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After a Decade, Digital Radio Still an Also-Ran In UK 200

Posted by timothy
from the played-out-in-advance dept.
beschra writes "Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) was developed as early as 1981. After launching in the UK 10 years ago, only 24% of listeners listen on DAB. The article credits a good part of the delay to the fact that the technology was largely developed under the Europe-wide Eureka 147 research project. How does government vs. commercial development help or hinder acceptance of new technology? From the article: '"If Nokia develops something, they'll be bringing out the handsets before you know it," [analyst Grant Goddard says]. "Because DAB was a pan-European development, you had to have agreement from all sides before you could do anything. That meant progress was extremely slow." But this alone did not account for the hold-up. The sheer complexity of introducing and regulating the system was also a major factor, Mr. Goddard adds."'
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After a Decade, Digital Radio Still an Also-Ran In UK

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  • Hmm, I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by somersault (912633) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:17AM (#32858868) Homepage Journal

    It couldn't be something to do with the fact that the cheapest DAB radio I can find right now is £35 (£60 if you want something portable), whereas you can get a portable FM receiver for under £5? Nah, it must be to do with the regulations and standards!

    • Re:Hmm, I wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pjt33 (739471) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:20AM (#32858882)

      And also that FM is more tolerant of bad reception.

      • Re:Hmm, I wonder (Score:5, Informative)

        by digitig (1056110) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @06:07AM (#32859028)
        I think reception is a major DAB killer. I live in London, and still can't get a usable DAB signal. The 24% of the country listening on DAB are probably pretty much the 24% who can receive DAB. DAB is a looking like a failed technology at the moment. I use internet radio at home, and there's no real alternative to FM in my car.
        • by karnal (22275)

          I know a fair amount of people who use their cell phone with Pandora to stream music to their tastes in lieu of FM.

          Of course, I typically just listen to CDs still - Pandora on WM seems to have such a low bitrate (ringing cymbals, etc) that I can't stand it even in the car.

    • Re:Hmm, I wonder (Score:4, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:27AM (#32858904) Journal
      I didn't look too hard, but Argos sells a portable DAB receiver for £20 [argos.co.uk]. As I said below, the problem is not regulation or standards, but simply that there is no well defined use case for DAB. Other than 'woo, digital!' it isn't actually better than the alternatives in any way. Without that, economies of scale don't push the price down at all because hardly anyone is buying the devices.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by HRH_H_Crab (1746502)

        Other than 'woo, digital!' it isn't actually better than the alternatives in any way.

        I believe that compared to FM the sound quality is actually worse.

        • Re:Hmm, I wonder (Score:5, Informative)

          by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @06:17AM (#32859066) Journal
          Depends. A clean FM signal is actually pretty good quality, but a clean FM signal is pretty rare. DAB uses 128Kb/s MP2, which is terrible quality. DAB+ uses 64Kb/s AAC+, which is good enough that cheap speakers are going to be the cause of poor quality in a lot of circumstances, but still not actually good. 128KB/s AAC would definitely be better than FM in most cases, but this doesn't seem to be an option for DAB.
          • by sznupi (719324)

            I don't know. FM might be considered to be of "good quality" in a lot more places than those where it has "clean signal" - it degrades quite gracefully, for a large part of that process still sounds pleasant. No such thing with DAB.

            I have here a simple alarm radio, in a place near the edge of reception areas / in the middle between transmitters. Toying with the placement and antenna is required, but generally one can still get almost perfect reception (I wouldn't held much hope for digital), even after my d

            • Re:Hmm, I wonder (Score:4, Interesting)

              by mindwhip (894744) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @09:43AM (#32859784)

              My friend's house is in the country and sits in a natural dip. He can still listen to FM (all be it a little bit hissy at times) on any cheap set without any extra aerials, however he can't listen to DAB at all as he gets about 3 or so seconds of airplay followed by 10 or so seconds of total silence, and this is with a good quality receiver and a roof Ariel.

              He also has similar issues with analogue/digital TV, unfortunately they will be turning off the analogue TV soon, so the only way he will be able to watch TV is with satellite dish and multiple set top boxes so there are no fights amongst his late teen children.

              And also living quite a few miles from his local telephone exchange he can't get ADSL so no broadband internet so that isn't an option either....

