high_hd_radioHD Radio first hit the market a few years ago.  Most stations are broadcasting HD signals and a reasonable number of people have actually experienced HD Radio in the car or at home (mostly in the car).  Unfortunately there is still a lot of confusion as to what it is and why you should care.

Since HD Radio is here to stay Tech to Live By is here with a rundown of HD Radio tech and how it will benefit you…

First off, the HD doesn’t actually stand for High Definition.  It’s a brand name and an excellent little piece of marketing intended to take advantage of the HDTV boom.

That being said, radio stations use technology from iBiquity Digital Corporation to broadcast a combined digital-analog signal that provides a clearer, higher fidelity sound (described as near-CD quality). In addition to the improved sound quality the HD Radio technology improves on the bandwidth and data capabilities of traditional broadcasts.

By using a compressed digital signal, broadcasters are able to transmit song information (including artist and song name), real-time information (gas prices, traffic updates, etc), and numerous sub-channels.  That’s right, sub-channels (actually called Multicast channels).  With HD Radio your favorite radio station is able to broadcast not only their usual programming but also additional ‘stations’ with independent content.  In effect the user can receive 2-4 times the amount of content from the same broadcaster (including multicast channels and data broadcasts).  Not bad, right?

The HD Radio standard also include the option of iTunes Tagging which allows users to tag songs they hear over the digital broadcast for later reference.  When an iPod is connected to the system the tags can be downloaded and synced with iTunes to facilitate a simple way to preview and purchase the music. Ford is the first automotive OEM to launch this feature in the car.

[Editors Note: It's very annoying that this is tied to iTunes only, but it was probably a great for Apple to secure more business and for brilliant for iBiquity to align themselves with a major player.  When iBiquity was trying to sell this technology into major manufacturers you can bet they threw around the Apple partnership as best they could.]

The general rule for the HD1 (main) broadcast channel is that it matches the non-HD Radio analog broadcast.  The HD2 and HD3 multicast channels vary in how they are used.  For example, some stations are broadcasting previous formats (think easy listening station that went to rock) while other stations are taking the opportunity to broadcast a totally new set of content that new listeners might appreciate.  CBS Radio recently announced their intention to re-broadcast popular stations in other markets (like a major Los Angeles station broadcast on an HD2 channel in New York).  In LA right now KROQ’s HD2 broadcast is ‘KROQ of the 80′s.’

For now, the services are free, but there are companies out there working on ways to make features subscription or per-use based.  All you need to get  in on the goodness is upgrade to an HD Radio capable receiver (and there are plenty of them available for most applications).

The car companies are leading the charge with integrating these devices and they are pretty readily available now.

If you have any questions about HD Radio drop me a comment and I’ll do my best!