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HD Radio To Go, Or Just Going, Going, Gone?

Have you, unlike what seems to be the majority of electronics customers, been pining for a cheaper way to try out HD Radio? A new portable model on sale now in Best Buy stores brings the entry-level cost for HD Radio to its lowest point ever, $49.99. But somehow, I don't think it's going to do much for this digital-radio technology's questionable prospects.

This AM/FM/HD portable radio, the Insignia HS-HD01, sells under Best Buy's house brand. That branding is somewhat odd by itself, since in all of my visits to Best Buy I've never seen the retailer make any serious attempt to promote HD Radio (even today, the HD Radio page on its site fails to list the new portable player).

But the real problem with the Insignia portable radio is... that it's a portable radio. As veteran tech writer (and, since 2005, HD Radio blogger) Glenn Fleishman noted yesterday, the idea of a radio-only portable device--no off-air recording, no iTunes tagging to let you mark favorite songs for later purchase, no Internet radio, no nothin'--in the year 2009 is "laughable."

So while it seems to do its job fine--to judge from local tech blogger Dave Zatz's writeup and John P. Falcone's review for C|Net--this device assumes that potential buyers already have an interest in Columbia-based iBiquity Digital's HD Radio technology.

I think that at this point, it's safer to assume that most buyers don't. So the smarter move would not to be ship a $50 HD Radio-specific device, but to make HD Radio a bonus feature on something people might already want to buy on its own merits. The $99 TEAC iPod-connected clock radio on sale at Costco would be one example of that (see the Wall Street Journal's review); Microsoft's upcoming Zune HD could be another; if somebody would ever sell an audio/video receiver with HD Radio built in for less than $500, that would be yet another way for this technology to get a hearing in more homes.

Do you have any interest in Best Buy's portable? Do you have any interest in portable radios at all? Sound off in the comments...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 13, 2009; 12:17 PM ET
Categories:  Music  
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A much more telling writeup by Glenn Fleishman about this "portable" can be found here:

"iBiquity Forced to Build Own Portable Player"

"Companies like iBiquity that work with OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), who product PC and consumer electronics gear nearly never get into the business of making their own branded devices because this kills the motivation for the firms they sell technology and reference design hardware to. The only reason a company gets into the business of making its own branded stuff is that they can't find a partner."

My guess is that iBiquity has burned a lot of the receiver manufacturers, after having to pay those hefty HD Radio licensing fees. So, it would appear that iBiquity has no "takers" on this portable. After reviewing Siport's documentation on their new chipset, it appears that it is still a power-hog, as is Samsung's HD chipset. My guess is that this "portable" will run for only a few hours on the rechargeable batteries. This thing isn't even an MP3 player, but it sure looks like the same KRI Armband Portable MP3 player that iBiquity displayed at CES 2009.... hmmmmm.

BTW - analog radio RDS/SCA services also supply tagging services, as does Twitter and TAGr. The extra HD Radio services, such as display information, is also done with analog RDS - nothing new, here.

Of course, as consumers have found out with the digital TV transition hoax, once the fragile HD Radio signals become too weak, this radio will not fade as analog radios, but will just drop to silence. That sould be quite a motivator for returns, as will the poor battery life. Why should I spend $50 for this, when good pocket analog radios sell for $10, where 2AA batteries last for 200 hours?

The HD chipsets are about $12/each, plus licensing fees to iBiquity, which should help HD Radio from becoming ubiquitous. This all sounds like a scam to me:

Posted by: sidwellfriends | July 13, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I will actually look at it, sounds just like a reasonable entry for HD for me. I like portable radios...actually I like all radios, I have a zillion of 'em around. I am assuming as a portable radio I will be able to move the radio to get the signal rather than deal with the antenna thing on the other HD radios. The cost and the idea of needing to string an antenna attractively atop my frig to get a signal has been a barrier to my exploration of HD. I'm in!

Posted by: tbva | July 13, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Darn it's already backordered. Gonna click it into a cart and get it when one arrives.

Posted by: tbva | July 13, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I could be wrong but I think HD Radio will go down as a massive failure. Does anyone still listen to radio (apart from talk radio and news on the way to work)? If satellite radio, with all it's programming, is having problems how can HD Radio survive?