              All these things now have a negitive impact on his house value, where as 20 years ago when he bought the place none of these things were important and the isolation was a positive influence on the price.

              Yey for the digital age!

          • I had no idea DAB bitrate was so poor otherwise I wouldn't have bought one for my mum a couple of years ago. Still, probably better for certain things.. FM really sucks for classical music for example, the volume levels get so low that the music gets drowned out by static.

            • by lagfest (959022)

              The DAB bitrate is variable, giving talk radio lesser bitrates, and classical music larger bitrates.

          • DAB _can_ be 128K - but.

            As of this moment.
            64K momo - BBC World Service, Premier Christian, Talk Sport, UCB christian, Shared access, Amazing Radio, BBC Asian
            80K mono - BBC Radio 5 live, BBC radio 7

            96K mono - NME Radio UK.

            112K stereo - Heat radio, Magic,

            128K stereo - BBC Radio 1/1xtra/ 2/ 4 /Scotland /BFBS, Planet Rock/6Music , Tay AM, Tay FM, Absolute 80s, Absolute, Gaelic

            160K stereo - Classic FM

            192K stereo - BBC Radio 3

            I note that 4 of the 64K stations were broadcasting music. That managed to sound bad on

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          In Australia DAB Quality is a LOT worse. AM often sounds better.
          Silicon Chip (The electronics magazine) reviewed the situation.
          Teeny Weenie 64K channels, low power at best, is way worse than standad FM

          The 64kbits/s DAB+ used by most of the Australian commercial stations, equivalent to 96kbits/s in DAB, is simply not good enough and nothing to be proud of.

          80kbit/s DAB+, as used by ABC Classical, roughly equivalent to 128kbits/s DAB, is something they should be ashamed of, since the DAB+ audio quality is nota

      • When I said portable I meant as in an MP3 player sized device. £20 isn't bad, but it's still not FM territory.

        • ASDA have a pocket-sized DAB radio for £32 that's just larger than a small box of matches. It's very plasticky but it works fine, provided the signal's good enough.

          Mind you, it eats batteries and so I have just ordered some 1300mAh AAA rechargeables for it.
          • by Dogtanian (588974)

            Mind you, it eats batteries and so I have just ordered some 1300mAh AAA rechargeables for it.

            Yes, that *is* a bloody nuisance in itself. I had a crappy FM radio (ASDA own-brand, coincidentally) that gobbled batteries, due I'm guessing to its crude and inefficient internal design. When it eventually stopped working (due to the aerial breaking off inside), I replaced it with a non-crappy Sony one whose batteries last for *months* on end versus the craptastic one's under-a-week performance.

            Frankly, having to worry about and charge batteries once (or more) a week for something I only want to grab and

      • I went all-out and bought a Pure Evoke Flow, because it had DAB (and luckily DAB+ which will soon replace DAB here) as well as internet radio, podcast support, uPNP playback, FM radio and so on. The last two places I've lived, DAB has had an advantage over the FM band.

        The town where I used to live, local radio stations were transmitting with so much power that it drowned out the national stations unless you had a roof antenna in large parts of the town. DAB worked perfectly.

        Now I live out in the sticks, but

      • Re:Hmm, I wonder (Score:5, Informative)

        by Linker3000 (626634) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @08:13AM (#32859394) Journal
        There IS a case for what DAB gives you - more radio stations - but that is not a thing specific to DAB. The real problems with the roll-out of DAB stack up as follows:

        1) DAB was promoted as being superior to FM in terms of quality, but then the broadcasters started to tinker with bitrates on order to squeeze as many stations into the available bandwidth, even transmitting some music stations in mono, so that the quality was clearly inferior to FM. This has created a big credibility issue for DAB because the quality angle is still pushed towards an audience that has evidence to the contrary.

        2) DAB reception is patchy in many areas, especially indoors. This may be mitigated when (if?) analogue is switched off and DAB transmissions get more power, but at the moment, for example, I can only receive about 50% of the available stations on my DAB kitchen radio - and if the weather is bad the error rate rockets so all I get is a burble.

        3) DAB reception on public transport, especially trains, is crap. Well-paid city commuters would snap up a decent, working gadget but only AM and FM work well on the move.

        4) The original DAB radios were expensive and also butt-ugly, looking like 'Practical Wireless' projects from the 70s. Many were also mono, with only one speaker - you paid extra for an add-on. These wooden-boxed radios appealed to early adopters and the curious, but the general public were not so enthusiastic. Recent designs are more sensible.

