Digital vinyl systems (DVS) were developed to allow a DJ to physically manipulate the playback of a digital audio file on a computer, using a standard turntable or CD deck as an interface. Digital vinyl systems retain the hands-on feel of real vinyl whilst allowing the playback of digital music that is not available on vinyl. They allow the DJ to scratch and perform other tricks that would not be possible with a conventional keyboard or mouse.
DVS systems use special time-code vinyl or CD control disks. Audio output from the time-code disk is first routed to an A2D audio interface (usually supplied as part of the DVS package), which then sends a digital time-code signal to the software. The software then converts the signal into corresponding changes in the position and playback speed of the digital file. Audio output from the software is then routed back through the audio interface or computer soundcard and then to a DJ mixer where it can be mixed in the same way as any other audio signal.
The length of delay between the reading of the time-code signal and the audio playback is a measure of performance of a digital vinyl system. A typical delay is usually in the range of 6 to 30 milliseconds.
The most popular DVS packages on the market now are Serato Scratch Live (SSL) and Native Instruments Traktor Scratch Pro. Scratch Live is the most popular system in the US, whereas Traktor Scratch is more popular in Europe.
There has been some controversy as to who actually invented the digital vinyl concept. The first ever digital vinyl system was FinalScratch for the BeOS. This system was developed in 1997/1998 by an Amsterdam-based company called N2IT, with input from DJs Richie Hawtin and John Aquaviva. However, hip-hop star RZA from the Wu Tang clan has claimed in an interview with KotoriMag.com that it was actually he who invented the digital vinyl concept, the year before N2IT, using space-age technology from NASA and millions of dollars of his own cash.
From next year, 2011, it has been announced that the DMC World DJ Championships will now allow the use of Serato Scratch Live as well as traditional vinyl.