HD Radio Roundup

Lots has been happening since I started formally dissertating on the debacle that is HD Radio. Below is a collection of intriguing snippets and informed prognostication:
1. HD Radio Reception. Mediageek Paul Riismandel recently posted two articles on Radio Survivor dealing with real-world HD reception in a major market (in his case, Chicago), using a bottom-end (~$80) HD receiver. The results are not impressive. On FM, Paul sez,
I find that the technology of cramming a digital signal in next to analog one has too many compromises to be successful. The bandwidth for the HD channels is not enough to offer significantly better fidelity for the primary HD channel, and the leftover bandwidth available for HD2 and HD3 provides sound quality that does not surpass what is available online or on satellite radio. Importantly, tuning in a clear HD signal can be a very finicky process that can try one’s patience.
AM-HD engenders even less enthusiasm (love the graphic, BTW): “I consider HD Radio on AM to be mostly useless and not worth the effort. It’s especially not worth the loud digital hash noise I receive on my analog-only radios on the frequencies adjacent to the HD stations. It’s like a line of digital litter strewn across the AM radio highway.”
Relatedly, a law firm has begun investigation into a possible litigation against automakers for marketing a defective product – in this case, HD receiver capability with potentially deceptive advertising. According to the law firm of Keefe Bartels LLC, the money quote is this:
HD car radios are plagued by an inability to receive the digital signals transmitted by FM and AM radio stations and a significantly reduced sound quality when such signals are received. Such problems coupled with the increased costs for HD car radios call into question the utility of this supposed technological innovation. Consumers are being enticed to purchase HD car radios that commonly fail to perform or provide any benefits and features. The additional cost to the consumer is both unwarranted and unnecessary when the HD radios do not work as they are supposed to.
One can understand, with situations like these, why receiver manufacturers have been reticent to roll out HD-capable receivers – the transmission robustness simply isn’t there. This is an historic reticence, which has plagued “HD” radio throughout its initial development and deployment phase.
2. HD Radio Frustration. One of HD’s highest-profile industry proponents, New York’s WOR-AM Chief Engineer Tom Ray, apparently reached the end of his rope trying to install an aftermarket HD-capable receiver in an automobile. To quote WOR’s news director, “HD Radio sucks!” That’s a ringing endorsement.
Relatedly, Continental Electronics Senior Scientists Dave Hershberger published a powerful piece in Radio World detailing the real-world implications of raising FM-HD digital power by as much as a factor of 10, as rubber-stamped by the FCC in January.
The technical detail just embellishes a stark conclusion: “[An FM-HD power increase] will increase receiver susceptibility to…the possibility of ‘digital capture’ of the receiver….Additionally…higher digital power results in increased intermodulation between the analog and digital signals, resulting in noise components in the stereo baseband area.”
In plain English: an increase in FM-HD power levels is quite likely to degrade analog FM reception, especially to the host-station, and every FM station considering an HD power hike must make a reasoned judgment about the “engineering tradeoffs” necessary to implement a more robust HD signal. Is it really worth sacrificing analog reception? This is a critical question everybody’s dancing around.
3. International Implications. One of HD Radio’s highest-profile non-U.S. enthusiasts, Markus Ruoss in Switzerland, has been fighting against the tide to get HD implemented in his country. According to this recent article, that effort has reached an end. No word for what this means in terms of the “Euro HD Alliance,” of which Ruoss was a prime mover.
Meanwhile, in Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters – who were spearheading an effort to introduce HD nationwide – disbanded in June. This while other Canadian broadcasters are turning off their alternate-band DAB transmitters as well, and the reception of DAB in the United Kingdom – an early adopter – leaves much to be desired. Another sign that the failure of digital radio is a technically agnostic phenomenon.
4. Cross-purposes. Much has been made of the National Association of Broadcasters’ recent efforts to legislate FM reception in mobile wireless devices.
This is nothing new: as various government agencies began considering a 21st century emergency communications warning system back in 2008, the NAB floated a technical paper explaining how analog FM technology could be easily implemented in wireless devices to augment such a service.
This new effort, incidentally, does not mention HD as a method of transmitting emergency messages. Take that for what you will.
After all of this, what still puzzles me is: how does iBiquity stay in business? Licensing fees from broadcasters and transmitter-manufacturers was supposed to jump-start the company’s revenue stream.
But the company’s primary source of long-term income is supposed to be royalties from receiver sales. Given the lukewarm reception of the consumer electronics industry to HD Radio, how can iBiquity stay afloat, without a sea-change in its business model?
The company’s 10 years old, and still existing on venture capital. Something’s got to give, and sooner rather than later.