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TI bets on chips to amplify digital radio market

Posted: 16 Sep 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:digital? radio? ti? am? fm?

The emerging U.S. terrestrial digital radio market gets a substantial boost as Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) rolls out two HD Radio baseband processors that make up its 3G digital radio silicon. One chip will allow radio manufacturers to add digital terrestrial HD Radio to existing analog AM/FM radio designs; the other supports HD Radio and analog AM/FM radio in a single chip. The sampling price of each chip is $22 per unit.

John Gardner, digital radio marketing manager at TI, called the TMS320DR350, which combines IF-sampled AM/FM and HD Radio processing, "the industry's lowest-cost implementation of HD Radio technology." Many consider cost reduction an imperative for HD Radio to boom.

The rollout of HD Radio technology by iBiquity Digital Corp., the developer of the U.S. terrestrial digital broadcast systemcalled in-band on-channel (IBOC)has encountered a number of obstacles over the last few years. iBiquity is the sole owner of IP for IBOC; TI is an investor in iBiquity. The difficulties include iBiquity's last-minute switch of the IBOC codec improve audio quality; reduced coverage and interference with adjacent analog channels reported by a group of radio engineers, station owners and others; and interference with nighttime AM broadcasts.

Nighttime AM IBOC broadcasts are "a fly in the ointment," said Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts Co. Critics argue that sidebands might wipe out weak distant radio stations, Strauss said, "and there are a lot of people who simply like to log reception of distance, or DX, broadcasts."

The installed base for HD Radio in the United States is "very, very limited," said Dan Benjamin, analyst at ABI Research Inc., "as just a handful of devices are even available and those devices remain very expensive, on the order of several hundred dollars." Analyst Strauss agreed, estimating shipments of "only about 30,000 radios" for 2004. Assuming approval of nighttime AM IBOC late this year, Strauss said, "We expect 2005 will only see factory-installed IBOC-capable radios in the 100,000 range." Forward Concepts doesn't expect the HD Radio market to hit a million units before 2007.

That may explain chipmakers' scant interest in HD Radio. Only TI and Philips Semiconductors now offer HD Radio chips. Beyond the imperative to cut costs, the industry agrees HD Radio also needs more features.

Samples of TI's DRI350 and DRI300 HD Radio basebands are available now, with volume production scheduled next quarter.

- Junko Yoshida

EE Times

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