        5) Portable DAB sets - especially the shirt-pocket sized ones - really really eat batteries. I'm lucky to get 4-6 hours out of a pair of good quality alkaline AAA cells. In fact, I have just ordered some 1300mAh AAA rechargeables because the cost to feed the radio with normal cells is stupid - you could easily spend more on cells in 3 weeks than the cost of the radio.

        6) Getting a DAB radio for a car at a sensible price is pretty much impossible - and those who have them don't seem to be impressed with the reception and performance.

        7) The technical spec for DAB is out of date already, but to replace it would mean admitting that the original design was not well thought out AND would force all current adopters to scrap their current kit; and no-one wants to be the one to announce that.

        8) Many people take their own music with them and can pick and choose what they want to listen to. Why swap this for something that sounds worse and doesn't play what you want?

        9) The number of mobile phones with DAB receivers is (I believe) 1 - and it's only available on one mobile network (Virgin). Having a mobile phone with DAB would give the service a *bit* of credibility, but would probably screw up battery life.

        10) Here's the kicker: FM and AM 'just work' and very few have problems with the quality - there is no public tidal wave of protest demanding anything better and this leads to a sense that DAB is being pushed onto the public - which instantly gets people pissed off.

        The current way forward for the broadcasters and politicians seems to be a defensive 'do nothing' while half-heartedly championing DAB, and no doubt there will be some form of mad scramble to do something half-assed when the analogue switch-off dates are imminent. There is an analogue trade-in promotion at the moment and it will be interesting to see what the take-up is.

        Very recently, a Government source stated that the FM switch off would only happen when there was little demand for the service - which is a change from the previous 'rock solid' fixed date, but unless there is some serious push to improve DAB reception and produce a portable set with a sensible battery life, I fear we are going to bump along the 'do nothing' road for a long time.
    • by monoi (811392)
      You need to look a bit harder, like for all of five seconds: non-portable for £20 [argos.co.uk], portable for £30 [tesco.com]. Of course, that's still pretty expensive compared to FM.
    • by julesh (229690)

      It couldn't be something to do with the fact that the cheapest DAB radio I can find right now is £35 (£60 if you want something portable), whereas you can get a portable FM receiver for under £5? Nah, it must be to do with the regulations and standards!

      Don't think it is, no. Where do most people listen to radio? In their car. It probably has more to do with the fact that DAB radios haven't been standard equipment in most cars until only about a year ago, and not even an option in many

      • It probably has more to do with the fact that DAB radios haven't been standard equipment in most cars until only about a year ago

        Are you sure about this?

        from the linked article:

        and the government says it is working with car manufacturers to make digital radios standard in cars by 2013

        (bold part is my emphasis)

      • by Teun (17872)
        In The Netherlands we don't have DAB and my experience with the Danish version tells me that's a good thing.

        In this country the vast majority of FM listeners is in their car, at home we have cable, internet or DVB-T, all better than DAB.

        Regretfully DVB-T reception is rather difficult in a moving vehicle so we'll stick with FM.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      ...and for some time now integrated "for free" in many mobile phones, at least as far as FM is concerned.

      Generally, what's this "free market & Nokia to the rescue"? Nokia doesn't do like it's being described, not with technology of such scope - think GSM (pure 2G), "2.5G" (GPRS, EDGE), 3G & "3.5G", and now LTE - this is the kind of technological scope we're talking about here, not some new minor feature in handsets. Each step took many years, too.

      Even when the progress in the area was, evidently, hi

    • And that I have 5 FM radios playing around my house at the moment.

      They are all in sync, so I can wander around the house without missing anything.

      DAB is expensive to use, and in many ways less good.
      I even own a digital radio. It is unplugged in the bottom of a drawer.

      DAB does have more channels - but it doesn't compete with the internet on that score.

      It is a doomed intermediate technology with many disadvantages compared both to the existing technology (cheap, effective, huge installed base), and compared t

    • by Wowsers (1151731)

      Based on what I have experienced of my own pocket DAB radio, there are multiple reasons for the formats failure. In no particular order...

      1) Battery life. My pocket FM radio lasts for 1.5 weeks typical usage on a pair of AA batteries. My DAB radio with uprated Ah AA batteries just about last the night (about 8 hours).

