One of radio’s primary values is its nearly ubiquitous presence, thanks to its broad signal coverage and the inherent portability of its receivers. Thus the lack of portable HD Radio receivers to date seems to be a major missing piece in the HD rollout strategy.
We believe this needs to change, and quickly, if the transition to HD Radio is to be successful.
The handheld form factor is increasingly important, with consumers now expecting pocket-sized versions of anything they have on our desks, dashboards or tabletops. (Note that although satellite radio was also initially in-car only, handheld satellite receivers have now been available for about two years.)
For an industry that has been wireless since its inception, the absence of portable HD receivers to this point appears as a stunning omission.
Of course we recognize the technical challenges involved. All receivers using OFDM technology (as HD Radio does) are notoriously processing-intensive and therefore current-hungry devices, causing severe constraints on their use in battery-powered devices. Meanwhile, AM and FM receivers with extremely low power requirements are widely available, and this differential prohibits manufacturers from simply swapping HD receivers for analog radios in existing portable product lines.
So it appears that new HD receiver designs optimized for portable use from the ground up (both in size and power requirements) are required. Appropriate chipsets may get to market later this year. This implies that we may see the first portable HD receivers on the shelves sometime in 2008, with reasonably priced models possibly available for holiday 2009 buying. Meanwhile, of course, battery technology also continues to improve, and Ibiquity reportedly has put portable receiver development high on its priority list.
All this is good news, but the timing is still worrisome. Portable HD devices need to get to market soon. Without them, the entire HD Radio transition is at risk.