Posted by: tundey | July 13, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I've had a Boston Acoustic HD Radio since they first came out. Bought it for $250 I think. Love the radio and listen to WAMU's HD3 regularly, particularly at night when WTMD's signal is broadcast. Also like WHUR's HD2 programming. Lately I've been enjoying WHFS on 94.7's HD2 signal.

What do I love about HD radio? The sound, the digital read-out of the music played, and the absence of commercials.

The biggest frustration is the frequent drop-outs (I have found that a rabbit-ear antenna best, easier than plug-in AM-FM antennae and more easily re-positioned to optimize the signal).

Wish I had HD radio in my car.

Posted by: Dr_F | July 13, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

It sounds like the perfect device to take to a ballgame. I ordered it!

Posted by: oldies_dj | July 13, 2009 6:59 PM | Report abuse

I haven't listened to 'radio' in a long, long time. I have XM at home as part of my Sat TV package and my iPod is always in the car. Other than the occasional ball game I don't have a need for radio anymore. The constant inane chatter of the on-the-air personalities has driven me away.

HD radio? Who needs it!

Posted by: GeorgeHayduke | July 14, 2009 6:10 AM | Report abuse

I love listening to the radio and especially when I'm in the yard working. It appears that the traditional Japanese companies have got out of that business or their radios are poor quality. If you look on eBay the older Japanese models are still in huge demand, like the Sony 2010 radio, or even the GE Superadio III.

Posted by: yokosuka1985 | July 14, 2009 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Portable HD Radio? Awesome! If they just add an 8-track tape player I'll definitely buy one. In 1978.

Oh, but this is 2009. terrestrial radio (HD and otherwise) is a dying medium and the radio industry has itself to blame. I happily pay SiriusXM $13 a month to NOT listen to 40 minutes of horribly annoying commercials an hour and the same 10 songs repeated over and over and over.

Posted by: ABHFGTY | July 14, 2009 7:28 AM | Report abuse

I live in that half of the country known as rural. I go into the city as seldom as possible.

I will buy an HD radio when they can completely replace my AM/Fm radio stations. I will need a couple for my cars.

Posted by: DonRuff | July 14, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Interestingly, Best Buy doesn't have an image of the radio on it's website. Not a good way to get anyone's attention. Mr. Fleishman indicated the radio was AM/FM; it's not; it's FM only.

As for why would I want one? It would make sense if there were a lot of HD radio options in the manner of satellite radio (the full music, entertainment spectrum), but I've heard repeatedly that the stations don't offer much in the way of alternative music (jazz, bluegrass, classic country music, etc.) or entertainment in the way that satellite radio does. It seems much of what is being broadcast on HD is what others are broadcasting on HD, which is the same or similar to what's being broadcast on non-HD stations (simply variations of Top 40, Top 20, Today's Rock, etc.)

I'm not sure what the range would be but I would assume that as you get to fringe areas of major cities, you lose the ability to pick up the various stations, and, unless you're in a major city, you probably have limited HD options. If you live in a small area, will there be that much HD choice? And if you live in an areas such as DC (or Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Boston, or Dallas, etc.), you already have tens of stations to choose from; will HD offer significant alternatiives?

While it may provide better reception, and unlike satellite radio it's free, maybe it's better to spend a little more and get the benefits of satellite radio; local weather/traffic (at least in 20 major areas) and ensured reception regardless where you are, so you're not limited by distance from the transmitter or relay.

Posted by: Dungarees | July 14, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I haven't used a radio in at least 5 years, and until that business community realizes it is not serving a great portion of the public, I will have no need to. I am not fond of hearing other people talk, and I can get music through numerous other outlets, so I'll pass on this invention.

Posted by: newsfox | July 14, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I've got HD radio in my car, and I've been disappointed by the sound quality. This is one of the main selling points that the industry pushes, and yes, the HD-1 feed (that's the same as the analog broadcast) does sound crystal clear on most stations. But here's what they don't tell you: when the stations broadcast 3 feeds (the max allowed), the HD-2 and HD-3 feeds sound terrible. We're talking much worse than analog FM - more like internet streaming, with a lot of digital noise due to the bit reduction required. And DC101 even has some sort of problem with their HD-1 feed - even that one sounds terribly bit reduced. The only "extra" programming I listen to regularly is the indie feed from 98 Rock. I used to like the convenience of the traffic-and-weather feed on WTOP's HD-3, but they seem to have just changed that to some sort of religious programming.

