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April 23, 2014

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01/08/07 Is HD Ready For Prime Time?

I excitedly tore open the box of my new Boston Acoustics Receptor Radio HD. Though I had heard HD Radio at NAB conventions, I had not experienced it in my local market as a consumer. Once I got the radio set up and strung the antenna along the window of my 10th-floor office, I fired that baby up.

As I tuned around the dial, I wasn’t sure where to find the HD channels. Of course I never bothered to read the manual, which later informed me of the “HD” indicator light on the display that tells users when they’ve locked onto an HD station. I hadn’t noticed this tiny indicator due to my less-than-perfect vision.

Before reading the manual I went to HDRadio.com and looked up my local HD stations. It would have been a good idea to offer this information in a big, bold statement on the radio packaging: “To find local HD Radio stations, log on to HDRadio.com.”

Though I know all the background about HD Radio from articles we’ve published and discussions I’ve had at industry events, I tried to pretend I was an average consumer when I plugged it in. Sadly, the consumer experience was a letdown. Even after reading the instructions and tuning to the list of HD stations, it was a little confusing. The listing on the website showed the frequency of the main HD station, and listed its sideband channels as “HD1” and “HD2.” I was able to receive the 10 HD stations listed, but finding the HD2 multicast channels was difficult.

Of the 10 stations, which all listed HD2 channels, I was only able to tune in to the two multicast channels offered by one station, and the one side channel offered by another. I have to assume the HD2 channels for all 10 stations are broadcasting, but I couldn’t tune them all in. Determined to make this work (which consumers won’t do), I continued playing with the radio repeatedly, but I still cannot access the multicast channels consistently.

The audio quality on this little desktop radio is excellent, therefore even the non-HD stations sound pretty good, but the HD signals on the main frequency were spectacular. The signals of the multicast channels I could receive had excellent audio fidelity, but I found I had to turn them up about 40 percent to equal the main channel’s volume. I had to adjust the volume every time I switched between the presets.

The multicast channels had a buffering period of about five seconds when I first tuned to them, so I wasn’t sure if I had a signal unless I looked at the screen, which is also latent. And because the volume is lower, I had to turn it up to make sure I was receiving the station. As most people are used to pushing the preset button and hearing stations instantly, HD multicast channels are disadvantaged.

Though I am thrilled with the audio fidelity of the HD broadcasts, the consumer experience is not as intuitive or as simple as with terrestrial radio. I rate this experience as less than perfect, especially with the multicast channels.

I am very pro-HD Radio and am excited about the promise of future benefits for both the industry and for consumers, but the customer experience is likely below the expectations set by the hype they are hearing about HD Radio. The desired experiences should be: “I am so in love with my first HD Radio that I want to replace all the radios in my car, house, and office with HD.” Sadly, it’s just not there yet. Based on the amount of fiddling I had to do to get the sideband stations, I would not rush out and buy an HD Radio for my car.

Radio needs HD Radio. I applaud the promotional visibility the industry is giving HD, but perhaps we should lay low until the consumer experience can be improved. A little-discussed fact is that HD stations need more power to get the multicast channels received at equal levels to the main stations, or to show up in the station’s full coverage area. Perhaps we should lobby the FCC on the importance of power increases, and work toward creating a perfect consumer experience before we try to drive sales of a product that is not ready for market. If consumers have the same experience I had with my first HD Radio, the word of mouth won’t be positive, which won’t be good for radio.




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