      2) Mains powered sets are mostly mono (most popular selling type of set). Where is the improvement in technology when you go from stereo to mono, AND pay a premium for it? The stereo versions c

    • It doesn't help that younger people don't really care about the radio and old people fear new things.
    • Yes, but the price is the result of the regulations and standards. Both are barriers to entry preventing newcomers from competing. That, and the fact that with those prices (35£ sounds like a lot to me for a radio, looking at the exchange rate, btw) they're still able to capture nearly a quarter of the market.

      If they charged a fifth that, and got 100% of the market, they'd be making less money and have to manufacture four times as many units. Obviously, they're going to choose the optimum that seem

  • Nonsense (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:22AM (#32858894) Journal

    You've been able to buy DAB receivers cheaply for ages. Psion used to sell them, and they haven't been around for a while - I remember seeing their DAB receivers for about £20 back in 2001 and now I imagine they're even cheaper. The problem with DAB is not government development, it's that it's a solution with no corresponding problem.

    FM radio is good enough for most people. DAB uses a fairly poor compression system, so doesn't give noticeably better quality than FM (unlike FM versus AM). It requires new equipment, but my father still has the FM receiver he bought in the late '70s - it still works fine and gives good audio quality, so the only reason to upgrade would be if they turned off the FM or if there were radio channels that he could only get on DAB.

    I don't actually own anything that can receive broadcast radio. I listen a lot to Internet radio stations. DAB can't really compete with the available content there - there simply isn't enough bandwidth available to broadcast every Internet radio station. The only advantage DAB had over Internet radio was that it worked while mobile, but the most common place where people listen to the radio while mobile is in cars. DAB receivers in cars are not that common, and DAB reception in a moving vehicle tends to be pretty poor even if they are.

    Now, with mobile phones starting to include data plans, any mobile can stream a 64Kb/s AAC Internet Radio stream from anywhere in the world and get similar sound quality to DAB. DAB uses 128Kb/s MP2, which is pretty poor quality. DAB+ (which requires another equipment upgrade if you bought a DAB receiver) uses 64KB/s AAC+. The radio station that I listen to most often provides 64 and 128KB/s AAC+ streams, so if I am at home I get better quality than DAB, if I listen on a device where bandwidth is more limited then I get the same quality (and, unlike DAB, the non-local station is actually available). Unlike radios, people upgrade their mobile phones every few years, so if a new, better audio CODEC comes out, you can deploy it immediately on the server, watch people slowly switch, and turn off the old one in a few years. When was the last time you saw an Internet Radio station using MP2?

    If Nokia had introduced a digital broadcasting standard, they'd have had devices on the market, but who would have been transmitting? People who bought broadcasting equipment from Nokia? Would the BBC have bought into a single-vendor solution like that? Absolutely not. And if they'd got other companies on board, they'd have needed a similarly long standards process (see WiFi) to get them all to agree and to avoid incompatibilities between implementations.

    • by julesh (229690)

      DAB receivers in cars are not that common, and DAB reception in a moving vehicle tends to be pretty poor even if they are.

      Which is odd, as one of the design goals for DAB was that the receiver should be able to move freely throughout the broadcast area and always get a signal, automatically switching to the strongest available transmitter whenever it changes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)

        In theory, that's great. Unfortunately, being digital, it doesn't degrade gracefully. You either have a clean signal, or you pass the threshold that the error correction can handle and have nothing. When you're driving down winding country roads, you frequently fall into signal shadow. With FM, this means that you just get a lot of static over the radio as you go around a corner or in a dip. With DAB, it means that you get silence, then the station returning a second later. The latter is a lot more ja

        • by johnw (3725)

          When you're driving down winding country roads, you frequently fall into signal shadow. With FM, this means that you just get a lot of static over the radio as you go around a corner or in a dip.

          And not even that these days. Since car radios started incorporating automatic re-tuning, I find I can drive across the country with never a drop-out.

          The point which all the pundits fail to address is that DAB is simply pointless. It provides a worse service than exists already, at greater cost. Only those with a vested interest are pushing it (which unfortunately includes the government because they see the opportunity to make money by flogging off the frequency spectrum currently used by FM).

