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I Love Digital Radio

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Ashley Highfield | 09:55 UK time, Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Radio Wireless RadiogramSunday night, sitting at my computer in my study listening to the radio, or rather, IP (Internet Protocol) music from last.fm through my computer's speakers. It got me thinking about digital radio in general. It's been a mixed couple of weeks for digital radio - or DAB, to be precise: the delivery of radio via the traditional means, airwaves and aerials, but digitally encoded.

On the one hand, the Germans announced a review of their support for DAB, and the UK commercial players are likewise voicing concerns about the technology.

On the other hand, Natalie Schwarz (Chairman of 4Digital Radio) has written a rallying call in the Guardian "Why we must stick with digital Radio" and an email from our director of radio Jenny Abramsky last week spoke of the successes of our digital radio in general (now accounting for 10% of all radio listening in the UK) and of the BBC's digital portfolio in particular, with 6Music and BBC 7 putting on many thousands of new listeners in the last quarter.

The BBC faces some tough decisions in the coming years about how much money we put into different distribution technologies. I receive Radio 1 into my house via FM, IP, DAB, DTT, 3G, Digital Satellite, and if you include the fabulous Live Lounge, on CD. Are all these sustainable?

live_lounge.png

There are some, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer among the most famous, who think that everything will tend towards IP - delivery over the internet. Perhaps surprisingly, I disagree.

The huge sunk cost in the hundreds of DAB masts up and down the country - and therefore the relatively cheap cost of delivery (providing that spectrum supply is carefully managed) - is a compelling enough argument for believing that DAB will be with us for a while yet. (By the same logic, I believe that DTT digital TV - Freeview - will live alongside Iptv for many many years).

But even putting this infrastructure point to one side, and ignoring the basic better economics of sending one signal to everyone (which might be undermined if everyone wants personal radio experience â la last.fm), there are even stronger benefits of DAB radio over the emerging alternative, internet radio.

These benefits are quality, reliability, and ease of use. Time and time again these basics are forgotten in the headlong pursuit of new features and functionality. I have an IP radio in my kitchen, and a DAB radio in my bedroom. The IP radio connects wirelessly via my broadband router out to the internet and brings back literally tens of thousands of radio stations.

As a result, I choose to listen to Riviera Radio from Monaco - an English language station with a playlist somewhere between Radio 1 and Magic (alright, I'm 42) - and BBC news on the hour, with minimal DJ interference. In short, my perfect radio station. I also use the IP radio to listen, on-demand, on Sunday morning, to Jonathan Ross's Saturday morning Radio 2 show. The DAB radio in the bedroom I use for Radio 4, and occasionally for BBC 7.

So IP wins hands down, right? Wrong.

The quality of the IP stream is often woeful. It frequently buffers, meaning I hear nothing for seconds or even minutes on end. It frequently loses the wireless connection, and sometimes gets confused and wants the WEPP key again. I switch it off and on again. About once a day. By contrast the DAB radio just works. Press the button, and on it comes: excellent quality; reasonable range of choice; no bother.

DABagotchiMy biggest beef with DAB is that, for some reason I still can't fathom, a new technology has been clothed in old boxes. A bit of retro I don't mind, but old fuddy-duddy-looking leather clad wirelesses, and Dualit Toaster-like DAB receivers is in my opinion not going to take DAB mainstream.

Given that DAB has quality and simplicity sorted, where does it go from here? The biggest benefit of DAB going forward should still be its ease of use, and range of stations, but also its clear benefits over FM. To make the most of these benefits, I want a DAB set with a big touch-screen, with a big on-screen programme guide, showing the stations, the shows on those stations, and the tracks currently playing on those shows. All possible on DAB (and indeed the first big screen DAB sets are starting to come on to the market).

alison_goldfrapp.jpgI want this big screen to show me signal strength, news feeds, and the time. I want it to show me programmes coming up, to allow me to bookmark and record programmes, to set up simple searches (scan all stations, and record me any interviews with Goldfrapp, and perhaps provide information about release dates of her upcoming album).

I want DAB to show me weather, traffic and travel information graphically, on the same nice big screen, but unlike IP, reliably, simply, without installation and configuration. It's all possible: I've seen it working from our development teams and research engineers. I want DAB to use its metadata - the information about the programmes - to differentiate itself from FM, which is surely its biggest competitor, rather than from IP. I want DAB to look like a product of the future, not the past.

We can and should do more at the Beeb to work with the industry to innovate around DAB. And like DTT television, it is possible that hybrid boxes (DAB and IP), offering the simplicity and reliability of broadcast with the range and on-demand benefits of IP will become the standard (with the ability to track listening habits and personalise your experience).

These are my personal views, and I'd welcome a debate about this to help inform the medium- and long-term technology decisions we must make at the BBC.

Ashley Highfield is Divisional Director, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Comments

  1. At 12:57 PM on 06 Feb 2008, James Cridland wrote:

    I agree.

    My reply's too long for here, so I've posted it on my own blog. From it, the most contentious statement (and the one that'll get me into the most trouble with my boss's boss):

    "Radio James" sounds compelling for me, and I can ignore, thank heavens, all the hideous Goldfrapp on "Radio Ashley".

