Since XM satellite radio was first in the skies and charges a lower monthly fee, it's no wonder that the company is handily beating Sirius in the competition for subscribers. XM also has some pretty innovative hardware, including the well-designed Delphi radio and the XM PCR (personal-computer receiver), which brings satellite broadcasts to your PC. The PCR delivers features that standalone units don't; for instance, it displays the programming on all 100 stations at once, and if one of your favorite artists is playing on any of them, you'll receive an onscreen notification. The PCR is a great way to enjoy the variety of satellite offerings from a desktop or laptop computer. The device is listed at $70, and XM service will cost you an activation fee of $15 ($10 if you perform the transaction online) and $10 per month. Each piece of XM hardware has its own subscription price and fees. Note that although Sirius does not produce a PC receiver, the company does offer subscribers free access to streams of its content online.
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.