01.Digital radio (DAB+)
Please note: this information was current as of January 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
Unlike digital TV there is no cut-off date for analog radio, therefore no need to rush out and buy a digital radio (DAB+) receiver. However, if you're keen to experience the difference digital technology makes to the radio waves you should at last be able to find some DAB+ options without spending too much money.
While performance and features available have been good for models CHOICE has tested over the past year have been promising, the asking price remained too expensive for us to recommend DAB+ as a compelling alternative to the standard FM/AM radio receiver. However, there are some signs that DAB+ is becoming more readily available in micro and mini hifi systems at reasonable prices.
What does it do?
CHOICE initially anticipated quite a bit of promotion for digital radio across all media in 2010. Using the slogan "Digital Radio Plus", but in the main, its been left up to the major radio networks to push the new technology by providing original content on the DAB+ band to help provide some reason to make the switch.
Features potantially available on DAB+ recievers include:
High quality sound.
Station searching by name rather than frequency.
- The ability to pause and play back radio in much the same way as you can with digital TV recorders.
Extra channels on specialist subjects.
Text and pictures (if your radio has a screen).
Electronic program guide to help you decide what to listen to in the future.
This doesn't mean that your handheld radio will have many of these features, Initially what you will see will be no more than text that scrolls across the radio's screen providing details of songs, weather or traffic updates, and of course advertising.
Pictures will most likely be album covers or still images of presenters and their guests. However, we hold little hope for an electronic program guide that's up-to-date or accurate; digital TV still hasn't managed this so far and radio tends to be a much more fluid medium.
Expect to see more audio products incorporating DAB+ towards the end of 2010 such as high end AV receivers and home theatre systems. But for the moment, your options are mainly no more than table top radios and the occasional mini hifi system.
Who gets it?
If you live in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth or Sydney there will be a large number of existing AM and FM radio stations broadcasting in both analog and digital modes. Outside the major capitals, however, you'll have to wait until the infrastructure is in place. There's no clear indication of how long this will take.
No new players will be allowed to enter the market for a period of six years from the launch, but existing license holders are required to be broadcasting digitally in the mainland capitals by 1 July 2009 or else lose the right to do so.
How does it work?
Like digital TV, digital radio is broadcast as a stream of data that your digital radio receives and decodes. The advantage over analogue is that you get more information in the same amount of radio spectrum, hence the ability to receive images and text as well as sound. Analogue radios cannot decipher the digital signal, but most digital radios also include an analogue tuner. All stations transferring to the digital stream will simulcast a digital and analogue signal for the foreseeable future.
How do you get it?
If you live within the broadcast areas you can purchase a digital radio receiver, which will most likely range in price from around $130 for a very basic model up to $550 for one with all the bells and whistles. Most radio stations are currently streaming their content over the internet at www.digitalradioplus.com.au.
CHOICE has completed two digital radio round ups looking at ease of use, features and performance and while the overall performance and feature set is good, the asking price is still too high. See our Digital section for more reviews.