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Thursday, September 07, 2006


HD Radio: too little, too late-DOA

"Face it, folks...when you add it up, HD Radio as a platform will never be competitive with satellite or Internet radio on a value for value basis for the end user."
Your observations about the strange disconnect between industry spin and the realities HD radio is facing are all correct, but you politely stop short of the obvious conclusion: HD is DOA.
The only reason it has gotten this far is that such an amazing amount of time and money has been invested in it by iBiquity, with support from radio industry stakeholders and receiver manufacturers.
Many radio folk were skeptical from the beginning. Promoting HD as a quality upgrade (source of the HD moniker) was obviously bull — the typical Internet music stream is already higher quality than HD and can be upgraded easily as deliverable bandwidth gets cheaper. HD reminds me of DCC (Digital Compact Cassette), another attempt by a mature industry to administer life support to a sunset format. That didn't work either, and today almost no one even remembers it.
Promoting the increase in channels on HD sounded good until the usage reports came in and it became clear that with an IBOC system there really wasn't enough additional bandwidth on AM and FM to do the job properly. The U.S. really needed microwave digital radio spectrum like they got in Europe, so new radios could simply add a band. And nobody really figured out where the money would come from to staff and operate those new channels at an effective level, even if they actually worked technically.
And then there was the little matter of the hardware upgrade...it might have had a shot if the Internet wasn't evolving several orders of magnitude faster, the FCC approval happened three times faster, the manufacturers were more agile, and the public had a clear reason to do it. But of course none of these conditions were met and today we still have the ~$500 standalone HD radio and the ~$250 upgrade fee for a new car radio."

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