In the US, the debate is on as to whether the new in car entertainment systems should include both HD and Satellite radio. The main thing that HD Radio will bring is greater quality in the signal and potentially more information about what you are listening to. Of course the quality does require that you have a good signal and in a country made up of volcanic rock in many places, the signal may not be great, so it may be that dropout still occurs in places.
I’m all for quality and given that you are sitting between the speakers, track separation and stereo effects are often more enjoyable than listening to the stereo at home. On the other side we already have RDS and certainly in New Zealand until recently most stations have only broadcast their station ID on RDS. ZM is one of the few that have given us some service. On the odd occassion that I do listen to the radio, it is my favourite so I can find out what the track or band is that I am listening to. With distraction laws coming, it could be that the driver will not be permitted to see more than that anyway.
They mention being able to view Real Time Traffic information on HD Radio. This is really just hype. You can already get LED displays for RDS TMC, but the reality is that the messages about traffic come from 1590 different categories and the sheer volume, without it being disseminated for car navigation relevance would make it just one more distraction. You don’t need to know that there are 63 sets of road works on the other side of the city do you?
They have been testing HD radio in New Zealand for quite some time, so I guess it will be here commercially before to long, and just like HD TV which is being pushed aggressively right now, it will generate more business for appliance stores. Of course many cars these days come with custom dash setups and there are no DIN Slots (the traditional cavity in your dash where you can mount the car stereo of your choice, rather than the cheap and nasty one the car manufacturer installed to keep costs down. So for many of us there is really no choice.
I hardly ever listen to the radio at all any more. I use my car stereo to receive podcasts from my iPod so that I can choose what to listen to, rather than 47 versions of the same stations of Classic Hits, Talk-back and Hip Hop / R&B.
Satellite Radio is a different story entirely and I would expect local stations to be very worried about this, because it really gives people serious choice as to what they want to listen to. When I was in Florida last year, the shelves in the appliance stores where full of digital radio receivers.
Satellite gives you choice and in fact some of the podcasts I listen to are US shows that I have downloaded. Channels such as Sirius and XM offer listeners the ability to listen to what they want to, when they want to. These 2 stations on their own offer 300 channels to choose from. Want to listen to some BeBop, go for it, now you want some Lounge, there it is on your dial. Just like with podcasts, very soon you will be able to catch up with your lectures or pretty much anything you can think of. This will be a serious threat to local stations who will have to come up with some great ideas to keep people tuning in so that the advertisers will keep paying.
Just like cable TV, many people will be very happy to pay a subscription for advertising free radio. If ever there was a threat to the music store, this is the next one. But it is radio and royalties will be paid to the artists, so ultimately it is only the radio stations that have in many cases taken us for granted that will suffer.
If consumers have their way, once they understand the options, your new car entertainment system will feature both HD and Satellite. It will be interesting to see what the radio stations will do to keep you listening to them. Maybe they will listen to what you want instead of resting on their laurels. Now that would be interesting wouldn’t it.