Ma è interessante soprattutto il punto in cui David racconta del risultato del suo personale rilevamento effettuato chiedendo ai suoi di centomila (100.000!!) follower su Twitter di raccontare la loro esperienza con HD Radio. All'appello hanno risposto in sedici. Cinque di loro affermano di aver messo da parte la radio digitale acquistata perché ascoltare le radio di tutto il mondo con iPhone è più divertente. La conclusione? Una tecnologia molto bella e ben funzionante, ma con poche - sorprendentemente poche - possibilità di successo.
April 9, 2009
State of the Art
HD Radio Crying Out to Be Heard
By DAVID POGUE
Q: How do you make an HD radio executive bang his head against the wall?
A: Ask him, “What’s HD radio?”
The HD radio alliance has spent millions of dollars on promotion, ads and educational efforts. Yet even after four years of this, most people still don’t have any idea what HD radio is.
And no wonder. You can’t sum up HD radio in a one-line movie pitch (“It’s ‘Forrest Gump’ meets ‘The Terminator’ !”). It takes a couple of paragraphs to explain it. Back in the mists of time (2001-ish), the big bosses of AM and FM were freaked out by the imminent arrival of satellite radio. Satellite was going to offer hundreds of stations, better sound, no fading of stations as you drove from city to city and music channels without any commercials at all. So the big bosses decided to fight technology with technology — and they came up with HD radio. The whole thing simmered along in relative obscurity for several years. But in the last few weeks, a series of milestones and current events have aligned to make HD radio worth another look.
First, the thousandth American radio station began broadcasting alternative “multicast” channels in HD (more on this shortly).
Second, the hundredth HD radio model went on sale. And finally, Sirius XM, the ailing satellite radio company, narrowly escaped having to file for bankruptcy.
All right, then, once and for all: What is HD radio?
It’s a digital broadcast that’s cleverly blended in with the analog AM or FM signal that you already get. Same stations, paid for by the same ads, but upgraded for superior digital sound. What the ads say is true: AM stations sound like traditional FM (most are even in stereo), and the FM channels sound like a CD. There’s no static, ever. Better yet, about half of HD radio stations are taking advantage of multicasting: separate, different FM broadcasts — shadow channels — beamed out on the same frequency. They permit radio stations to experiment with niche, experimental and even interactive programming, usually commercial-free. WCBS-HD, an oldies station in New York, for example, has two shadow HD channels: one playing ’80s hits and one that’s a better-sounding version of the AM news channel. And get this: all HD radio broadcasts are free. Take that, $13-a-month satellite! O.K., so if HD radio offers so much and costs so little, how come nobody’s heard of it? How come fewer than a million people have tuned in? One reason: confusion. It took years for the public to grasp satellite radio — and now we’re trying to sell people on yet another kind of radio? (The name doesn’t help. According to hdradio.com, HD does not stand for high definition; “it is simply the branding language for this new technology.”)
Those cool shadow channels are confusing, too. You have to tune in the primary channel first. On some radio models, a “multicast” icon appears on the screen, if shadow channels are available. Then you hit the up/down tuning buttons to find the multicast channel. Try explaining that to Granddad.
HD radio also requires an HD radio receiver. Or, as HD radio’s tagline puts it, “If you don’t have an HD radio, you’re not hearing HD radio.” (Is that an advertisement — or a disclaimer?) These radios aren’t especially expensive, but the setup can be intimidating to Mr. and Mrs. Average Person. Tabletop HD radios go for $75 and up. Thirteen car companies, mostly small ones, offer option packages that include HD radios. You can add an HD receiver to your existing car, too ($200 and up). There are no pocket HD radios.
I tried out HD radios at three points on the price spectrum: Jensen’s JiMS-525i ($75), Sony’s XDR-S10HDiP ($150) and Polk Audio’s I-Sonic 2 ($350). All double as iPod/iPhone docks and alarm clocks; like all HD radios, these also get regular AM-FM stations. They’re all great-looking and polished; HD radios have steadily improved year after year.