  2. At 01:01 PM on 06 Feb 2008, Teg wrote:

    Great post Ashley on a much debated topic. I really think the BBC should be showing some leadership in the DAB arena. Or perhaps we need the government to put in plans for a digital switchover like television and have the old FM signal sold off!

  3. At 02:01 PM on 06 Feb 2008, Jeremy Roberton wrote:

    I just finished reading " The power behind the microphone" by one Capt P.P.Eckersley onetime chief engineer at the BBC.

    Although published in 1941, Capt Eckersley's thinking on the subject of broadcasting technology is amazingly fresh and insightful. I would commend it to any latterday decision maker.

    And on receivers:-
    At age 5 my first radio was powered by the received signal.

    Some 57 years later my DAB portable can eat 6 re-chargeable D cells in 18 hours. The best proprietary secondary D cells last about 2 days.

    Until they solve the power consumption of these devices I cannot envisage buying another.


  4. At 02:21 PM on 06 Feb 2008, David wrote:

    "The quality of the IP stream is often woeful."

    Well, the quality of DAB is pretty woeful where I live.

    I'd like DAB that offers coverage and sound quality to match or exceed what is available on FM. It's far from that at present, and there seems little prospect of things improving.

    Once that's been sorted out then yes, the extras you mention could be considered...

  5. At 05:27 PM on 06 Feb 2008, Nick Piggott wrote:

    It's great to see the prospect of the IP and DAB platforms becoming complementary, as each offers unique and differing strengths. As well as the ease of use, DAB should provide the capability for free, mass-market, mobile audio/radio experiences.
    Both DAB and IP allow us to evolve radio - to offer a "new radio" experience to listeners already enjoying the benefits of digital TV, iPods, and Sky+ boxes. The ideas exist, the technology exists; the next steps are to produce excellent content that enhances radio, and encourage our listeners to buy "new radios" that can receive it.

  6. At 06:19 PM on 06 Feb 2008, Darren Johnstone wrote:

    I want DAB t othrive, but unfortunately the experiences for me do not match my needs.

    I bought a new sony hi-fi Christmas 2006 and thought that my DAB life would begin. Unfortunately though I had to return this due to poor design and functionality of DAB - it would not even play the last station when you turned it on. I emailled Sony service for thier info.

    My brother bought a Philips DAB hi-fi almost a year ago now, he mainly uses FM as DAB implimentation means that you have to do a channel search every time the power is turned off and on again.

    With FM I simply click power and within 3 seconds, my Sony hifi will play FM radio, and the alarm can play FM as I wake up in the morning. This is what I want.

    I also found that the quality of broadcasts is inface pretty low, lower than CD quality and although you dont get the hissing, you dont get the real depth that should be made possible with a higher quality broadcast.

    I want DAB to work, but at the moment I see IP radio as the one with the most potential, with devices that can update via the internet and are more configurable to user options.

    Sort out multicasting and the quality can be increased.

  7. At 10:58 PM on 06 Feb 2008, Andy Treweek wrote:

    Dab Broadcasting in the UK has been strangled before it has even had the chance to flourish, when it was first suggested about digital radio broadcasting, it was hailed as the next 'big' HiFi quality thing, but it has gone down the road of " never mind the quality, lets see how many stations we can cram into the same bandwidth" Fm stereo transmissions wipe the floor with any Dab broadcasts when the BBC, and the IRN/Digital platform insist on crushing the life out of the sound with 96 & 128 kbs sampling of the signal, Its only Radio 3 that come close with any sort of quality at 192 kbs, we appear to have the Ipod generation running the Dab services in this country, and to hell with sound quality, just look at the options!! 100's of channels of pure compressed cr*p! Wasn't it Bruce Springsteen that sang about "57 channels and there's nothing on" well its arrived in all its digital glory, people, what a waste!

  8. At 12:20 AM on 07 Feb 2008, Jeremy Harris wrote:

    I've been a long-time DAB addict. I have invested a fair deal in equipment. DAB digital radio may not be the technologically-perfect solution. There isn't one, to be honest.

    However, what I believe this fundamentally comes down to is the money. In fact, there's a real case for saying that the regulator, Ofcom, is a significant part of DAB's mixed fortunes. It costs too much, and has been released in a very unimaginitive way.

    I'm a student radio presenter, and while I can't claim to speak for anyone beyond myself, I'm often asked why the station isn't present on DAB, whether permanently or during its short outings on FM. The set-up doesn't allow for community radio stations to get a foothold in what is a market dominated by a few corporate groups who are not very good at convincingly supporting local output.

    Now, it's clear that the use of local multiplexes to create pseudo-national stations doesn't actually work as well as it might.

    Taking the community out of radio is an insane way to play things in the age of portable media players.

    The UK needs to stick with DAB radio now we have so many receivers sold, and Ofcom needs to review its policies relating to access for smaller stations, be they smaller commercial operators or community or RSL stations. This ultimately boils down to reducing the cost of access.

  9. At 04:56 AM on 07 Feb 2008, Christian wrote:

    But IP is open for everybody. I could broadcast and you could. DAB just means another digital monopoly. That's what's going to change with IP.

  10. At 08:01 AM on 07 Feb 2008, Leyton Jay wrote:

    As far as I'm concerned DAB Digital Radio is a complete farce.

