HD Radio Needs Wake-Up Call

Rob Pegoraro
Monday, June 19, 2006; 10:02 AM

Last week, I packed up the Boston Acoustics Recepter Radio HD, the subject of my review in late April, and shipped it back to the company.

I knew it was time for that after HD radio made me sleep late. Twice.

Each time, I'd tuned the Recepter to the "HD2" channel of a local radio station -- but the station had allowed this second, digital-only broadcast to go silent for no apparent reason. The first offender was WTOP; instead of its HD2 feed's usual pleasant classical music, I heard silence. Rather, I heard nothing -- with no music to awake me, I enjoyed an extra hour of blissful shut-eye.

WAMU pulled the same stunt a couple of weeks later, silencing its second channel.

Much as I enjoyed my bonus nap time, this kind of thing does not bode well for HD radio's future. If the radio stations offering HD2 broadcasts (all of whom have shelled out some non-trivial cash to do so) can't be bothered to keep them on their air full-time, why should anybody at home bother risking their cash on this technology?

HD radio does have other selling points, but they hardly compete with the dramatic expansion of listening choices that HD2 broadcasts could bring. Digital FM just doesn't sound that much better than analog. Digital AM does, but it's too hard to find and is still limited to daylight hours.

Meanwhile, the choice in hardware hasn't gotten any better. The Recepter remains the only model you can listen to at home for under $1,000. Startup manufacturer Radiosophy has a $269 tabletop radio in the works; after being repeatedly delayed by various development glitches, it's due to ship in July

Another contender should have been on the market months ago, but has also seen numerous delays: Polk Audio's $599 iSonic, which at the last report wasn't due until August.

Most depressing of all, if you're an HD radio fan: The most recent story I could find about the iSonic didn't even mention its HD radio-ness, instead touting it as an XM-ready receiver.

Somebody, Anybody

At the start of this month, I wrote a column defending Microsoft's right to sell Windows OneCare Live, a $50/year security suite for Windows XP machines that provides anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware protection, plus maintenance and backup tools.

Quite a few readers took me to task for that piece, decrying what they perceived as the basic injustice of paying Microsoft to fix issues that it let stew in Windows for most of the past decade. (And yet I don't recall any of these people reporting that they had switched to Linux or Mac OS X in response. I'm just sayin' ...)

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