In short, I think the benefits are oversold, no one talks about the poor quality on the second and third feeds, and very few stations take advantage of the extra feeds to offer music that's not on analog radio.

Posted by: none9 | July 14, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I have been trying to buy an HD receiver (or tuner) for home use for years, with no luck. But they include it in portables and a few car radios. What are they thinking? You won't notice any difference in those settings. My new $2,000 Pioneer SC-07 AV receiver with digital amplifiers doesn't even have it.

It is too late now. I am going with Internet radio.

Posted by: foxjh | July 14, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Radio? What is a radio?

Seriously, classical music would have the most to gain from HD radio if the audio is not compressed like it is on Sirius-XM. But there seems to be no classical HD radio in the Baltimore area.

Posted by: Wilf1 | July 14, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

You can add cable tv to the competition. I listen to channel 941 light classical all the time, no commercials and a very long rotation before they play the same work again.

The HD fiasco is caused by choosing a proprietary one company standard as a national standard.

Posted by: eteonline | July 14, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Wow.... listening to Diane Rehm's awful cadences in HD - wouldn't want to miss that!

(I'm sorry, but the medium is RADIO, she needs another gig.)

In 2009, no one wants to have to wonder if they can receive a signal, already have XM drop out problems where I live now.

Posted by: scott_iglehart | July 14, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I LOVE radio. I listen to it at night on my headphones before going to sleep. I listen to it at lunchtime while having my lunch. I listen to it as a background while doing chores. I HATE TV. Tecchie Rob, I have no interest in all that crap that you think ought to be part of a radio - all a good radio needs is a good receiver, digital tuning, a volume control and a headphone output and line-out. I originally bought an HD radio in order to continue to hear programs that were axed from mainstream by the incompetents who run 88.5 FM.

Main problem with HD is the problem with all radio - I know very few other people who feel as I do. Several of my neighbors tell me they have never even programmed their car radios and NEVER listen to radio now.

I have an HD bedside radio from Radio Shack that was on sale of $50 - because they were phasing them out. As others have commented, it is amazing and disappointing that I can't buy one for my main sound system (ridiculous that the Shack one didn't have a line-out feature for this - I would have bought two if it did). But portable? I live only 12 air miles from the main DC transmitting towers and I needed to plug the radio into my (already existing) attic antenna.

BTW I have listened to satellite radio on airplanes and in rental cars. Its OK on airplanes given the alternative, but in general it is complete junk and I look forward to the day it goes out of business.

Posted by: WODRR | July 14, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

HD radio? What HD radio? Not here in the sticks of Central Pa. I've spent hundreds of dollars on an HD receiver and roof antenna system and get zip, zero, zilch.

I even emailed iBiquity to ask when a station in my area might add HD. I think the lack of a response said a lot.

Posted by: sralcorn | July 14, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

I am looking for a portable radio with weatherbands and AM/FM that I can either hand crank and has battery or solar back up for emergencies like when the North Koreans crash our power grid because of the Obama's admin's inepitude or a hurrican/TS.

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | July 14, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

HD and Satrad are doomed. Terrestrial radio in some form will continue because of the millions of receivers already in homes and cars. But terrestrial's main role will certainly be as a primary feeder for the Internet, which is already reshaping "radio" like it has already reshaped "print."

Posted by: UrbanShocker | July 14, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

If it can actually pick up HD radio signals, I might be interested in it. I have a Sony XDR-S3HD HD Radio that won't lock on to any HD signals when I do a HD scan, even with good antennas attached (like the FM reflect).

Posted by: TheNervousCat | July 14, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

omarthetentmaker, check out c.c. crane. they make some excellent hand cranked weather radios...

Posted by: moonwatcher2001 | July 14, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

You obviously have no interest in the content found only on HD radio. Now that "educational" radio has become all talk, all the time, music is moving to HD only. WAMU in DC is an excellent example. You obviously do not like bluegrass, but if you did, you would find on Channel 2, WAMU, not on regular FM. Recording? Why bother. Most people never watched those VHS tapes they used to make either.