    I live in Crawley, West Sussex - if you put any Crawley postcode into the BBC's DAB Coverage Checker it says we have excellant coverage, yet no one in Crawley that I've spoken to has ever been able to receive anything and I've been asking around for 2-3 years now.

    We're not in a valley; a slight hill if anything. We have excellant reception for everything else as we're only 40 miles from London and right next to Gatwick Airport.

    I'm a total techie and a geek so I know what I'm talking about. I bought my parents an expensive DAB Radio that they have to use in AM/FM mode, the same with my grandparents, many of my friends and the devices at my office. DAB, for whatever reason, just isnt anywhere near as reliable as people make out.

  11. At 03:56 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Julian Williamson wrote:

    I too am an admirer of DAB and own one hi-fi unit, one personal unit and a small portable unit at my London based office.

    I enjoy the variety of different stations that are available on DAB, particularly in London, where I cannot pick up an FM signal, due to surrounding buildings.

    I do have one big concern though, which doesn't seem to be covered earlier in this blog, namely the new medium DAB+

    Rumour would have it that this medium will take over and both FM and current DAB will be switched off. Furthermore, it is not possible for existing DAB units to receive the DAB+ signal, meaning I'll need to replace ALL my units.

    Does anyone know what the truth is to these rumours?

  12. At 04:57 PM on 07 Feb 2008, NickB wrote:

    "The quality of the IP stream is often woeful. It frequently buffers, meaning I hear nothing for seconds or even minutes on end. It frequently loses the wireless connection, and sometimes gets confused and wants the WEPP key again. I switch it off and on again. About once a day."

    This isn't a problem with IP Radio, more with your own internet connection. No doubt you are using the computer to do other things at the same time as listening to the radio, putting too much demand on your connection is of course going to cause the stream to buffer. Otherwise, the fact that you have to refresh your WEP key points to a weak wireless signal or a poor quality router. Have you tried using a wired connection to the router and seeing if that's partly to blame for your poor connection?

    In a world of growing, general purpose IP connectivity, and devices able to exploit it, IP radio will be the ultimate winner.

  13. At 05:28 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Darren Hanks wrote:

    DAB is dreadful. Poor audio quality blights the system and the promise of better reception is an outright lie. Like Freeview the only "benefit" is the choice of more channels. Sadly we are lumbered with this 15 year old technology when the BBC should be pushing for something better.

    Meanwhile the BBC has stopped innovating with it's online streams as well. Where are the AAC+ streams? Less bandwidth, better quality, it's the future. The BBC are still locked in to creaky old Realplayer, a technology not chosen by quality or technical grounds but by the fact that when the BBC started streaming nothing else was avaliable!

  14. At 07:18 PM on 07 Feb 2008, J G Miller wrote:

    So which would you prefer:

    listening to BBC-7 in

    (1) mono on DAB

    (2) stereo on IP

    Internet Radio provides thousands of stations to choose from, some at high quality, instead of 20 odd overcompressed stations on DAB.

    As for ease of use, have you tried for example a Terratec Noxon 2 or a Logitech Slim Devices Squeezebox?

    But of course, the BBC in their proprietary choice of codecs have made their streams incompatible with such devices.

    So whereas CBC, NPR stations, Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand to name but a few, are all audible through such Internet Radio devices, the BBC cut themselves off from a potential audience of millions.

  15. At 08:29 PM on 07 Feb 2008, john haslam wrote:

    A large number of people listen to radio whilst on the move, in the car, on trains while out walking.

    This large group of listeners faces multiple problems with DAB.

    In weak signal areas the signal cuts out , often for many seconds at a time instead of just becoming noisy.

    Pocket sets relying on the earphone lead for an aerial perform very badly unless you can actually eyeball the transmitter mast.

    Very few cars are fitted with DAB or are likely to be in the near future.

    Many remoter parts of the country have no coverage at all.

    For fans of 5 Live and test match special long live 909/693/198 long wave. Switch them off at your peril!

    I do use DAB at home though.You can hear the crowd's opinion of the referee more clearly.

  16. At 11:51 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Andrew Dean wrote:

    "I want a DAB set with a big touch-screen, with a big on-screen programme guide, showing the stations, the shows on those stations, and the tracks currently playing on those shows."

    Yes, that's called FREEVIEW!
    DAB transmission is a joke with some music stations broadcasting at a woeful 64kbps: equally poor to internet radio!
    However the only reason I own and listen to my DAB radio is for the brilliant BBC 6 Music, possibly the best radio staion from the BBC and the only place to hear the music I want to hear played on air - now thats public service broadcasting!

  17. At 12:40 PM on 08 Feb 2008, RichS wrote:

    In this digital age I'm finding that I listen to the radio less and less. I have access to thousands of music tracks stored digitally on my iPod, in my car and at home. The only time I listen is to tune in to Five Live or local radio to keep up with sports when I'm out and about.

    I would prefer the BBC to spend its' piles of cash on producing more (and better) HD television programming.

  18. At 03:56 PM on 08 Feb 2008, MIke wrote:

    I want one of those DAB's with a screen , one that tells me all I need to know without having to log into yet another PC. My life is ruled by computers so this little gizmo sounds just the relief we need.

    Oh, and the ability to stream my music library from my PC, that would just about resolve any music issues for the forseeable future.

