Radio is alive and kicking. The continued success of HD radio and satellite radio serve as testament that over-the-air audio broadcasts not only have staying power, but they have more to offer the tech-obsessed, media hungry consumer base. If you’re not familiar with the next generation of radio technology, you may have trouble understanding the differences between HD radio and satellite radio. Both require hardware upgrades, and both deliver superior audio quality and more choices than conventional FM/AM radio broadcasts. But HD radio and satellite radio are very different technologies—and you don’t always get one with the other. This article will help you sort out the differences.
HD Radio – FM/AM Radio Improved
HD radio is to FM/AM radio as analog TV is to digital TV. However, unlike digital TV, HD radio has not replaced conventional FM/AM radio—it runs parallel to it. You do, however, need to buy a special HD radio receiver. HD radio receivers can receive both analog and HD radio signals. It automatically detects HD radio stations and tunes in, if they are available. If not, it defers back to the analog signal.
HD radio has higher fidelity than FM/AM radio. The bass response is deeper, and the treble range is higher. The stereo separation is better, and there is greater dynamic response (i.e. the differences between loud and soft sounds). For comparison, HD radio brings FM radio quality to about the level of CD quality sound, while AM radio in HD is about the same as conventional FM radio broadcasts in terms of quality.
In addition to better sound quality, HD radio can receive more information about the songs being played, including song name, artist name and other album info. You can also get information such as weather alerts, stock information and news alerts, which is displayed on your radio’s control panel.
Furthermore, HD radio supports subchannels. These are alternate channels sent out by the same broadcaster. Each channel can have up to 8 subchannels. For example, a news station may have a subchannel just for weather or just for traffic. Or a music station may have a subchannel for specific genres.
In summary, HD radio gives you better quality, more information and more channels than FM/AM radio. However, you must be within range of an HD radio broadcaster to receive service.
Satellite radio is operated by Sirius and XM. Satellite radio requires both a special satellite radio receiver and a monthly subscription to the service. Unlike HD radio, satellite broadcasts are exclusive to the Sirius and XM satellite networks. You get hundreds or channels regardless of your geographic location. You also get detailed song information and better sound quality than conventional AM/FM radio broadcasts.
Bottom-line: HD radio is free, after you buy the hardware. You get better sound quality and radio service, but only if you have HD radio broadcasters in your area. For this reason, you’ll get greater value from an HD radio receiver in an urban area.
Satellite radio requires a monthly fee, and works more like a cable subscription where you can pick and choose your packages. You get all the channels no matter where you are and the sound quality is almost always excellent.