The marketing doesn’t lie: HD radio really does sound better than regular radio. AM loses the tinniness. FM gets richer and deeper. You notice the difference instantly if you hear the before-and-after versions of the same channel — in the online demo at hdradio.com, for example. That’s also why the Polk radio’s design is so clever: when it tunes into an HD radio station, it first plays a couple of seconds of the regular station before kicking into HD. That way, you keep saying, “Wow, what a difference! Sure glad I bought that radio!”
Without the side-by-side test, though, you’re not so aware of what you’re missing. An HD radio’s screen identifies the station, song title and performer (as some FM radios do now). My test models also offer song tagging: if your iPod is inserted in the radio when a good song comes on, you can press a Tag button on the radio. Later, when you sync the iPod with your computer, that song’s information shows up in iTunes, so you can remember that song and (of course) buy it. It works flawlessly. All three of these radios come with substantial AM and FM antennas. The FM one is a six-foot, T-shaped cord that you mount on a wall — not the greatest décor enhancement, that’s for sure.
Even then, tuning in HD stations is slow — scanning takes several seconds each. Worse, the number of stations can be limited in your area. Digital radio is like digital TV: as the signal gets weaker, you don’t get static — you just lose the station altogether. In my Connecticut town, I pulled down four fantastic-sounding FM HD radio stations — but not a single AM station or multicasting FM station. Those stations didn’t appear until I tried again closer to Manhattan.
To get a wider sampling, I asked my 100,000 Twitter followers if they’d tried HD radio. Sixteen people responded. A dozen wrote that they love the audio quality and, in particular, the variety of those shadow (multicast) FM channels. Half of them complained, however, about reception problems like “hunting,” where the radio switches back and forth between the HD and regular versions of a channel. Three respondents work in the radio industry. All three expressed doubts about HD radio’s survival. They cited the cost for radio stations to outfit themselves for HD broadcasts, and for consumers to buy the radios.
The biggest worry, according to one radio guy, is the concept. What draws radio customers isn’t sound quality, it’s programming. Take satellite radio: it’s not the audio fidelity that draws an audience, it’s those 300 (mostly commercial-free) channels — featuring the likes of Howard Stern, Major League Baseball, Martha Stewart and others, as well as dozens of narrowly programmed music stations. HD’s multicast channels could fulfill much the same mission, but these days, few stations have the money or manpower to work on HD channels. That explains the five Twitter pals who independently mentioned that they listen to Internet radio more than HD radio these days, especially on the iPhone. It may not sound as good, but wow, what programming — radio stations from all over the world, all available free.
On the face of it, HD radio is more exciting than it’s getting credit for. Plans include traffic reports on the radio screen and special pay-per-view audio events. And HD radio still offers local news and views. Satellite channels are generally national. The numbers look good, too. Two thousand radio stations are now broadcasting in HD, 70 car models are available with built-in receivers. But the number that counts — people actually listening to HD radio — is shockingly low. Unless the economy turns around, unless satellite goes away, unless reception improves, unless HD gets a reputation for great shows (and not just great sound), HD may have a tough slog ahead.ndependently mentioned that they listen to Internet radio more than HD radio these days, especially on the iPhone. It may not sound as good, but wow, what programming — radio stations from all over the world, all available free.
On the face of it, HD radio is more exciting than it’s getting credit for. Plans include traffic reports on the radio screen and special pay-per-view audio events. And HD radio still offers local news and views. Satellite channels are generally national. The numbers look good, too. Two thousand radio stations are now broadcasting in HD, 70 car models are available with built-in receivers. But the number that counts — people actually listening to HD radio — is shockingly low. Unless the economy turns around, unless satellite goes away, unless reception improves, unless HD gets a reputation for great shows (and not just great sound), HD may have a tough slog ahead.