The Sportscaster is so named because it ships with 3 of its 30 presets already filled with XM's sports offerings, which include 24-hour programming from a variety of sports such as Major League Baseball, NASCAR, NHL, PGA Tour, college sports, and of course ESPN, FOX, and other news outlets. The Sportscaster branding is a bit deceiving. Otherwise, the Sportscaster is your entry-level system into XM, and you'll get the more than 170 channels that come with being an XM subscriber ($12.95/month).
Measuring 4.5 by 1.75 by 0.75 inches and encased in black, glossy plastic, the Sportscaster is as compact as you can get for a satellite receiver. It has a two-line amber backlit display with an extra line for icons and graphics. The primary controls consist of four tactile directional buttons plus a center select button, which are easy to manipulate. To the right is the Fav preset button and at the top is the Menu button. Power is the only other button on the unit. The antenna, audio out, and power port are hidden on the left side. Overall, this is a no-frills design that's much simpler than that of another affordable XM receiver, the $50 Delphi Roady2. If you prefer the programming of competitor Sirius, you should check out the $50 Sirius One.
Targeted at car owners, the Sportscaster ships with a car mount, a standard magnetic antenna (for the roof of your car), a car lighter power adapter, and a remote control. Installation is fairly clean, though if you attach the mount to the windshield via its two suction cups, two wires (power and antenna) will dangle in view. I actually suctioned the mount onto the face of my stereo and it worked well, though with most modular car receivers, you'll get some wiry mess no matter how well you hide them. You can also bolt the mount onto your dash.
It's easy to set the Sportscaster in its lightweight adjustable mount, but it too easily disconnects when you operate it. It's barely held in there, so it could actually cause problems if you're simultaneously driving and channel surfing (we all do it). Some users may simply keep the receiver nested in the lower dash or in the lap--it's small enough.
Press left and right buttons to browse through the eclectic category list and up and down to surf the channels within the categories. Control is not bad, though we prefer the numerous preset buttons on the Roady2. You must press Sportscaster's Fav button eight times to get to the eighth preset, and though you can move your favorites up to the top, we all know that satellite radio was made for quick and easy presets. Luckily, passengers can use the remote control to jump to stations (and even mute a program).
Menu options include FM transmission frequencies (88.1 to 107.9), audio level, manual/autotune options (switch channels only after hitting Select vs. switching directly to a channel while surfing), display options, and an alarm/sleep feature.
In San Francisco, we experienced excellent FM transmission strength (the wireless method of getting XM radio from the receiver to the car stereo system) on the default FM channel 88.1. Sound quality is bright and bassy, especially in the Dance genre. Though audio tends to sound a bit processed, it's definitely powerful and gives your car stereo a workout. Of course, you'll get the typical satellite dropouts (underpasses, tunnels, skyscrapers, and inexplicably, the area around my house), but it's the variety of channels and programming (not to mention the cross-country range) you get that make your CDs and terrestrial radio an afterthought (though a connected iPod ain't bad).