          • Re:Nonsense (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2010 @08:30AM (#32859464)

            Only those with a vested interest are pushing it (which unfortunately includes the government because they see the opportunity to make money by flogging off the frequency spectrum currently used by FM).

            The really funny thing is, when they come to sell the FM space, no one will want it as no doubt the pirates will take it over.

            There are millions of FM receivers in this country, and at some point they will all be purposefully obsoleted at once. People will inevitably step up to fill this void, and suddenly the radio waves will be full of stations not wanting to listen to regulators.

            And I can't wait. The playlist-format that dominates radio stations these days make listening to them very annoying - the same records over and over. Hell, the same stations all over the dial - the other day I was waiting for a mate in the car, and was bored, so skipped through FM 0.1MHz at a time, to see what pirate stations were around. At least 3 different frequencies were exactly the same station, all with different RDS names. And even the independent places all play the same shitty pop-music.

            Fuck the commercial radio stations, bring on the pirates! DAB may well be the best thing that happens to UK radio in years, but not for the reasons the DAB crowd want it to be.

      • Which is odd, as one of the design goals for DAB was that the receiver should be able to move freely throughout the broadcast area and always get a signal, automatically switching to the strongest available transmitter whenever it changes.

        In fact it was designed so that multiple transmitters could broadcast the same signal on the same frequency without multipath problems.
        Which is great - except that the regulatory authorities require each transmitter to uniquely identify itself which means they cannot broadcast identical bit streams and thus that mechanism just doesn't work.

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>The problem with DAB is not government development, it's that it's a solution with no corresponding problem.

      The two issues are not unrelated.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Because non-gov entities don't present such kinds of solutions? (and no, market isn't guaranteed to not fall into them - look at, say, SUV uptake some time ago) BTW, ever heard of GSM, by far the most popular cellular standard on the planet (or so I've heard), also spearheaded by administrative activities? Or DVB-T?

        • GSM's a bad example. The system was developed "by the government", but only in the sense that the government owned the industry that developed it at the time (this was during/slightly before the big wave of privatizations.) Specifically, GSM started off as a France Telecom project, and was subsequently adopted by the EC/EU after it had already gotten to a point of being clearly a good idea. At that point, it was developed by a consortium of industries, including significant involvement by private groups li

        • GSM was, in nearly every way, inferior to CDMA, so I'm not sure you're making the point you intended to make there.

          • by sznupi (719324)

            Ehhh...this confusion again; one group choosing as their trademark a name of basic radio method.

            GSM association also uses CDMA for parts of their technology; but older standards from them, using TDMA, are...well...quite a bit older. So, what, were you making a point "older technology using less demanding, easier & cheaper to implement methods"? That's a surprise...

            Of course, supposed "inferiority" hasn't stopped GSM being wildly more successful, evidently much better suited to demands of the world, so I

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:27AM (#32858906)

    We were told that you got no interference, you could listen to anything anywhere, it was the wonder radio of your dreams. Load of bollocks as usual. You can't pick it up in cars, they need an external aerial fitted. You get bad reception in a building, the DAB radio has to be near a window. When reception is bad, you don't get silence, you get clunky chunky blocks of noise which makes it un-listenable.

    And, I have FM radios that are over 20 years old and working fine. My new DAB radio (£30), bought in May 2009, broke on Monday. I'm not buying a replacement. It's bollocks.

  • I mean if you switch on a UK soap opera and you see a radio in the background it's a DAB one. The sets are widely distributed, everybody has seen one.

    For example I was on a geek tour of a German radio station once. The guide asked who had a DAB radio. None of the people present had one. DAB is just dead in Germany.

    • if you switch on a UK soap opera

      Why would you even consider doing that?

      • by Casandro (751346)

        1. Because the show you want to watch starts a few minutes after that and you want to make sure your equipment works.

        2. Have you ever seen German television? Even the worst programming in the UK is _way_ better than the German average.

  • ... then how can the relatively-fast delployment of DVB-T be explained in Europe (something which had to pass through much the same process).

    The problems with DAB are technical (poor bandwidth utilisation meaning that, in the UK, at least, the quality of DAB is mostly worse than FM; insufficient transmitters; poor propagation), economic (cost of building additional transmitters at a time when commercial radio is declining), lack of demand and lack of suitable receivers (at a reasonable price, not eating bat

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by amorsen (7485)

      It's the perfect example of a poor technical solution to an imaginary problem.

