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The face of digital

The face of digital

Feb 1, 2001 12:00 PM, Chriss Scherer, editor

I had a chance to attend the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. I normally don’t attend this convention, but since I was there for an SBE executive committee meeting, I took in some of what was being offered at the show. In the short time I had to walk the show floor, and based on the reactions I was able to observe, I noticed four things: IBOC development is continuing, satellite radio is primed for a huge service launch, Internet radio appliances are getting noticed, and there are just not enough colored cellphone faceplates.

Of these observations, IBOC is probably your most direct concern. IBiquity Digital has been working hard to complete its work on a DAB system for the United States. Just before the show, iBiquity announced that it was filing additional test data to the FCC. While most broadcasters are interested in this news, most CES attendees were not. Granted, this convention caters to consumer equipment retailers and manufacturers and not those who will implement IBOC transmission technology. Several manufacturers had IBOC displays, but it was a little early for IBOC at the CES.

Meanwhile, in the XM and Sirius booths, there was plenty of foot traffic and excitement. IBiquity happened to be sandwiched between the aural festivities of the two satellite service providers. The displays from both sides were impressive, and there was a definite charge in the air.

Both S-DARS companies provided van tours to demonstrate their systems. While XM had not yet launched its first satellite, it did provide a listening tour with the five terrestrial repeaters installed around Las Vegas. Both demonstrations sounded very good, but I’m not sure everyone taking the test drive was fully aware of the technical feat that made these road tests possible. Currently, the services are being targeted at mobile users, but there was at least one receive-antenna manufacturer showing a prototype antenna for home installation.

I also attended the session on digital radio. The presentations did not provide any new information in general, but the attendees are on a different level of understanding than most broadcasters. There is definite confusion between IBOC and S-DARS and the roles of iBiquity, Sirius and XM. While I have been closely watching the DAB horizon for some time, I had to step back and watch how this very different group of visitors learned about the future of radio transmission. The major confusion was whether each company was a developer, a service provider, a programming developer or a hardware manufacturer. I still don’t think everyone walked away with all the correct answers, but this is a new area for most of the CES attendees, and new methods require new thinking.

On the Internet radio side, the path blazed by Kerbango’s Internet radio is being followed by other manufacturers. Other products, such as Part 15 transmitters for in-home rebroadcast, home networking systems and wireless Ethernet devices, are poised to continue the availability and practicality of Internet radio for home use�provided the music licensing issues are resolved.

The consumer market point of view of radio is that satellite radio is targeted at automobile listeners, and Internet radio is catering to home and office listeners. Soon we will see that line blurred as well. Meanwhile, terrestrial radio is still covering all the bases and will likely step up to the digital front very soon. The NAB convention is just around the corner, and the starring roles will be reassigned by the players already mentioned.

MY CES visit was brief this year. Maybe next time I will have more time to spend on the convention floor. Maybe then I’ll find the perfect faceplate for my cellphone.

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How will consumers embrace the digital radio future? Let us know what you think at [email protected].