  19. At 05:29 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Martyn Evans wrote:

    I listen to Radio 3 and 4 in the main. On the radio platform I believe that DAB provides Radio 4 in mono. Radio 3 (DAB) bears comparison with the sound quality of Radio 3 (FM) when there is no cricket. When there is it is worse. This is progress?

    Rather than concentrate on gizmos why not get the fundamentals, i.e. sound fidelity, right. There simply aren't enough bits per second to carry quality sound. DAB has failed to deliver the CD quality promised. What is more worrying is that there is no intention for it to deliver quality that would merit including a DAB tuner in a Hi-Fi stack.

    I have no reason to switch from FM to DAB. My worry is that FM will be switched off anyway. I fully expect this to happen because views like mine are routinely ignored by Ofcom and others.

  20. At 12:02 PM on 09 Feb 2008, Mark wrote:

    Like many others above can't see why anyone, given the choice, would choose low quality, low bit-rate DAB over FM.
    Only BBC Radio 3 is broadcast at anything like CD/FM quality and until the other music stations choose quality over quantity then I hope FM stays.

  21. At 05:49 AM on 10 Feb 2008, Alan Phillips wrote:

    Re sound quality: Ofcom commissioned some research last year on this issue. 81% of all respondents rated DAB sound quality as either "excellent" or "good", with a further 14% rating it as "average". 3% rated it as "poor" or "very poor", with 2% saying they didn’t know.

    Amongst DAB listeners who claimed to be hi-fi owners, 83% rated DAB sound quality as "excellent" or "good". In comparison to FM, Ofcom’s research indicated 94% of respondents felt DAB sound quality was the "same", “better” or “much better” than FM.

    See sections 5.148 – 5.164 of Ofcom’s Future of Radio Document (http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/futureradio/).

    Alan (Senior Business Manager, BBC Audio & Music Interactive)

  22. At 09:38 AM on 10 Feb 2008, Andrew Smith wrote:

    There are rumours that GCap is selling its stake in Digital One for £1.00, and will be closing its digital only stations Planet Rock and The Jazz. The future of DAB is questionable. Most of the remaining commercial stations on DAB here in South Hampshire are just relays of existing FM and AM stations.

  23. At 09:38 AM on 10 Feb 2008, Simon Trevers wrote:

    With the news today that GCAP are looking to pull out of the national commercial DAB multiplex Digital One, the future of DAB looks even more bleak.

    I am a big fan of the technology, but the way that too many stations have been crammed into too little bandwidth means that there are no advantages to DAB over FM - I have several DAB/FM radios in the house, but why would I choose to listen to Radio 1 or Radio 2 on DAB when FM quality is so much higher?

    What if the BBC now purchased bandwidth from Digital One to shift some of the stations over to that multiplex at higher quality, leaving space to improve quality on all their other stations? - only when DAB is similar or better in quality than FM will it really become a viable alternative.

    Oh, and increase the power! - FM is available pretty much everywhere - DAB is certainly not.

  24. At 12:08 PM on 10 Feb 2008, tony sayer wrote:

    Its about time the BBC stopped misleading the nation as to how wonderfull all is in the DAB world.

    This very morning in the timesonline GCap has announced its to sell its stake in Digital one for a Quid to Arquiva the transmission company.

    DAB is dead..

    Apart for ther poor audio quality with the exception of Radio 3 and that isnt all that wonderfull on a decent hi-fi system, isn't it about time that it be realised that the current DAB implementaion is now dead?.

    The whole issue needs revision.

    Its very expensive for small stations to be on the DAB MUX.

    The tech is very outdated. DAB Plus is much better.

    At present we have DAB only portable radios being sold when less than One percent of vehicles are being fitted with DAB radios.

    Portable radios eat batteries..

    IP radio also leaves a lot to be desired and its not a lot of use if you can't get broadband like in your car for instance.

    So lets just stop the DAB farce now eh?..

  25. At 02:40 PM on 10 Feb 2008, Paul Webster wrote:

    Re sound quality: Ofcom commissioned some research last year on this issue.
    [snip]
    Alan (Senior Business Manager, BBC Audio & Music Interactive)

    What is not clear from the synopsis of the ICM survey is which stations were listened to by those "DAB Hi-Fi" users. I'd expect that they were responding based on the stations that they regularly listen to rather than what is available.
    By the way - what is a "DAB hi-fi"?
    Does this include mini systems - or does it only refer to people who have bought a ful size DAB receiver and plugged it into a pre-existing good quality component system?

    Is it possible that the poor sound quality on many stations actually puts potential listeners off?

    I would like to see the results of a survey amoung those who have not bought a DAB radio to find out why. My guess is that most of the people who are aware of it and have not bought one simply do not see the need because they can get what they want on FM and are happy with it.

    Then another of internet radio listeners to see which of them are disappointed DAB listeners who have decided that if they are going to have to suffer poor sound then they might as well pick music or speech that they like from around the world.

    My DAB hi-fi component is rarely used now, my DAB pocket radio is used last thing at night to listen to some BBC 7 comedy before falling asleep - but my 3 internet radios are used frequently, every day.

