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XM, Sirius battle for your holiday dollar

Sirius and XM preview their shiny, new satellite radio receivers that will be hitting the market in time for Christmas. By Gary Krakow, MSNBC.
The Delco SkyFi2 is the successor to XM's biggest all-time seller.
The Delco SkyFi2 is the successor to XM's biggest all-time seller.Delco / Xm

For the satellite radio business this was the ultimate showdown. Within 24 hours of each other, rivals Sirius and XM wooed the media with a glitzy luncheon spread and a glimpse of all the shiny, new satellite radio receivers that will be hitting the market in time for Christmas.

Christmas is a very important time for the satellite radio companies and radio manufacturers; both XM and Sirius signed up a huge number of new subscribers toward the end of 2003. Sales of new radios were also huge and everyone is hoping for more of the same this year. XM is hoping to go from their current 2.1 million subscribers to more than 3 million by the end of this year.

Industry leader XM was first to market, but differences between the two services are slight. Both offer many separate streams of commercial-free radio programming: all types of music, news, sports, talk, weather and traffic channels. XM charges $9.95 a month for its service; Sirius is priced at $12.95.

From XM, a radio you can pause
XM’s new line of radios consists of portable units which can go from your car to your home to a portable boom box and tuners which plug into your home stereo.

XM’s biggest all-time seller (something like 1 million units) was the Delco SkyFi.  Notice I said was. That’s because there is now a Delco SkyFi 2 with two big differences over the previous model. Instead of attaching to your car or home radio with a wire, the SkyFi2 uses a low-power FM transmitter inside the cradle. Other radios already have similar circuits.

The real breakthrough here is that this radio remembers. The SkyFi 2 has a 30-minute memory, meaning that any and all streams you listen to are constantly being stored for up to 30 minutes. You can pause your music any time you want or you can go back and listen to something all over again –- that is, as long as it was aired in the previous 30 minutes. 

Polk Audio / Xm

The radio also has a built-in clock and a programmable sports score/stock market ticker for the new, easier-to-read display.

The SkyFi 2 should be available soon (all the new radios from both companies should be in the stores in the next 2 months).  Suggested retail price will be $129.99.

XM also showed off products from Antex, Audiovox, Creston, Dual, AudioPhase and Cambridge. Of particular note was an interesting new home stereo tuner from Polk Audio. In addition to sporting both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, as well as analog ones, Polk's new XM Tuner also has two video outputs – one for a TV/home theater display and the other for a computer monitor.  That’s so you can see the song title and artist from across the room.  The Polk will retail for $329.99.

Getting Sirius


The new Sirius radios have been blessed with some new ideas, too.  Sirius were showing new portable, home and car units from JVC, Sanyo, Clarion, Audiovox, Kenwood, Blaupunkt, Alpine, Xact and two Sirius-branded units.

One of the more interesting devices is the Sirius Sportster, which prompts you when your favorite sports teams are playing on Sirius. In addition, you can get up-to-the-minute scores on the radio’s readout. There’s also a jump button which gives you one-touch access to Sirius’ local traffic and weather stream for your area or let’s you immediately access your favorite music/news/talk station. MSRP for the Sportster is $99.99.

Xact / Sirius

And then there’s the XACT Stream Jockey. The only way to describe it that it’s shaped like a very thick cell phone.  Inside are a headphone unit and volume controls, a wireless FM modulator, 18 presets and a 6-line screen display.

Like all the other small radios (from both companies) you can dock in to your car and home stereo or you can plug it into a boom box of sorts.  But the Stream Jockey will also have an optional docking device with a built-in antenna, rechargeable battery and carrying case – making this little unit a self-contained satellite ‘Walkman’ of sorts. The Stream Jockey will sell for $99.99; no price has yet been set for the Communication Portable Dock.

XM did announce a similar set-up a few months ago with a portable cradle for the Delco Roady2 radio but going from memory, the XACT system looks a lot more portable.  I’ll let you know when I get both to test. Looks like this will be a very busy autumn.