iBiquity HD Incentives
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
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
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
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:
Boston, MA 02446-2204
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