  26. At 10:02 AM on 11 Feb 2008, Tim O'Malley wrote:

    The truth is that there are va#rious factors:

    1) The Radio Authority/OFCOM have FAILED to make it easy for radio stations to transfer to DAB, both from the licensing point of view (by limiting the number of national multiplexes to TWO - one is the BBC the other is Digital 1), and by failing to ensure that enough multiplexes were available to ensure that HIGH quality transmissions could be broadcast (all multiplexes have an approx 1Mb capacity limit - so for more choice of stations (up to 10 per multiplex), the bandwidth that each can use is limited to maybe 128kb maximum)

    2) While cost effective DAB radios have been made available, there hasn't been a vast increase in the number of transmitters, leading to areas which even today cannot pick up a useful DAB signal. Given that DAB launched in 1995, it's sad that 13 years later some people still cannot pick it up.

    3) There are few car manufacturers who have embraced DAB and made it standard on all of their cars - the mobile DAB market is huge - but is unrealised due to lack of equipment. (PS it was the expected "car market that lead to all DAB radio sets needing vertical aerials, as the transmitted DAB signal is vertically polarised...)

    4) Despite promoting itself on an technologically "advanced" basis, the fact is that DAB uses MPEG2, an out of date transmission/encoding system developed in the late 1980's...20 years on, we're still stuck with it....DAB+ could offer better sound quality, but it cannot be picked up on existing models.

    5) The fact is that there is a huge audience market for DAB radio, but it's not being realised due to the current licensing scheme. What needs to happen is for every DAB station to be available throughout the UK...and not just limited to local multiplexes.

  27. At 10:21 AM on 11 Feb 2008, Ian Taylor wrote:

    I don't agree with Ashley that DAB radio is good quality. In order to get MORE stations the quality of the broadcast sound has been downgraded. Just look at the bit rates!! FM radio is much, much better quality.
    It'll be a sad day when FM is no more!

  28. At 12:21 PM on 11 Feb 2008, Matt Hall wrote:

    Three years ago my parents, living at that point in Somerset, had dreadful FM reception, despite living in the shadow of the Mendip transmitter. So I bought them a DAB radio. Problem solved.

    Then they moved to Cornwall, where neither DAB or FM works (or Freeview, actually). So they get a Sky freeview, and once again. problem solved. But for all the others in the same boat, living at the (geographical) edges of the country, and who don't have the funds to get on the digital highway? (Oh, have you seen what I did there?) What are they supposed to do to access all this *wonderful* content?

  29. At 02:35 PM on 11 Feb 2008, Stuart Jones wrote:

    I have a DAB radio in the car (the Blaupunkt Woodstock DAB 52 incase anyone's wondering). I use it in the Bath/Bristol area (sometimes Salisbury Plain!!) and find that it's excellent; barely drops the signal regardless of where I am!!

    I'm saddend about the comments about DAB as I feel it's such a good format:
    1. A lot more reliable than IP. I'm forever getting buffer overruns on my Internet Connection and I'm in the sticks so there's no chance of Virgin Media 20MBit being made availble to me!
    2. I use my Sky digibox for watching telly thanks, it seems rather stupid listenting to the Radio via the TV! Also how can I listen to 6 Music and Chill in the car...with a satellite dish???
    3. A lot more easier to use; switch on, select Radio station (rather than frequency!!), enjoy.
    4. I like that fact that I don't have to listen to the dross on Radio 1 (Bad), the Local Commercial Station (even worse), also crackly distorted MONO stations like Virgin, Talksport and Radio 5 on LW (which can all be listened to crisply, clearly and in STEREO on DAB!!). I also find that the quality is a lot better than FM; richer, clearer.

    I'd be really disappointed if DAB were lost and I'd have to go back to FM...a step back, another "Concord" moment IMO!!

  30. At 06:09 PM on 11 Feb 2008, Ian Pearse wrote:

    Unlike FM, DAB doesn't have BBC or commercial local radio. Will this change? On a weak signal it burbles.
    FM doesn't have Radio 5,6, or 7, and on a weak signal it hisses and goes mono.
    Freeview doesn't have Classic FM - they say it would cost too much.
    Satellite doesn't have local stations, but quality is excellent.
    Internet is great for thousands of foreign or obscure stations, (like Resonance FM) and the radios take ages to change stations. On the internet most BBC stations are now available live in Windows format, but for "Play Again" (which is great) you need the Real player download. But Internet radio doesn't usually broadcast football match commentaries.

  31. At 06:26 PM on 11 Feb 2008, Phil wrote:

    I both disagree and agree !

    Yes, DAB should be doing more to exploit it's capabilities, but surely, is'nt this the radio set manufacturers themselves, failing to embrace the new technology ?

    And no, IP / streaming music over the Internet isn't woefull at all. I use this method of listening to music more than any other, and find it's quality to be better than CD quality a lot of the time, >192kbps and of course the choice is huge. One service alone offers 10,000 radio stations from around the world.

  32. At 06:48 PM on 11 Feb 2008, Adrian Berry wrote:

    A few months ago I bought a Meridian G51A - quite a good piece of integrated hi-fi kit. As it has both FM and DAB you can make direct comparisons between the same station on FM and DAB. In my opinion all the BBC channels sound slightly better on DAB - better clarity, cleaner bass. But not enough to justify the cash outlay. Some of the other commercial stations are not so good. When the signal strength drops it is worse than FM as the sound breaks up in an unpleasant way.
    But I mainly bought the DAB option to listen to Planet Rock and sometimes Virgin. So if that is going down the tubes, then I probably wasted my money!

