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Audio Acronyms, Formats and Technologies - Does It Ever End?

by July 24, 2005

We have come a long way in consumer electronics and along the way we have had our share of formats, technologies and the acronyms to help us to remember them by. We're going to take a look at some of these and see if we can make some sense of it all.

Let's start with the first thing that was really an accessible and big home entertainment technology. That would of course be none other than A M radio or Amplitude Modulation, which is its proper name. Next came the television or TV as we know it and the "telly" as they say in the UK (which, incidentally, is an acronym but not a technology). Now with the advent of TV, we got UHF and VHF, which stand for Ultra High Frequency and Very High Frequency respectfully. See, this is fun and we're just getting started! Then came the phonograph, which actually preceded AM in the form of the cylinder and later the Victrola. However, it was the introduction of the vinyl record that really kicked things into gear.

With vinyl we got what? Surprise! Formats. We got the 78, 45, and the 33 1/3 or the LP as it was called. LP is an acronym for Long Play and 78, 45, and 33 1/3 designated the number of rotations per minute or RP M , which just so happens to be an acronym but not a technology. Later, when vinyl reached its zenith we got cool acronyms like MC and MM , which any common idiot knows stands for M oving Coil and M oving M agnet. Next came along tape - the first of which was reel-to-reel in various sizes. I do not know of an acronym for reel-to-reel but it was a technology nonetheless, unlike the UK , which is not a technology but rather a plain old acronym.

Somewhere in the midst of all this we got stereo or stereophonic, as it was really known. Prior to this everything was monaural (or mono for short). M ono, of course, is not an acronym - just an abbreviation for monaural. However, we can mention it because it is a technology unlike the UK , which is not. It's my article and my rules.

Now tape moved us along to Eight Track Tape or just plain old 8-track. Not an acronym but a technology for sure. We also got FM radio or Frequency Modulation, which unlike the UK is an acronym and a technology. QUAD or Quadraphonic made a brief appearance and tape evolved to compact cassettes or just plain cassettes. We then were exposed to Dolby, Dolby B, Dolby C, and later something called Dolby HX Pro. Those are cool sounding, huh? We even got DBX on few tape decks and that for sure is an acronym and a technology but there are few left who have any idea what it stood for. Feel free to Google it if you're so inclined.

About this time we were introduced to videotape for home use and a war erupted. This would be the war between Beta and VHS. Beta is short for Betamax and VHS is an acronym for Video Home System. This is especially cool because both are technologies, one is an abbreviation, and the other an acronym (I had no idea that is what VHS stood for until I Googled it). Also cool is the fact that JVC was behind VHS and JVC is an acronym for the Japanese Victor Company. Sony was behind Betamax but that is just some dude's name I believe. As this war was going on, two other technologies were emerging - one being CED or Capacitance Electronic Disc and the other being Laserdisc or LD. This is really really cool because both are technologies and acronyms. RCA was behind CED and Pioneer was behind LD. RCA, of course, is an acronym for the Radio Corporation of America . In the end LD won out over CED which subsequently withered and died.

Now we come to format of all formats, the one that changes everything. The CD or Compact Disc as it is known. CD is an amazing technology (and a very cool acronym). CD gave us still more cool acronyms such as AIFF, WAV, PC M , CD-R CD-RW and later HDCD. CD sales were slow to start but soon overtook LP and cassette by an exponential rate. LP soon died a much-needed death followed shortly by the cassette. With the success of CD we got another cool format and an acronym and it too is a biggie - the DVD or Digital Versatile Disc (which, incidentally was the Digital Video Disc before the DVD Forum realized its full potential and retrofitted its current name).

DVD ignited the home theater craze, wiped out LD overnight, killed VHS and even managed to extinguish a competing format called Divx. Divx (short for Digital Video Express) was neither a real acronym nor a very cool technology. Also, depending upon who you talk to, it appears that DVD is now putting a huge dent in the movie theater industry, to which the ramifications are still yet unknown. With DVD we got even more cool acronyms and technologies. We got MPEG 2, DD (Dolby Digital), and DTS (Digital Theater Sound). These of course had their roots in the theater but thankfully made it to the consumer level. Just as thankfully, SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) did not. Two competing surround formats are quite enough for consumer movie sound tracks. Somewhere among all of this was MD or MiniDisc and DCC or Digital Compact Cassette (which made a rather brief five-minute appearance before people realized that digital cassettes are only slightly less lame than analogue cassettes). DAT or Digital Audio Tape is still in use in the pro audio community, though it is almost extinct in favor of less volatile and less expensive solutions. There are also some other non-mainstream formats floating around such as VCD and SVCD but they are not very impressive technologies or very neat acronyms so we won't even mention them.

In the world of DSP (a very cool acronym for Digital Signal Processing), in addition to DD and DTS we got THX, DD EX, DTS ES, DTS 96/24, DTS Neo:6, Pro Logic II and Pro Logic IIx. All are cool technologies, acronyms or abbreviations. Whew! Is that it? No, there is still more to come. With DVD we also received some new music formats. We got DVD-A (DVD-Audio), and we also got SACD (Super Audio CD), which is a cool use of an acronym if you think about it. Integrated in and along with DVD-A and SACD we get even more cool acronyms and technologies. We get PPCM or Packed Pulse Code Modulation, MLP or Meridian Lossless Packing and DSD or Direct Stream Digital. All are very cool as acronyms and technologies unlike the UK which, while being very cool, is still just an acronym.

Now is that it? Nope! Let us not forget that in the grand scheme of television we have no less than 3 formats. We have NTSC (National Television System Committee), PAL (Phase Alternating Line) and SECAM (Sequential Color with Memory - but in French) . We also now have M PEG 4, H264, 480i, 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i and now 1080p. We have a war brewing for HD-DVD, BD, HD M I, DVI, DLP, LCD and Plasma (no acronym for that last one, but it's still a technology). Of course we should not leave out the various popular digital audio formats, such as AIFF, MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG and WAV.

So where does this all lead us? Just what does it all mean? And will it all ever end? I don't know, I don't care and I doubt it. But in the mean time, I am going to relax and enjoy my home theater, my music, and my beer (which incidentally comes from the UK ) and just try and keep up with it all.