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HD Radio (Hybrid Digital) vs. Satellite Radio: Coverage, Price, and Technology

What exactly is HD radio and how does it compare to satellite radio?

You’ve probably noticed a growing number of ads promoting this novelty you’ve never heard of: HD Radio. They say you can listen to “undiscovered content” and digital quality audio. You’ve probably even heard the best part of the whole ad: “No subscription fee!”

Let me help you learn a little about HD Radio. I will try to keep it simple so that I can provide you with all the information you need with as little technical jargon as possible.

HD is NOT high definition

First of all, you’ve probably heard of HDTV, and if you haven’t, I’m assuming you live in a cave. HD Radio is not the same as HDTV. HD in HDTV means high definition. Don’t confuse this with the same on HD Radio because HD in this context stands for Hybrid Digital.

However, it offers much better radio transmission than standard radio signals. Some HD radio stations broadcast digital audio signals with 5.1 surround sound, allowing you to enjoy a true concert experience. You can be sure that more stations will opt for this mode of transmission in the future.

Digital channels and sub-channels

HD Radio allows various radio stations to broadcast digital information over the FM or AM frequencies. Furthermore, these digital transmissions could be sent on numerous subchannels, allowing for approximately three stations per frequency. This would triple the number of stations you could listen to on HD Radio. How would it look on screen, you ask?

Generally, standard AM / FM radios would display the following: FM 104.7

In HD Radios, it would display as: FM 104.7 HD-1 or 104.7 HD-2 (with each HD-X indicating a sub-channel)

As of 2007, signal quality is reported to be close to CD audio quality on FM channels, representing a huge leap forward in the radio industry. However, AM frequencies are highly unlikely to experience this improvement, as AM operates in a much smaller band. Think of it as a hose. A smaller garden hose could not supply as much water as the fire department hose; and unfortunately, AM is that smaller garden hose.

Advances in digital technology

There were reports and complaints in the early stages of HD Radio (2006) of static and interference when tuning into these HD channels. However, technology has advanced significantly in the last two years and has improved signal quality and isolation. Don’t worry so much about quality loss unless you are on AM channels.

You may also have heard that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) began the process of making analog television and radio broadcasts obsolete. what does this mean to you? Well, you can be sure that only improvements will be made. Unfortunately, this would mean that most standard AM / FM radios would become obsolete in the next few years, possibly forcing you to buy a new HD Radio for your vehicle or home.

Comparison with satellite radio


Satellite requires a monthly subscription fee ($ 10- $ 15 / month), activation fee, and cancellation fees if you cancel before your contract ends (if you sign up for the “reduced” contract subscription). To receive the satellite radio signal (either Sirius or XM), you will need a special antenna and a satellite radio that has a built-in satellite tuner or just satellite-ready without the built-in tuner (tuner is still required and sold separately ). Expect to spend $ 150- $ 300 on equipment alone, depending on what you need (additional tuner or antenna, etc.) *

HD Radio is completely free. You just need to spend money on the receiver. Like satellite radio, you can get an HD tuner built into the dash receiver or you can get them separately (in case you already have an HD Ready headunit). They are much more affordable, either way, and cost you between $ 100 and $ 200 in total *.

* Please note that these are minimal generalizations and do not take into account any additional features you may want with your radio (ie Bluetooth, USB support, 3.5mm auxiliary input, navigation, etc.). They also don’t take into account labor and parts, as each vehicle varies.

Quality and coverage

The advantage of satellite radio is coverage. You can drive from Los Angeles to New York City listening to the exact same station the entire trip. Satellite Radio tends to specialize in its stations more than HD as well. For example, there are specific channels for comedy or sports. Satellite radio is also free since, after all, you are paying for it.

HD Radio has a local focus. You tune into local metropolitan stations and you would not have the same coverage as Satellite as exemplified above. Although HD stations are much more like typical unspecialized radio stations, it is possible that in the future they will do something similar to satellite radio.

Both HD and satellite radio broadcast in digital quality audio. At this point, one does not have a significant advantage over the other because, as with radio-type transmission and reception, it is susceptible to interference and static. Don’t be fooled by the word “satellite” by this fact.

If you are trying to keep up with current technology but also want to save money, then upgrading to HD Radio is not so bad. Most of the well-known brands like JVC, Eclipse, and Kenwood are producing HD Radio Ready in-dash receivers, forcing you to get additional accessories. Only a handful of companies like Dual and JVC (again) market integrated HD radio tuners.

If you’re picky about your hearing selection and aren’t too concerned about the fees associated with satellite radio, then maybe you should go for Sirius or XM radios. Many popular brands like Sony, Alpine, and Pioneer sell built-in and SAT-ready satellite tuner receivers, so you shouldn’t have a problem searching for them.

The choice is yours, of course. However, one thing is for sure. Digital technology is advancing rapidly and is becoming the standard for audio and video entertainment. Analog (or non-digital) technology will be obsolete. It will have to upgrade to digital eventually. Find out what you like and try them both. Sometimes the best on the market may not be the best for you. Good luck in your digital revolution!

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