iBiquity HD Incentives

Aaron Read readaaron@friedbagels.com
Thu Feb 22 11:58:39 EST 2007

I wouldn't try to compare FMeXtra with HD Radio...the two are so 
different as to be apples and oranges.   Even FMeXtra will tell you that 
the technologies are not competing, merely complementary.  And like any 
good fruit basket, you can have both apples and oranges...meaning that 
you can install HD Radio AND FMeXtra on your FM signal and they'll 
coexist nicely.

Still, the big difference is that FMeXtra doesn't do jack squat to 
improve the main FM audio channel.  HD Radio does.  To digress:

HD Radio eliminates multipath (and related interference-based) audio 
quality issues.  The audio quality you hear is VERY consistent as long 
as an HD signal is received.  This is really noticeable on AM, but it's 
a definite improvement on FM as well.

HD Radio expands FM audio bandwidth to 20kHz.  Again, a subtle 
improvement, but something that you notice when it goes away.

HD Radio dramatically improves the audio quality of AM.  With FM, yeah, 
not so much, but it can be a little better thanks to that 20kHz.  The 
need to have a smooth blend to analog during the hybrid phase does, 
admittedly, mute the audio fidelity benefits.

While technically FMeXtra can support surround sound, right now it's a 
distant dream.  5.1 Surround on HD Radio is hitting Boston before the 
year is out on WZLX.

FMeXtra is really designed to be a replacement for analog SCA/subcarrier 
broadcasters.  It doesn't improve the main FM signal, and the data 
services are near-exclusively focused on multicasting...not surround 
sound or any of the other nifty ideas that have been bandied about with 
HD Radio.   Plus FMeXtra doesn't have the weight of the NRSC-5 standard 
behind it.

And, of course, FMeXtra does nothing for the AM band.  This could be 
viewed as both good and bad depending on your views about HD Radio for 
AM.  :-)

Now, this isn't to say FMeXtra is bad.  FAR from it...I'm already 
talking with two college stations that are interested in FMeXtra so as 
to prevent the perennial problem of sports coverage pre-empting regular 
shows.  I think it's ideal for them.

FMeXtra provides the same killer app that HD Radio 
does...multicasting...and does it in a much more flexible way while 
costing a fraction of what HD Radio does.  In fact, it's flexible enough 
that, in theory, you could have nine or ten extra audio channels on 
FMeXtra.  In reality, I think most stations will be limited to two or 
three...but that's still a big improvement over existing low-quality SCA 

For FMeXtra, the encoder is 1RU, requires no new transmitter & antenna, 
connects to any SCA input composite port, takes about 20 to 30 minutes 
to install (yes, that quickly), and - most importantly - costs a 
one-time purchase fee of $9000.  That's it...no recurring licensing costs.

Receiver availability has dogged FMeXtra for years but just two weeks 
ago the tabletop receivers arrived to the warehouse in Milpitas and are 
available for $199 through ArmstrongTX, Bext and Energy-Onix.

FWIW, several countries in Europe have pounced on FMeXtra and are eating 
it up...so there's definitely enough demand to allow for large-scale 
production driving down costs.  The original goal was a $100 tabletop 
radio and they hope to get there within 2 to 3 years.  We'll see.  But 
the $199 figure is a real one for right now.

Worth noting - FMeXtra is focusing heavily on releasing a portable 
FMeXtra radio by years' end.  This is a big deal because the OFDM basis 
of HD Radio is so power-hungry that a lot of people are openly starting 
to wonder how the hell we'll EVER make a portable HD Radio.   If FMeXtra 
beats them to that punch, it'll be a noticeable coup.  Car adapters for 
FMeXtra are also due within a few months.  Although I warn all that the 
tabletops were coming "in a month or two" for nearly two years...so 
don't count on portable or car adapters until they're in your hands. 
They're also busting their asses to make a receiver that gets both 
FMeXtra and HD Radio signals...the holy grail, if you will.

Also worth noting, FMeXtra depends on an analog carrier to function.  So 
if/when HD Radio moves to the all-digital phase...FMeXtra will cease to 
exist.  Of course, that could be 20 years away...so any FMeXtra adopter 
today will get their money's worth.

Unlike HD Radio, which seems to require a lot of work to get a digital 
signal to mirror your existing analog coverage...FMeXtra tests have 
shown a viable FMeXtra signal out to the 60dBu with little or no 
fiddling.   This is due largely to how FMeXtra is mostly riding on the 
back of FM whereas HD Radio is all but replacing it.  I'm told they're 
lobbying to the FCC to amend the SCA injection rules to allow higher 
injection to achieve ranges out to the 40 and 50dBu contours.  With 
digital white noise like FMeXtra, the higher injection doesn't cause the 
same crosstalk problems like an analog SCA does.

Of course, one roadblock to FMeXtra deployment is that, as a replacement 
to analog SCA, it takes over the usual SCA frequencies.  So if you have 
existing SCA renters, they'll have to migrate to your FMeXtra system and 
get new radios for their listeners.  This could stymie growth on several 
larger stations.  OTOH, a lot of college stations aren't using their SCA 
  frequencies, so they could drive FMeXtra adoption to the point where 
larger stations can justify installing it.

Ultimately, I can't say I recommend FMeXtra as a REPLACEMENT for HD 
Radio.  It's just not designed to be that and I doubt it ever will be 
taken as such.   But it certainly is a great complement.  I strongly 
suspect we'll see more stations installing it as receivers get more 
plentiful in the next year or two.

Audio demos and more info here:



Aaron Read
Boston, MA 02446-2204


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