Why Your Next Stereo Has To Have HD Radio
Whether you’re in the market for a new car or just upgrading an old car stereo, HD Radio is probably a term you’ve heard thrown around a lot. Different digital radio technologies have been coming into use all over the world in the past decade, and in the United States HD Radio was chosen for the job. Essentially, HD Radio is a technology that enables broadcasters to couple their old analog signal with a new digital signal, while retaining their existing frequencies. This comes with some trade offs compared to the different technologies employed in other countries, but the main benefit is that existing radios can continue to work. There aren’t any plans to mandate a complete digital switchover like occurred with television, so even though many stations have already begun broadcasting their digital signals, you won’t be forced into upgrading. HD Radio has a lot to offer though, which is why you’ll want to make the upgrade when the opportunity arises.
The Hidden Stations
Unless you’ve already had the opportunity to play around with an HD Radio, you might be surprised at just how much programming you’re missing out on. Almost two thousand stations are using the technology, and since they’re able to broadcast up to two digital streams in addition to the main analog-simulcast that means you’re missing out on between two and four thousand channels around the country. Every market is going to be different, since the individual stations choose how exactly to use their digital broadcasts, but chances are some of your favorite stations have second or even third audio streams. Some stations use these to broadcast commercial free content such as specialty music or local music that isn’t seen as especially commercially viable. Others choose to use their additional streams to simply provide a larger variety to their listener base. Of course, without HD Radio these sub-stations may as well not exist to you.
Enhanced Audio and Other Features
Beyond the ability to include multiple streams of audio, the HD Radio technology also allows radio stations to embed other information. If they choose to do so, your HD Radio enabled device will be able to display the station’s name or callsign, current song title and band name and whatever else they happen to embed. This sort of feature was previously only available through pay services like satellite radio, though of course HD Radio is totally free to use once you’ve bought a stereo that employs the technology. The HD Radio technology also allows for higher audio fidelity, with AM broadcasts that sound similar to FM analog broadcasts and FM audio that approaches CD quality. It also allows for 5.1 surround sound audio via FM, though limits in bandwidth can necessitate the choice between multiple sub-channels and higher audio quality. Either way, HD Radio offers some compelling benefits over the old analog broadcasts.
Analog Signals Aren’t Going Anywhere, but You Might Want To
While there aren’t any plans for the FCC to mandate a digital switchover, like they did with HDTV, they may allow stations to make this choice on an individual basis in the future. Additionally, the presence of the digital signal can actually degrade the quality of the analog reception in your old stereos. This is most noticeable as loud white noise in AM broadcasts, though high quality FM systems will also pick up annoying white noise from the digital signals. If audio quality is important to you, investing in an HD Radio enabled tuner will solve this problem while also providing you with all the other inherent benefits. Though adoption of the HD Radio format by consumers has been slow, it is the sole digital broadcasting technology used in the United States, and thus the one we’ll all be using in the future. This means that HD Radio enabled tuners are very useful today while also remaining future proof, unlike old analog-only units. Taking all these concerns into consideration, HD Radio definitely seems like the way to go if you’re in the market to upgrade.