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2008 CES: More HD Radio Than Ever
The 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show took place at the Las Vegas Convention Center Jan. 6-11. Using every square inch of the three halls at the LVCC, it overflowed to the Sands Convention Center and into the ballroom at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel as well. Unlike the NAB convention where the show floor is set up in nice, neat categories like radio, television, satellite and media, products related to radio at the CES were spread out across all the venues. Car stereos were primarily located in the North Hall, Ipod accessories and Internet radio were at the Sands and AM/FM radios could be found in all of the halls.
Ibiquity exhibited at the show with a large booth surrounded by orange curtains that hung floor to ceiling. I spent some time with Joe D'Angelo of Ibiquity, who showed me around. Several technologies were on display, including Itunes tagging, a new chip by Samsung for portable HD Radio use, conditional access of the secondary digital channels and MSN Direct HD.
The new Samsung chip makes FM HD Radio a reality for portable devices. On display at the show was a small HD Radio receiver and also a prototype mobile phone with the HD Radio chip in it. Both could only receive FM at the time.
Conditional access is the ability to turn an HD Radio channel into a subscription channel. A demonstration of this, using a station that was configured to run the main analog channel and three digital channels, was on display at the booth. Analog and the main digital were set up as normal. HD3 and HD4, however, were set up with conditional access, where HD3 was authorized and HD4 wasn't. For stations that have programming they think listeners will pay for, this technology will allow them to restrict what listeners hear based on a subscription model.
Finally, Ibiquity has the ability to support MSN Direct into car radio navigation systems providing real-time traffic to the system.
Beyond the Ibiquity booth, there was not really a strong HD Radio presence. In fact, one of the largest booths for radios was Eton. It easily had 50 radios on display and unfortunately, not one of them was equipped to receive HD Radio. I was told that HD Radio is “in development.”
Beyond digital radio
Portable navigation devices were everywhere I looked. And while you might not think this has a direct application or effect on the radio business, it may very well as devices continue to converge. Case in point is the MSN Direct and Ibiquity partnership. For personal and in-car navigation, lists of restaurant and store locations are already available based on the user's current location. The next logical step is to provide location codes to navigation devices from the radio as commercials play. What this means for radio stations is that spots will need to carry geo-coded data (latitude and longitude information). Then, as the spot plays, the GPS can tell the user where the store or restaurant location is and direct them to it. Microsoft demonstrated MSN Direct service at its booth, which many stations across the U.S. are transmitting using RBDS subcarriers. MSN transmits real-time traffic data to GPS devices, which can then use that information to route a user around an accident.
Internet radios were in many booths and seem to be gaining momentum. I found three vendors in the Sands and two more on the floor of the South Hall. They use an Internet database of active streaming stations to provide the device with a worldwide directory. The user can search for a station by call letters, name, location or format. Testing the radio at the Oxx Digital booth, it was possible to tune in WINS in New York in a matter of seconds and hear the station's live stream standing on the floor in the convention center. The quality was better than listening on the AM dial in NY. The database provided more than 9,000 stations to choose from. From discussions with the vendors, I was told that Internet radio has already gained hold in Europe and that we should see more of the big box stores in the U.S. selling them this year. All the vendors had radios equipped with Wi-fi connections, allowing them to be mobile and not need a physical connection to the Internet.
Another technology about to gain hold in 2008 is Wimax. Wimax is a worldwide standard (802.16) that applies to broadband wireless Internet. Intel had a demonstration of this technology with two Formula 1 simulator cars on the show floor attached to a computer using Wimax that were controlling two model race cars outside the convention center. The model cars had video cameras mounted to them and provided the simulator drivers with full-motion video back to a large screen monitor so they could see where they were driving the models. Both drivers drove a lap around the track. Clearly, doing something this sophisticated needed a lot of bandwidth. The Wimax provided video plus control live and real time, with no delay.
Chatting with the folks from Sprint's Xohm division, I learned that Sprint already has test markets running with the technology and is planning a nationwide rollout beginning in April 2008. Xohm's system will provide 2 to 4Mb/s of download speed and 1 to 1.5Mb/s of upload speed. This is certainly fast enough to provide mobile streaming, including audio and video. Xohm's intention is to provide coverage equal to its cellular coverage.
How does Wimax affect radio broadcasters? The most obvious is the ability to provide Internet streams to mobile devices such as car radios, navigation systems and telephones. The Internet radio manufacturers described above could market their radios as fully portable if they can pick up the Wimax signal.
Another application is wireless control of remote transmitter sites. Wimax is a full, two-way Internet connection, so it can provide a return path for monitoring. Another application could be for remote broadcasting. Companies like Comrex already have systems that use the current EVDO high-speed wireless of telephone vendors like Verizon and Sprint.
Imagine what you could do with 1.5Mb/s or full T-1 speeds in both directions on a remote. It eliminates the need to order a DSL or cable drop on a remote and allows you to be mobile.
Conrad Trautmann is SVP engineering and technology at Westwood One, New York.
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