The beginning of January saw the introduction and first commercial
sale of consumer IBOC receivers in the United States. This day brought
forth mixed feelings across the radio industry. The IBOC supporters see
it as another step forward in the transition to a terrestrial digital
system. The IBOC opponents view it as another blow to the stake already
being forced into the heart of radio. While I don't see a decisive mark
for or against broadcasters with the January events, I am seeing a
raised consumer awareness that includes some unfortunate
Having consumer receivers available removes the chicken-or-the-egg
debate for acceptance of the service. While there are only a handful of
stations transmitting IBOC signals, it is possible to hear them now.
Granted, the receivers are not available everywhere yet, but it has to
start somewhere. If we draw a parallel from the proliferation of RBDS
to a potential acceptance of IBOC, we're already one step ahead with
IBOC. I don't recall the same fuss being made about RBDS that I am
seeing with IBOC over the past weeks.
National news magazines, local and national newspapers and news
websites all carried something about the introduction of the IBOC
receivers. Most of the stories I read all had the same theme, mainly
dwelling on the press release points issued by Ibiquity. The promise of
reduced interference, less noise, enhanced services (data) and clearer
sound are bound to attract the interest of consumers. Unfortunately,
consumers don't understand the technology, so the anticipated drastic
improvement may be a disappointment if it is not actually
I read several consumer reviews of the event, but an article in
Time magazine seems to carry the common theme. An article in the
Jan. 12 issue repeats the IBOC dogma that the reporter was fed. I'm
sure that she had no idea what some of the statements meant. The point
that really made me shake my head was the use of the term “high
definition radio.” The IBOC technology developed by Ibiquity has
been branded HD Radio, which is a trademarked name. I have never heard
Ibiquity refer to the technology as high-definition radio. I doubt many
broadcasters would call it that anyway. Considering that the technology
is based on a low bit-rate transmission scheme with a perceptual audio
encoder algorithm, it's technically crippled from the start. The HDC
audio encoder sounds exponentially better than the previously used
algorithm, but there are limitations.
The Time article made a few statements that stand to hinder
the acceptance of IBOC. The first concerned the overall quality. The
reporter stated that she expected the digital signal to sound richer
than the analog signal. This misconception is not new to IBOC, but it
is common to the expectation of “digital.” Consumers have
been trained that anything digital is better than anything analog
without the necessary qualifiers. In the reporter's view, the digital
signal sounds harsh and crackly while the analog had less static. I
have been told that the reporter did not know the difference between
studio noise in the source and transmission noise, but it doesn't
matter. Her perception is her reality. She thinks that analog sounds
better than digital.
The reporter did notice that the quality difference between AM
analog to AM IBOC was more distinct than the quality difference between
FM analog and FM IBOC. Broadcasters have known this all along.
Consumers are just starting to learn it.
Another claim that was made is that the FCC adopted IBOC as the U.S.
standard. We know that this is not yet the case. This is a lesser
point, but further proves to me that the consumer media does not fully
understand what is being developed and blindly believes whatever
information is fed to them.
The Consumer Electronics Show ended on Jan. 11. The news stories I
read ran in the first few weeks of the month. By the end of January,
the news had almost completely disappeared. IBOC had its flash of
consumer spotlight. Time will tell if any of it sticks or if it was all
just a puff of smoke.
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