Channel changing. It's now possible on these systems to make maximum use of the audio cards. Before, with the Starguide platform if your station took more than one show from a network at different times during the day, you either needed to have someone change the channel manually, automate the channel change using some type of serial command from an automation system or third-party device, or use more than one output card from the receiver and tie up multiple inputs on the router or console.
Now, it's possible to pre-program channel changes on a schedule so all of the programs come out of the same audio card on the receiver (provided the shows don't run concurrently). All of the programming uses only one audio card, which makes station engineers happy because they only need one input to their equipment for multiple programs from the same network. Engineers are also happy that they can automate this and not depend on human interaction to make the switches. As a result of this efficiency, manufacturers were able to design the receivers with fewer audio cards. Most networks have either two or four audio cards available on their receivers. Some networks provide direct control of this function while others provide this as a service through the network uplink.
Also gone from most networks is the old left-channel/right-channel audio split to carry two mono programs on a single stereo feed. A program is now on its own channel, no longer sharing one half of a stereo pair.
Time shifting. Many people refer to this as Tivo-type function because it works in a similar fashion. It's possible on most of the systems to save a program on the receiver's hard drive or flash memory as it's playing live and play it out at a later time. This eliminates the need for the station to tie up their automation system to do those recordings and playbacks freeing up resources.
Logging. A great troubleshooting tool, most receivers now have logging built in, which is accessible via a Web interface. If you experience a loss of audio, you can check to see what the receiver signal strength was at the time. Or if you miss a relay closure, you can determine if the receiver actually received the trigger to help determine the cause of the problem. This allows the station to investigate issues directly without the need to contact the network's headend.
Web interface. Virtually all of the receivers have a way to reach a dashboard via the Web that allows you to view system receive parameters and make system configuration changes. In some cases you can program your channel time shifting for channel changes from here, in others you may need to go to an Internet Web interface for that. Some networks allow access to their audio files stored on the hard drive through the Web interface, FTP, windows share or other methods as well.
The new receiver platforms, being software based allow the use of higher reduction audio algorithms such as MP3, AAC and others. In any case, engineers have noticed and reported improvement in quality when swapping from the legacy systems to the newer ones.
Audio quality improvements. The new fleet of receivers from all of the manufacturers have improved audio quality. There have been many advances in DSP power and the quality of linear analog audio ICs since the design of older systems.
Program associated data. With the wide use of RBDS and HD Radio, delivering PAD took on a new sense of urgency. Most of the networks have the ability now to deliver title and artist info to the back of the receiver for use to feed those systems.
Automation. Some networks offer the ability to program your own triggers on the system. Rather than depend on a network trigger at the time you want, you have the ability to program a one-time trigger or recurring trigger to close a relay when you need to. A common use of this is a top of the hour trigger, which many stations like in order to synchronize their automation systems to the network.
More relays available. On some of the legacy systems, in some cases the maximum number of relays available per program was two. Now that's climbed to a minimum of four and in many cases 16 relays per channel is a standard.
Software upgradeable. All of the current generation of receivers are able to be upgraded over the air with new software. The predominant platform is a specialized Linux kernel that allows a tremendous degree of flexibility. This isn't new, since Starguide also had the capability, but these newer receivers have much more upgrade flexibility than the older systems.
The latest generation of satellite receivers are clearly the most advanced that we've seen so far. The fact that there are competing systems is probably a benefit for the stations since competition will drive company research and development, leading to new features.
Trautmann is the EVP Technology, Dial Global, New York City.