  33. At 07:20 PM on 11 Feb 2008, Penelope wrote:

    I am not a techie but just one of the marginalised 'geographically remote' (in Broadstairs, Kent) who struggle to listen to radio and TV stations in various formats while paying the enraging licence fee.
    Freeview, even with a booster, is still a random event here and I am well placed in terms of terrain compared to many locals. Channel 5 is also not accessible terrestrially here.
    On radio some stations occasionally work on DAB, e.g. Classic 'FM', but NEVER any of the BBC stations.
    What is the point of pushing technologies that are half baked - unreliable and not comprehensive in terms of coverage?

  34. At 08:42 PM on 11 Feb 2008, rose10 wrote:

    IP internet radio beats DAB... Although the service is not as clear as DAB, the quality is far superior old MW and LW. If Interent radio's were promoted on their listen again & on demand features, I am sure their sales would rocket.

    rose10
    Coventry

  35. At 08:48 PM on 11 Feb 2008, rose10 wrote:

    IP internet radio beats DAB... Although the service is not as clear as DAB, the quality is far superior old MW and LW. If Interent radio's were promoted on their listen again & on demand features, I am sure their sales would rocket.

    rose10
    Coventry

  36. At 10:44 PM on 11 Feb 2008, josie wrote:

    i can get clear dab upstairs in my house and very very crackly dab downstairs

    it's not perfect but fm means you don't get the amount of stations you can on dab

    i'm interested in this internet radio thingy... it works on the wireless does it? hmmm *thinks might ask for one for v-day* and they say romance is dead...

  37. At 10:15 AM on 12 Feb 2008, Daren wrote:

    Whilst I believe IP is the way to go in the home, let's not forget the amount of radio that is listened to in the car. Once analogue switch off occurs, are we going to be forced to upgrade to DAB then? If so they had better improve quality otherwise maybe we should be looking to satellite radio. At least it would solve the coverage issue.

  38. At 10:29 AM on 12 Feb 2008, Chris Arundel wrote:

    In deciding to get out of DAB in the UK GCAP may have been looking at the wider picture. Although DAB has been moderately succesful in the UK, its been less so in other countries. The Guardian reported recently that in Germany ( population 83 million ) there are only 200,000 DAB radios in circulation. GCAP may have decided its a dead end.

  39. At 02:17 PM on 12 Feb 2008, tom morton wrote:

    DAB is dead in the water, I'm afraid. See http://beatcroft.blogspot.com for a fuller diatribe. Where I live, it has never worked at all, and probably never will. But then, who cares about the peasants in the sticks?

    As for internet radio (Logik Reciva in my case) being intermittent, get with the eBay programme: Wireless router booster with a 10km range, anyone?

  40. At 08:21 PM on 12 Feb 2008, Marina wrote:

    DAB is a dead dog, radio is moving swiftly into the multi-platform age, delivered over the air through wifi or broadband. The point being radio is a feature, and shouldn't be limited to one device.

    Take GCap's incredible new service which allows you to stream live radio straight to your ipod Touch. Gives you the option to download the last 5 tracks played as well.

    Personally, since moving to mp3 players, I've always missed the added bonus that came with old walkman cassette players - having radio delivered to me on the move. Finally, that problem is no more. I can discover new music on the move, download it straight into my library and listen again and again.

    Give me more ideas like that Fru!

    (And if anyone wants to access radio on their itouch head to www.musicradio.com through your browser)

  41. At 12:21 PM on 13 Feb 2008, David Robinson wrote:

    So you want DAB radios to cost more and use batteries quicker than they do at present, but maintain the same mediocre sound quality, coverage, and the pretence that DAB v1 is not a technological dinosaur?

    All thanks to the unique way the BBC is funded! ;-) Such arrogance doesn't come cheap (or at all, in a situation with adequate accountability).

    Seriously, I agree that the DAB network could be a great starting point for an imaginative next generation service, but it needs to start by offering all the BBC's stations at decent quality. Given that Aunty has inadequate space to deliver this at the moment, I don't think it's time to start taking even more bitrate away to deliver extras (though I hear GCap is selling part of a national DAB mux at a very reasonable price right now!)

    Cheers,
    David.

  42. At 06:16 PM on 13 Feb 2008, John Morley wrote:

    My comment about digital radio is that there don't appear to be many radio programmes that cater for the over 50's, and maybe those are the people who have the spending power for purchasing the units.
    If there was a Golden Oldies, radio station, rather than youth music, I think it would get a lot more users and listeners

  43. At 07:44 PM on 13 Feb 2008, Andrew Denny wrote:

    No-one so far has mentioned my main complaint about DAB: None of the four DAB radios I've had broadcast in sync.

    I like to have two or more radios switched on, in different rooms. With DAB, they play at different moments, making my flat sound like a giant echo chamber at best - and unlistenable at any level.

    Two of my DAB radios wouldn't even play in sync in their FM modes.

    I've junked DAB, until the manufacturers can standardise their delays. I don't even know if that's possible; I'm just a listener, not an expert.

    Thank heavens for broadcast FM.