Posted by: george11 | July 14, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

HD radio is a solution in search of a problem. In 1980 I would have loved to have one of these. In 2009 I don't see any reason to spend money on a technology that's already dying. I have XM in the car, digital music on the computer at home, Blu-Ray on the DVD player and HD TV. Why does anyone need to listen to Andy and Grandy in HD?? Just another toy.

Posted by: restonham | July 14, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Oooo, now I get to hear 15 minutes of commercials an hour in HIGH DEF!

Posted by: MattRaymond | July 14, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse


You can buy the Sony XDRF1HD HD Radio Tuner for 85 bucks if you have standard RCA connector cables on your main system. Good stuff!

Posted by: cmecyclist | July 14, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

MattRaymond - HDRadio is NOT HighDefinition - its Hybrid Digital or some similar unlikely acronym ... no guarantee the sound will improve, they are just offering more channels in the existing space (otherwise, the FM band in the DC is fully loaded and has been for years!)

... and with WAMU, it surely seems like their main-band signal has suffered, now that they are putting power into the sidebands - they are harder to receive on good FM gear and the quality has gone down into the noise ...

Posted by: webdevgal | July 14, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

scott_ingelhart's comment about "Diane Rehm's awful cadences"--and how she needs another gig--is in pretty poor taste. As most of us know, mid-career she began suffering from spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that attacks the voice.

I think she continues to do great work.

Posted by: BPupp | July 14, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

One other comment--WAMU has some great comment on its HD2 & 3, including, as someone noted, bluegrass on HD2. It's programming you can't find anywhere else, and if HD radio goes the way of Betamax it would be a loss. Would be, that is, if it were listenable--the signal is awfully weak (I listen--or try to--on my car radio).

Posted by: BPupp | July 14, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

HD Radio will never be ubiquitous as Digital/HD TV wasn't before the federal mandate required it to be, and satellite radio and television are.

It's a matter of economics. For a station to add HD capabilities, there has to be a cost benefit analysis, and outside the major markets, it simply isn't there.

I've had a Boston Acoustics HD radio for a long time, and regularly listen to the various HD channels available here in the DC market. The timeshifting on WAMU is great; the three CSPAN channels satisfy my policy wonk needs, and now that other stations are realizing that they can grow an audience and market using these channels to deliver services missing from their "regular" channels (Jazz, alternative rock, etc.), the airwaves are filling up.

Yes, iBiquity has and continues to make lots of mistakes. It's about content, not clarity -- people will buy radios if they get the content they want, not whether HD is technically better than what they have now. Sony learned that hard lesson in the Betamax/VHS debates years ago.

I'd love a decent HD tuner for the home system. Too many wires (we have XM, too) stuffed behind the stereo :-)

Posted by: HD_Fan | July 14, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

As was pointed out earlier, the term "HD Radio" is very misleading. Many relate "HD" to HDTV, where HD is "High Definition." But in US radio, HD only means digital, certainly not "high definition." iBiquity should not be allowed to us the term "HD" as it is false and misleading advertising. Any lawyers out there interested in filing a class-action suit?

Posted by: ffxkid | July 14, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

face it, i mean really who cares about radio in hi-def. its just radio. what the heck is the difference between today's HD and my good old transistor radio that i would sneak into class to hear the world series.

Posted by: submarinerssn774 | July 14, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse


You have hit the nail on the head.

Why would you even spend $50 for the
same blah, blah, blah from the stations
that are no longer local for some broken down format from out of state with no local content.

Radio operators can't afford local content because of debt service as it is. So the solution is to put on even more "unlocal"

I'm not sure that I get it.


Posted by: radiookc | July 14, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

And here I was worried that nobody would even bother to read a post about HD Radio!

* Dr_F, TheNervousCat: If I may ask, where are y'all trying to tune in from?

* george11: Since you know my musical tastes so well, what were the last three concerts I saw? (In fact, I do appreciate bluegrass--I used to enjoy listening to it on WAMU on weekday afternoons.)

