I was actually really eager to pop by the HD Radio booth at CES, and was really impressed with some of the things the folks working behind the scenes on pushing HD Radio further into the mainstream marketplace. The after-market head units and radios for cars that were on display surprised me not just by the variety and the technology available in them, but also by the sheer number. There are tons of bedside radios, iPod and MP3 player docks, and portable audio players that support HD Radio, far far more than I thought were at all available.
The other amazing news from CES is that there are a host of auto manufacturers that are lined up with the HD Digital Radio Alliance and ready to begin offering in-unit stock stereo units that support HD Radio, either standard or as an upgradable option. This is the real key for the HD Radio Alliance – this and educating the public on exactly what HD Radio is. (hint, it’s not “High Definition,” it’s “Hybrid Digital.”) As soon as people wind up having HD Radio tuners in their cars and on their music players and next to their beds without really knowing that they have them, and then start using them, they won’t know how they lived without them.
In relatively well populated areas (like mine, in the Washington DC metro area) we have a ton of HD Radio stations, especially from colleges and universities that play great music selections, and public radio stations that may play their top-rated programming on their main over-the-air channel but will play some more in-depth or alternative content on their HD channels. Chances are you have HD Radio channels in your area that you’d probably love if you could tune to them – you just need the right tuner, and the HD Digital Radio Alliance is working to make sure one is in your next car or included with your next portable music player (The Zune HD, for example, has an HD Radio tuner built-in!)
It’s still a grey area whether or not people have a handle on what HD Radio really is, and it was the big thing I was thinking while I walked around the HD Radio booth at CES, checking out some of the new vehicles that will land on auto sales lots with HD Radio tuners built-in. The technology is out there, the stations and the content is out there too – the real uphill battle will be educating people. I really stress this point because even as I was leaving the HD Radio booth, I overheard two people also heading out of the booth talking to each other about HD Radio: one was explaining to the other what HD Radio was, and was completely incorrect. The Alliance has a pretty steep learning curve to overcome.