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XM PCR review: XM PCR


Troy Dreier
3 min read
Review summary
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 SkyFi 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 "--="" rel="noopener nofollow" class="c-regularLink" target="_blank">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=CNET&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Exmfan%2Ecom%2Findex%2Ephp" target="_blank">XMFan.



The Good

Lets you see all 100 stations at a glance; customizable alerts for favorite artists; makes it easy to save song information; low price.

The Bad

Sound quality limited by the computer speakers unless the PC is hooked up to a stereo; no Macintosh version.

The Bottom Line

A viable alternative to standalone XM receivers, the computer-based PCR works like a champ.

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.



Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8