HD Radio and a four-channel mixer for iPod recording
HD radio, a four-channel iPod recorder, and proof that CES has everything.
Several CES booths had the telltale orange and black HD Radio sign, designating that they were selling at least one device with an HD Radio receiver in it. There was also some buzz over a new feature that lets you flag a song for later purchase on iTunes (this works only on models with an iPod dock). I stopped by iBiquity's booth--they're the developers of HD Radio technology--to get an overview of all the supported devices out there, and it's a pretty impressive list, including home radios from Creative, JBL, and Sony, plus automotive radios from many major manufacturers.
The sales pitch is pretty simple: the high-definition version of FM radio sounds like CDs, and high-definition AM radio sounds like standard FM. HD Radio also lets broadcasters put multiple stations on the same frequency, so, for example, an alternative rock station could add a second country station. Which highlights the biggest problem with HD Radio: there has to be material on the radio that you actually want to listen to. The lack of variety on commercial radio is a big driver of the iPod's success, and a big reason why the recording industry's in trouble--people just don't find out about new songs on the radio anymore.
Speaking of the iPod's success, it seems like half the audio devices on the floor were designed to work with Apple's iconic device. One of the most interesting is Belkin's TuneStudio for iPod, a four-channel mixer that lets you record directly to the iPod. Each channel has an XLR (microphone) and quarter-inch (instrument cable, usually) input, and onboard compressors make sure you don't overload the iPod's capacity. This would be great for recording rehearsals or live sessions, but I'm guessing the tracks are combined into a single file, so you wouldn't be able to work with them after they were recorded (like use them in Garage Band). Still, this seems like a reasonable alternative to portable PCM recorders like the Olympus LS-10 or Sony MZ-M200. for high-quality live sessions where you don't want to do much post-production work.