IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Digital radios to drool over

Satellite radio companies saw a huge surge of interest this holiday season and now they're unveiling even cooler new radios.
Satellite radio and high-quality sound combine in a new AM/FM/Sirius version of the Tivoli clock radio.
Satellite radio and high-quality sound combine in a new AM/FM/Sirius version of the Tivoli clock radio.MSNBC TV

It was a good holiday season for the burgeoning satellite radio industry. XM and Sirius could barely keep up with the huge number of people who bought and registered satellite receivers this Christmas. Now both companies are unveiling new devices that may make even more people want to toss their old radios in the trash.

One of the new radios which really stood out is an AM/FM/Sirius version of the Tivoli Audio Model Three clock radio. A brief encounter with the hand-built prototype made me want to immediately replace my strictly analog Model Three with the new digital model. I’ll have to wait, though: The new model won't be out until later this year and the price is still TBA.

Sirius also announced some new traffic channels, 5.1 surround sound audio and the availability of video over the same satellite radio system. And no, you can't watch "Finding Nemo" while you drive: Sirius stresses that the video system is intended for passengers in the back seat. They plan to begin delivering the new video radios to manufacturers in 2005.

At 260,000 paid subscribers by the end of the holiday rush, Sirius is still trying to catch up to XM, which is starting 2004 with more than 1,360,000 customers.

To reward its customers, XM announced that all their music channels will be commercial-free beginning next month. They also announced a number of new traffic and weather channels (including the addition of MSNBC TV’s audio channel beginning in February).

A number of new XM radios were announced, with the most interesting one coming from Eton Corporation, the people who brought Grundig radios into the U.S. The E1 XM portable receiver combines AM, FM, shortwave, and XM satellite radio into one ultra high-performance unit. At 13.1 by 7.1 by 2.3 inches, the 4 pound unit is portable, but BIG.

Even more people are going to be listening to digital radio in the near future. In addition to the satellite services, AM and FM stations are also going digital — and that means high fidelity AM, near-CD quality FM and an onslaught of new radio receivers for everyone who wants to listen.

Ibiquity was chosen by the FCC to provide this new radio broadcast scheme, and the company says their system is the cure for nearly all of what’s wrong with the analog radio we listen to now. They brag that their new “high definition” radio has enhanced sound fidelity, improved reception and upgraded audio quality. In addition to the audio signal, Ibiquity’s system can also transmit new wireless data services such as station, song and artist identification, stock and news information and local traffic and weather.

At CES, we got to see what some of the new radios that will receive these signals will look like. Automobile receivers will consist of a dashboard unit ($200-500) with all the dials and knobs — and you’ll also need a radio receiver module ($400), which goes in the trunk. Expect to see them in stores by summer. Home receiving units will be announced later this year.