      The lack of radio bandwidth isn't an imaginary problem. In fact, there is a chance that the scarcity of FM channels will affect the next election in Denmark, because politicians have decided to rearrange channel allocations and that has been angering some people.

      The solutions are DVB-T, DRM+, and the Internet.

  • Uses DAB+, which is far superior (makes better use of bandwidth, has a better quality etc.).
    I think uptake would be better if people went for the current tech (DAB+) rather than rely on the dated and poor quality DAB.

    • DAB+ was only standardised in 2007. You're telling people who bought a digital radio in 2000 - 2007 that the lifespan of digital radio technology is under a decade. Meanwhile, FM radios bought in the '70s still work (and work well). Sounds like a good reason for avoiding digital radio altogether. Or, as another poster suggested, using DVB-T instead of DAB, since there's already a large installed base of DVB-T receivers, and a lot of them are connected up to HiFis for audio output.
      • Yes exactly that (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CdBee (742846)
        So relatively few people have them that the cost to society of abandoning DAB and finding something that works properly is negligible. Do it. Do it now. Don't let people buy into a failed experiment.
        • Re:Yes exactly that (Score:4, Informative)

          by PybusJ (30549) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @09:17AM (#32859662)

          The UK was quick out of the blocks with widespread DAB deployment and despite the complaints in this story that it hasn't caught up FM, there are many millions of receivers in use which only only support an 80s era codec. Moving to DAB+ codecs will be hard in the UK, and while DAB+ would be more efficient, taking away bandwidth from DAB to broadcast in DAB+ for a cross-over period means reducing the number of broadcast stations. This will upset people who were sold DAB on the basis of the channel choice; witness the recent outcry when the BBC proposed to close the digital-only station 6music.

          The article mentions that 24% of listening is digital; if that were DAB that would be pretty impressive. Unfortunately, in an article about DAB, the BBC is rather lax in the statistics it quotes by not breaking down "digital", which includes DAB plus radio over DVB-T, satellite TV and internet streaming. The last is quite popular with hours spent online streaming BBC radio vastly ahead of the more frequently trumpeted video iPlayer services.

      • Meanwhile, FM radios bought in the '70s still work (and work well).

        Even earlier - my FM tuner was made in the 60s and still works well, it even has stereo (Leak Troughline Stereo). Another radio also works well, but it was made in the USSR where they used a different frequency range for FM (~65-75MHz) so I needed to make a frequency converter. Still, the radio made in 1964 sounds quite good.

        Granted, if the signal is weak I'll hear noise, but I'd rather hear some noise than artifacts produced by the codec, they annoy me more.

        The only advantage to DAB is the fact that it wou

  • by Frekja (982708) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:58AM (#32859002)
    The real problem with DAB isn't price or features. It's battery life. My FM/LW radio lasts over a month of regular use. A similarly sized portable DAB unit manages about 6-8 hours. Why would I 'upgrade'?
  • funny summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by obarthelemy (160321) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:59AM (#32859004)

    I find the free market plug kinda funny in that instance: if you let the free market decide, you don't get Nokia nor the Euro GSM standard, you get the US mess of incompatible operators and standards, with each company trying to push their agenda, their patent-encumbered techs... How would you like your radio to work in the UK, but not in Ireland ? Or to work on the public channels, but not with some private ones ? Or to work only with tailor-made, more expensive sets ?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Xemu (50595)

      Patents are just another form of regulation. There is no true "free market" when companies can artificially stop competition using lawsuits. Or alternatively, there is just as much free market in Europe, where there is a GSM standard. Regulation either does or doesn't eliminate a free market. You can't have it both ways.

  • When there's spotify, itunes and some slightly less legal services to provide all the music you could want; podcasts to do shows and, if you can stand the news, it's on your phone, your laptop, your tv and probably a load of other devices. It's hard to see what a non interactive audio service offers.
    • Really, people value the non-interactivity, it's a benefit. Sometimes you just want to fill the background with good enough music / etc. while doing something else (I suspect also not wanting something great - not wanting to be hooked too much); with scheduled short news service every hour a nice bonus (also one you don't have to actively follow, but still be certain that important news will reach you)

      This blog post covers it quite nicely [gnomefiles.org]:

      the vast majority of the radio listeners don't listen to music. They hear music instead. There's a difference. They put the kids on the SUV, and drive them to school, and turn on the radio in the meantime. Or, they're stuck in traffic, pissed off, and need to listen to "easy" music to pass the time. Or, they're sitting on their sofa, reading a magazine, and have the radio ON as a background.