  44. At 09:00 PM on 13 Feb 2008, Rob James wrote:

    My PURE DMX-50 is a fantastic little DAB hi-fi which I haven't felt the need to use in FM at all. On Tyneside, I have a pretty good signal and can't fault digital radio, the hi-fi, and the ability to rewind live radio and replay or record. Also, being able to insert an SD card to record to or play from is amazing. I know I'm missing the point about DAB vs IP slightly, but please don't tell me my unit is going to become a doorstop. I don't want another PC begging for an internet connetion!

  45. At 11:02 PM on 13 Feb 2008, F.Kay wrote:

    The BBC has really spent our money ramming DAB down our throats, and providing a bonanza for greedy manufacturers. DAB radios are power hungry, compressed signals are of poor quality-especially if you are into HI-FI, and will probably be superceded by better systems in the rest of the more cautious European countries. And who wants the additional stations, some of which are already going out of business? I love the quality programs on FM radio, and I won't be conned into paying through the nose for an inferior product with miniscule speakers at exhorbitant prices.

  46. At 12:35 PM on 14 Feb 2008, Mr Bev MARKS wrote:

    Ashley has not said anything I would wish to strongly disagree about, BUT… He has not mentioned the words ‘portable’ or ‘car’, once! I am pretty sure that past BBC audience research demonstrated that a really key advantage of radio is the seamless reception that FM, with RDS, gives to a listener as they go about their day; being able to listen in the home, take a portable (even in a mobile phone these days) whilst out walking and then use the car radio is THE benefit that FM radio delivery provides. OK maybe wireless IP will one day get there also, but the terrestrial DAB transmitter network is already there – offering the potential of seemles digiatl delivery. The only trouble is that the field strength is too low for all the DAB receiver and antenna types that need to be addressed. It should be increased about 10dB to get DAB experience about the same as FM, which is fundamentally very good almost anywhere in the UK.
    I was glad to see that: “retro … DAB receivers” are considered odd – agreed and even more so if one considers Ashley is asking for “weather, traffic and travel information graphically”. In my view many early adopters for such data services will have PDAs and micro PCs, already, and they now only need a “DAB Radio Modem” and software and then TPEG Applications can be made available very easily to provide such services, with personally set filtering to “see” locally useful stuff.
    Small advert: the development teams and research engineers, that Ashley comments have shown him this stuff, really need to engage with the recently formed Traveller Information Services Association to take these ideas forward!
    On the quality point: “Given that DAB has quality and simplicity sorted”, as you can see above I don’t agree in the field strength context nor really about audio quality… DAB was designed to use higher data rates than are now current. I appreciate this is a tricky subject, but again the BBC really does need to face up to the vociferous minority who believe some accommodation of their ideas has been ignored… I have no specific solution except to say that we should also note that 5Live on DAB is generally an easier audio listen than on Medium Wave!
    Why has Ashley not mentioned the DAB >> DAB+ issue? I worry about this situation: the BBC should surely set out a simple and clear policy about its intentions, as soon as possible. Already confusion is creeping into the folk law saying that millions of DAB radios will become redundant.

  47. At 10:57 PM on 14 Feb 2008, Martyn Evans wrote:

    Alan from the BBC (Item 21) writes that Ofcom commissioned some research last year on the issue of DAB sound quality. They found in its favour. He is referring to the report 'The Future of Radio'

    I contributed my views during the consultation period along with several hundred others who listen to radio through Hi-Fi tuners. I quote from the Ofcom report, "Most of the respondents stated their belief that DAB provides a lower technical quality of transmission than that found on FM and, as long as this was the case, there should be no switch-off of FM broadcasts" (para 1.34)

    This was not the desired result and Ofcom binned it blaming Jack Schofield's column in the Guardian. They then ran a telephone survey which gave them the result they wanted. Problem solved.

    When I said in my earlier blog (item 19) that I and others like me are routinely ignored, this "research" was precisely what I had in mind.

  48. At 02:11 PM on 15 Feb 2008, Rob Ollier wrote:

    DAB streams in the UK runs at a stupidly low bit-rate so as to squeeze in more channels. In this incarnation, DAB should be killed-off as it offers worse overage and lower sound quality than the analogue technology it 'replaces'. Internet radio streams are available at high bit-rates, and the infrastructure is more open, cheaper, and internet (IP) friendly. Rather than waste money on loads of DAB radios at home, go for a multiroom system which receives internet radio (e.g. Sonos or Squeezebox).

  49. At 09:22 AM on 16 Feb 2008, Brian wrote:

    Had great hopes for DAB radio,but in mind never took off,low bit-rate means poor quality radio,as a streamer of internet radio I am limited to a 64k broadcast and the quality seems a lot better,of course you can always become a "pirate",but I like to keep things legal,anyway I digress,there is the opportunity out there to offer top quality radio,but it is not happening

  50. At 01:53 PM on 16 Feb 2008, Jon Barker wrote:

    It isn't just the peripheral parts of the country that get poor DAB coverage. I live 2 miles from central London and over the last year the DAB signals on the BBC stations I listen to (inc BBC R2, R4, 5L, 6 & 7) have all declined markedly. Indeed in the last few months the signal on BBC 7 is often dropped completely. There are also considerable "black holes" in the signal appearing, or getting much larger than they were before, when listening on a personal DAB radio whilst travelling arond the area. No wonder take up of digital radio is so poor.

