With digital music making a clean sweep in the 1990s over almost all listening media, it’s a surprise to find that there’s one area in which an analog hold-out is still very much alive and kicking. We’re talking not of a vinyl resurgence here but of FM radio, which has managed to effectively hold off its digital competition for a few decades now. Twenty years ago its days seemed numbered though, and in Europe the first generation of DAB digital radios looked ready to conquer the airwaves. Among them was a true oddity and one of Psion’s last significant consumer products, the WaveFinder USB DAB radio receiver. [Backofficeshow] has one, and has given it a teardown for our entertainment. He describes it as the first consumer SDR product which may be a little hyperbolic, but nevertheless, it’s an interesting look at what would become one of computing’s backwaters.
Inside the peak-90s-style translucent blue case is a single PCB with a lot of screening, on which sits a USB controller and a bunch of DSP chips. Radio demodulation was done in hardware, but signal demodulation was apparently done on the host PC. At the time its £299 price made it the affordable end of DAB reception, and The Register opined that its ability to download broadcast broadband data made it a revolutionary product, but sadly neither consumers nor broadcasters agreed and it was heavily discounted before making an ignominious exit. DAB itself would struggle to meet the expectations, and a multiplex-based licensing model for broadcasters making it unattractive to local stations means that even now FM is still full of stations. Perhaps as listening moves inexorably to streaming its time has passed, indeed Ireland has gone so far as to abandon DAB altogether.
If you’d like to know more about DAB, we took a look at the technology a while back.
Continue reading “Remember DAB Radio? The Psion WaveFinder Gets A Teardown”
It’s commonly agreed that the future of broadcast radio lies in the eventual replacement of AM and FM analogue transmissions with digital services. A wide range of technologies exist to service this change-over, and for much of the world the most visible of them has been Digital Audio Broadcasting, or DAB. This VHF service has slowly increased in popularity to the extent that in some countries the FM or AM switch-off process has already happened or is well under way. It’s thus a surprise to hear a piece of news from a country that’s going the other way, as the Irish broadcaster RTÉ is about to turn off its national DAB multiplex.
The reason cited is cost-effectiveness, the take up of DAB in the Republic by listeners is low (Northern Ireland having the UK multiplexes instead), and that the broadcaster is the only one maintaining a national multiplex. Our Irish friends tell us that as in other parts of the world the rural coverage can be patchy, and with only RTÉ and no commercial stations on offer it’s easy to see why the allure of a DAB set is lacking.
In case anyone is tempted to prophecy the demise of digital broadcasting from this news, that’s not the real story. This is simply an abandonment of DAB. Plenty of Irish people listen to the radio through digital media just as anywhere else, this is simply an indication that they’re choosing not to do so via DAB. The Irish DVB television multiplexes carry the same stations and more, and meanwhile, the inexorable rise of online listening through smart speakers and mobile phones has eaten DAB’s lunch. But it does raise the point for other places: when your mobile phone delivers any radio station or streaming service you desire and is always in your pocket, why would you want a radio?
For more on DAB including some of its shortcomings, a few years ago we took an in-depth look at the system.
Thanks [Laura] for the header image.
What does a Hackaday writer do when a couple of days after Christmas she’s having a beer or two with a long-term friend from her university days who’s made a career in the technical side of digital broadcasting? Pick his brains about the transmission scheme and write it all down of course, for behind the consumer’s shiny digital radio lies a wealth of interesting technology to try to squeeze the most from the available resources.
In the UK, our digital broadcast radio uses a system called DAB, for Digital Audio Broadcasting. There are a variety of standards used around the world for digital radio, and it’s fair to say that DAB as one of the older ones is not necessarily the best in today’s marketplace. This aside there is still a lot to be learned from its transmission scheme, and from how some of its shortcomings were addressed in later standards. Continue reading “Anatomy Of A Digital Broadcast Radio System”