      Very few people actually drive somewhere in order to turn on the radio and listen to music. Or sit on their sofa, closing their eyes, and listen to just music. Normal people instead, are so busy with their lives, their problems, the quick pace of this civilization, that simply don't have the time to discover new music. Listening to unknown kind of melodies, or new kinds of sub-genres altogether, takes them out of their comfort zone. Listening to something like Dan Deacon instead of Lady Gaga, for example, while the kids shout at each other at the back of the car, makes it difficult to level your head. Not only you have your problems, but you have this new 'annoying' music playing instead of the music (or kind of music) you already know so well.

      Basically, commercial radio works as a kind of a depressant for the masses. At first, it feels like music is exactly the opposite: an excitement that is, but in reality, in the large scheme of things, as far as FM radio is concerned, it's nothing but one of the ways that helps you kept in check. No, this is not a conspiracy theory, it's just how things work. Listeners want it that way too.

      That's also BTW why any possible benefits of DAB are probably irrelev

  • Just to chime in (Score:3, Interesting)

    by neokushan (932374) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @06:30AM (#32859110)

    As many people have already stated, DAB Digital Radio has a plethora of issues.
    The radios themselves aren't that cheap, especially portable ones. There's no real benefit to owning one, you get a couple of extra stations that you probably wont listen to and the reception is terrible in most places. For years, I've wanted the technology to take off and be good, a bit like Freeview OTA Digital TV, but it never happened.
    Now, for me, technology has moved on. I have a pretty decent android phone and use an app called Streamfurious. With this, I can listen to thousands of radio stations from all around the world, including just about every station you'll get on digital radio, in better quality and over 3G as well. It works surprisingly well, less cut outs than I ever did get with DAB.

  • Overtaken By Events (Score:3, Informative)

    by niks42 (768188) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @07:20AM (#32859240)
    I agree with posters above that non-interactivity is good - it reduces cognitive loading, as Bruce Sterling would say. You just want something to tune into, that respects your style of music, stretches your boundaries slightly and gets on with the job in the background. DAB could have been good; however, they failed to move quickly enough to get the receivers out there at prices competitive with FM. It would have to be pretty dang competitive for me, since I have two excellent Home Cinema receivers with FM, a kitchen radio with FM, a bedside alarm clock with FM, a a Hacker Black Knight in the shed, one for when I do DIY and don't mind it getting paint-spattered, several vintage receivers including a bakelite Ecko, one for when I am out flying kites, one in each car ... so anyway before I digress, DAB took too long, so it itself is obsolete against Internet radio, iTunes podcast downloads Sky radio stations and a myriad of other more modern solutions. The Germans are letting it die on the vine also. Why do we not do the Capitalist thing, and let the consumers determine its fate. Oh wait, we already did. LET IT DIE.
  • by leenks (906881) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @07:37AM (#32859294)

    In the UK at least, there was slow take-up of DAB because of all the issues surrounding it at the beginning that the popular press picked up on - namely poor signal coverage, lack of decent car receivers (where I believe the majority of people listen to the radio anyway), and overly compressed streams that made anything but ClassicFM sound awful. There were alternative sources of music and people just wouldn't pay the high costs for little perceived benefit - ie the initial outlay for the receiver, the running costs, and reduced portability.

    Now that the costs have come down, DAB is potentially doomed by switch-off and replacement by DAB+. Many older receivers (many of them were still on sale a few months ago, probably still are) cannot be upgraded to receive this, which has been further highlighted in the press and further puts people of buying.

  • one in four, that's sounds like heavy enough adoption to me, millions of units!!!

  • It's lossy low bitrate audio. The reception is dire and when you have a weak signal you get garbled choppy annoying sound instead of a bit of hiss and crackle.

    Would be better streaming from the internet.