  51. At 12:23 PM on 17 Feb 2008, Paddy Briggs wrote:

    I'm happy with DAB. The "battle" with streamed online radio (if it is a battle) is interesting. But surely DAB's portability is one of its strong features. I bought a great little gizmo for my iPod recently which allows me to listen to DAB when I'm on the move. Very good!

    Question for you Mr Highfield. I have a V+ box from Virgin which permits me to record BBC and other TV programmes to watch later. Works well. But why does it not allow me to do the same with BBC (and other) radio programmes on cable?

  52. At 12:08 AM on 18 Feb 2008, James wrote:

    I couldn't agree more. I've posted my own views on my own (newly formed) blog:

    http://rightsaidjames.blogspot.com/2008/02/digital-revolution-has-it-hit-radio-yet.html

    In short: DAB is a brilliant concept; unlike personalized radio stations, there's a friendly voice talking to you about whatever, which makes a huge difference. It's also simpler and more accessible than IP radio. And there are obvious advantages over FM radio. But the lack of variety, and manufacturers' tendencies to sell retro, simplistic devices, holds the technology back.

  53. At 10:28 AM on 19 Feb 2008, Paul Baxter wrote:

    I agree with much of what you say about DAB vs IP however I take issue with your claim of 'quality' for DAB. Of course 'quality' is somewhat subjective and DAB is generally better than IP but unfortunatley DAB uses old MP2 technology rather than more modern 'better sounding' codecs (the method used to encode/decode and compress the signal to allow it to be transmitted digitally). DAB is noticiably inferior to a good FM signal.

    For the majority of listeners DAB is 'good enough' and broadcasters have the option to allocate more of their bandwidth to improve quality at the expense of the number of stations. For obvious reasons most commercial broadcasters have opted for more stations and limited quality.

    Elsewhere other codecs are being trialled but the big drawback is that the majority of DAB sets sold in UK couldn't use these so there is no realistic prospect of high fidelity radio over DAB, we will need to look to other platforms for this.

  54. At 11:21 AM on 21 Feb 2008, John Gaffen wrote:

    I have been listening to digital radio almost since its inception and I have no problems with its quality or reception (I live in Lewisham South East London). I am writing to highlight the plight of Planet Rock. This award wining classic rock music station is facing closure in the near future if no buyer can be found. Is it possibe for the BBC to save this station? If not, can some other solution be found quickly? There is no other British station which caters so well for this genre of music.

    Remember "God gave rock and roll to you, gave rock and roll to you
    Put it in the soul of everyone"

  55. At 09:33 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Richard Street wrote:

    Stuart Jones wrote:

    "I have a DAB radio in the car (the Blaupunkt Woodstock DAB 52 in case anyone's wondering). I use it in the Bath/Bristol area (sometimes Salisbury Plain!!) and find that it's excellent; barely drops the signal regardless of where I am!!"

    Hear, hear, Stuart!

    There seem to be only two posts in this debate who mention car radio reception. I find this very surprising. I was an early adopter of DAB and it excels on my Pioneer set in the car (very rarely anything but rock-solid reception in many parts of the UK, and certainly between (say) Manchester and London, via Cheltenham). FM may produce a higher frequency response, but on the move it so often is marred by flutter and multipath. Listening to Radio 3 and 4 on DAB I can hear the hiss from the continuity microphone (and the ventilation noise) and I appreciate the wider dynamic range on DAB.

    To those people who have difficulty with reception on a portable DAB radio indoors --which I concede can be a problem -- I can confirm that there can be a huge difference in sensitivity between models and manufacturers -- in my case I bough one device and it was so deaf that I swapped it for a Pure Evoke 2 which I estimate to be a good 20 dB better.

    Having said that, providing an external antenna is a DIY dream -- if you know how to strip 10 inches of braid from the end of a coaxial cable you have a simple dipole which can be taped against a window or put in the loft. (Commercial dipoles and Yagis are now commonly available from installers).


  56. At 10:25 AM on 27 Feb 2008, Richard Street wrote:


    There seem to be only two posters in this debate who mention car radio reception. I find this very surprising. I was an early adopter of DAB and it excels on my Pioneer radio in the car (very rarely anything but rock-solid reception in many parts of the UK, and certainly between (say) Manchester and London, via Cheltenham). FM may produce a higher frequency response, but on the move it so often is marred by flutter and multipath. The aging but elegant technology of DAB allows the receiver to actively make use of multipath reception caused by hills and buildings together with signals from other transmitters to make the reception as robust as it is. Listening on the move to Radio 3 and 4 on DAB I can hear the slight hiss from the continuity microphone (and the ventilation noise) and I appreciate the wider dynamic range on DAB on serious music. If I want compression, my DAB radios will introduce it again.

    To those people who have difficulty with reception on a portable DAB radio indoors --which I concede can be a problem -- I can confirm that there can be a huge difference in sensitivity between models and manufacturers. In my case I bought a Bush-branded device and it was so deaf that I swapped it for a Pure Evoke 2, which I estimate to be a good 20 dB better.

    Having said that, providing an external antenna is a DIY dream -- if you know how to strip 10 inches of braid from the end of a coaxial cable you have a simple dipole which can be taped against a window pane or put in the loft. (Commercial dipoles and Yagis are now commonly available from installers).


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