* webdevgal: Agreed, the HD branding was dumb. It also makes it harder to find HD Radio hardware; at most online stores, searching for "HD Radio" brings up anything with either "HD" or "radio" in its description.

* HD_Fan: Good analysis. Care to speculate on the chances of iBiquity revising its licensing fees to stations?

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | July 14, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Excellent comments from everyone. I learned a lot about HD radio. I would be willing to pay tree-fitty extra to be able to receive it, but not a penny more.

Posted by: artfd | July 14, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

The central issue of HD Radio and all digital over the air technology is the fickle nature of the signal received. The "cliff-effect" or lost signal easily occurs even in areas near transmitter sites with little or no warning. If digital over the air is to be the "wave of the future" this problem will have to be corrected, if the laws of radio science will allow it to be. Without reliability, or the government mandating this technology as it mistakenly did with digital over the air TV, this cannot be an acceptable replacement for analog radio.

Posted by: Rob301 | July 14, 2009 7:07 PM | Report abuse

My iPhone offers nearly 15,000+ radio channels from around the world in good enough quality for me, and I need to buy this to listen to the same canned content that I don't listen to over the air? I don't think so

Game over HD.

Posted by: idiparker | July 14, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

I use a portable radio on the beach or on walks so I can listen to news, weather, NPR and talk shows. Not a big music listener when outside. I have an iPhone but the battery will not last me the day while streaming radio stations. Also I don't want it to get wet. I use the Sony SRF-M37W Walkman radio.

Portable HD would be nice I think. I have my doubts about how well it will perform because of the antenna issue. Other HD Radios, you have to fuss with the antenna sometimes to get it to work. And that is when stationary at home. Car radios work OK, I guess -- have not tried them. The portable radio antenna is worse and always flopping around (headphone cord antenna) but if the RF chips in the radio are hot enough it will get enough signal to work. Hope it works.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | July 15, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Rob writes: "Dr_F, TheNervousCat: If I may ask, where are y'all trying to tune in from?"

Mahopac, NY - 45 miles north of New York City. Some of the nearby FM stations (WRKI) don't broadcast in HD. Most AM HD stations are in NYC, which is too far for my AM loop antenna. The hilly terrain doesn't help matters either. My HD scan goes through the entire band (AM or FM) without locking on to a single station.

Posted by: TheNervousCat | July 16, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

CNET already has a review, although they got it wrong in the specs (no AM band as Rob pointed out).

Posted by: TheNervousCat | July 16, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I have a home-use HD tuner from Best Buy which has been in service for several months. It has the Insignia model # of NS-HDTUNE and was on sale for about $80, marked down from $100. AM reception and loop antenna included, also a remote. It gets KUSC HD-1 rather well, and sounds almost as good as XM classics. --- Perhaps the reason BB marked it down was the large knob on the right is plainly labeled TUNNING. ---

Posted by: isenberg888 | July 17, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I already have a good radio service, and it is free (with internet) and am listening to one of my favorite bluegrass stations!

Posted by: k0bkl | July 20, 2009 6:58 AM | Report abuse

Remember, there's a cliff effect in Digital Radio just like in DTV, except it falls back to analog radio if you can't get the digital signal. Not everyone wants or is allowed to put up a outdoor FM antenna just to receive IBOC digital radio signals. I think the success of digital radio will come down to consumer awareness (that inexpensive radios are available, more radio stations are broadcasting digitally) and reception (signals are easy to pick up with an *indoor* antenna). If stations can boost transmitter power without bleeding into adjacent analog signals or obliterating their own analog signal, maybe people will willing to replace their radio. Otherwise, what's the point? If a tree falls in the forest and nobody can hear it, who cares? That's probably why iBiquity wants the FCC to approve more power in digital radio broadcasts.

Posted by: TheNervousCat | July 20, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

By the way, a lot of us listen to radios at work, and if we could get good signal penetration with digital radio in office buildings, then I think a portable digital radio might be worth a second look. However, I am probably going to pass on the Insignia and wait for a radio that can pick up Digital AM (where I get my sports and news).

Posted by: TheNervousCat | July 20, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

AVS Forum has a thread on this little radio.

Posted by: TheNervousCat | July 20, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

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