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The PCR is a combination of hardware and software. The hardware consists of a black, 5.12-by-1.34-by-4.76-inch XM receiver; a satellite antenna with a 20-foot cord; and the cables for connecting the receiver to your computer and speakers. The software component is an onscreen interface from which you control your radio. The PCR is Windows-only--sorry, Mac users. Adventurous listeners can also try third-party PCR software, available through sites such as "--="">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=CNET&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Exmfan%2Ecom%2Findex%2Ephp" target="_blank">XMFan.
We quickly installed the included software and plugged the receiver into our Windows 98 Second Edition test system. Only one glitch occurred: our computer said it didn't have the necessary USB driver and asked for a certain installation disc. We canceled the request, and the PCR worked fine.
You can either wall-mount the antenna or set it down flat. It needs to be near a south-facing window to receive the satellite signal.
A guide on the PCR's main screen shows you what's playing on all 100 XM channels. Around the display are the program's option buttons: Jump Back (which returns you to the last station), Settings, Signal Level, Quick Tips (useful since there are few printed instructions), Channel Guide, Favorite Artists, and View Saved. You can also save the current song's artist and title. Irritatingly, no volume control is available; all you get is a mute function.
The computer interface delivers much more flexibility than most standalone receivers can. Four customizable tabs on the main screen provide quick access to the channels you listen to the most. Even better, Favorite Artists lets you create one or more lists of your best-loved singers and bands by choosing from among those most recently played. Just typing in names isn't an option, so you need to wait for the right songs to come along. Whenever a station plays someone on the selected list (you can use only one at a time), an onscreen notification appears in a new window. Then you click a button to go to that channel, ignore the message, or disable the pop-up announcements.
We got great performance during our testing, rarely receiving anything but a strong, clear signal. Of course, unless you hook up your PC to your stereo, the quality of your computer speakers will limit the sonics. Even at its best, XM radio doesn't sound as realistic as CD, but the fidelity will satisfy most people, especially if they're used to listening to MP3 files. See our guide to satellite radio for more on the XM service in general.
As for the program, the interface could use some refinement. You need to right-click the custom tabs to add channels; dragging in stations would be easier. And XM should add volume control. But like the hardware, the software performed well, and mastering it was a breeze.