  • by r0ball (1848426)
    I don't have reliable stats to hand, but I would be willing to bet most radio listening is done in the car, certainly among younger people. I recently bought a new car (Volkswagen Golf Plus [volkswagen.co.uk]) and the DAB option was £175! To put this in perspective, the reversing camera costs £165. To put this in perspective, the carpet mats cost £75....hmmm....
  • DAB launched in Canada several years ago. Every radio station participating, which was virtually all of them in Toronto from what I remember, filled the airwaves with ads promoting how amazing it was. I was pretty excited about it.

    There was one problem, however: You couldn't buy a damn receiver for it.

    They had a couple of lousy ones at Radio Shack, and DAB car decks were virtually nonexistent. It was doomed to failure, and it indeed failed. I don't know a single person who ever even had a chance to listen t

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2010 @11:52AM (#32860396)

    I used to work as a programmer at one of the few British DAB firms, which went bust not that long ago. What really annoys me is all the myths about DAB that are propagated by various journalists.
    Myth 1. FM audio quality is better than DAB at 128kbits. This just isn't true and the only FM station with any quality at all is Radio 3, because the BBC pump massive amounts of power and engineering effort into the signal. The problem is that FM signal degradation creates white noise, which the human brain filters out without even noticing (especially in a speeding car). In contrast all digital audio has to suffer unpleasant squeaks and artefacts if the signal is corrupted. However, under truly equivalent conditions of power the DAB signal trounces the FM quality. Unfortunately, in practice the DAB signal is much nearer the noise floor because: linear broadband transmitters are way more expensive to run than constant power FM transmitters; because the thermal noise in the receiver is proportional to bandwidth and the DAB wavelength doesn't penetrate buildings all that well.
    Myth 2. DAB is failing, because the MPEG2-Layer II codec is old and inefficient compared to MP3 and AAC. Truth is the DAB+ codec is horrible to listen to in practice and the old DAB one is much better for the job of sending over poor signal paths. The higher the compression ratio the longer the encoded audio frames get. With the 24ms audio frame of DAB, losing a frame simply causes the classic 'bubblng mud' sound and some frame repetition can be allowed to pad the gaps in a benign fashion. With AAC+ you get 120ms superframes, which equates to massive silent pauses and repetition sounds like Max Headroom. Certainly the DAB+ standard has reed-solomon to push it even nearer to Shannon's limit of SNR, but in truth most fading that causes problem is brief total signal loss, which long frames actually aggravate. This sort of signal loss happens a lot, because most people put there radios deep indoors and actually have a much worse signal reception than they realise. The end result is with DAB+ radios people start to think the software is on the blink due to the on-off nature of getting audio out of one as you move the aerial about and it is very hard to suss out a good reception spot for the antenna as there is no feedback on signal quality.
    Myth 3. The low bitrate used in DAB is in some way due inefficient coding/transmission. This is simply due to short sighted commercial decisions and basically the broadcasters will always reduce the bitrate till users complain. The commercial networks clearly intend to reduce the 128kbits channels used for DAB to 32kbits and 24kbits when using AAC in DAB+ (see Australian DAB+ tender bids), by which point any quality gains from the codec have been thrown away.

    The real reasons DAB is dying are:
    1. All forms of broadcast are dying due to the rise of on-demand/interactive ways of listening to media. The moment decent MP3 players started to be sold, DAB radio sales were doomed. People mostly want to listen to their own choice of music and whilst news, chat and introducing new music are important most commercial stations just act as a jukebox that you can't control.TV and satellite are going the same way, but are partly saved by the fact that the mobile device form factor cannot provide a decent viewing experience. Decent internet connected smartphones are the final nail in the coffin for the classical broadcasting model and I do wonder who on earth is going to want the TV wavelengths when they are finally freed up.
    2. Digital radio is hard to make portable and low powered. The power requirements for MP3 audio decode are tiny compared to those of capturing, sampling and DSP decoding an 8MHz/s signal to the point where you can start the equivalent of MP3 audio decode. FM can be decoded to an adequate signal with a few non-linear components and provide perfectly adequate audio. The aerial size for DAB is also awkwardly large and a proper dipole is essential for coping with the poor broadcast power used in the

  • Could it be IPOD + ITUNES + Podcasting have made radio the cassette tape player? Satellite (Digital) Radio isn't doing too well either, though cars are throwing in receivers for free. Sirius (recently merged with XM due to financial weakness) extends me $5 per month inducement subscriptions which I ignore. So, cost is not a factor; lack of usefulness is. At home, I use shoutcast etc., for "digital radio".

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