home you still would not be able to make out the conversation because of the pub's background noise. In effect, DCC would record only the background noise and not the conversation.

This compression process is known as PASC (Precision Adaptive Sub-Coding), and was perfected using the 'golden ears' of the finest recording engineers as a reference, rather than machines. Suffice to say that an orchestral piece that had been through coding and decoding 100 times was still hard to fault in any way, and is beyond comparison with an ordinary cassette.

Your wrinkly cassette tapes, little changed since the Sixties, are safe, however. One side of a DCC head carries the nine tracks required for digital sound, the other side has two tracks that will play your old tapes astonishingly well, using new, thin-film head technology. The new tapes themselves are the same size but look very different.

When playing a DCC, the compressed digital data is converted to the same format as the digits read from a CD, so the final sound is rendered by chip technology that has matured over 10 years. The digital feed from a CD player can be connected to a DCC recorder, allowing you to make outstanding digital recordings which even copy the track-searching information that has made CD so popular. Of course, it is too good to be true, which is why every machine will be fitted with a Serial Copy Management System (SCMS). This will allow one digital recording, but an attempt to copy this to another machine would result in a rude message on your display, and an uncooperative record button. When recording from a non-digital source, the DCC can achieve higher resolution than CD by taking more digital 'slices' per second, each with greater detail.

The DCC is a natural for the karaoke party. An extra track on the tape holds pages of information in a form similar to teletext. The lofty Mozart cassette may carry a lengthy biography of the composer to browse through, but the Kylie Minogue DCC can offer time-synchronised lyrics on your TV, or on the LCD display of a remote control. Needless to say, the player can tell you what you are listening to and find tracks instantly using this information as well.

The offer of technical superiority and compatibility with existing tapes is still not enough to woo the public, however. Betamax may have been a superior home-video recording format, but it was better marketing by the VHS camp that secured the film industry's widespread support.

DCC's trump card is a Polygram factory in the Netherlands, tooled up to manufacture a wide range of pre-recorded material in time for launch. Such is the industry's determination to see the format succeed that Polygram will be manufacturing other labels' music (160 record companies are committed to releasing DCCs) until they get the duplication equipment.

The traditional head design makes high-speed duplication of pre-recorded DCCs as easy as ordinary cassettes. Duplicators will have to adhere to standards dictated by Philips that should ensure universal high quality. And because the technology is under licence and will be closely policed by the company, quality control should ensure that 'chewed' tapes are a thing of the past.

Because of the Walkman, we want music that goes anywhere. Because of the CD, our expectations of sound quality have risen enormously. Just as CDs revitalised the music industry as LPs went into decline, record companies are now betting on the DCC doing the same for the cassette.

The designers of the DCC appear to have taken everybody's views into account. Watch closely over the next couple of years - the technology involved is cheap, proven stuff, but the results are staggering. The projected launch prices look reasonable for a new black box of any kind, and ultimately there is every reason to expect a DCC portable to be cheaper than its CD counterpart - and that is well under pounds 100. I have heard the future, and it works.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit