BBC launches HD radio, DAB has desperate thoughts

DAB is a bit of a whipping boy around here, mainly because its audio quality sucks. The BBC has launched HD radio, which should help, as long as you're on the Internet

Ian Morris
2 min read

We've had a pop at DAB in the past. Do we feel bad about that? No, not really, because DAB is failing the 'CD-quality' standard we were promised at launch and falls short compared to both FM and Internet radio. But now the BBC is introducing a new, HD radio system that could show up both DAB and FM.

HD radio will utilise bit rates of up to 320kbps, and will use a far more modern compression scheme than DAB's MP2 system. This will enable stations such as Radio 3 to do justice to a very wide range of music, displaying a huge range of tonal subtlety.

Trialled in the summer, during Proms broadcasts, the HD system was then called XHQ. Commenters on the BBC's blogs proclaimed the quality incredibly impressive, with the Proms appearing to take place in the lounges of those who tuned into the online stream.

The only real problem with the new service is that it will only be available via the Internet. Which means two huge markets -- in-car, and portable, battery powered radios -- will be unable to take advantage of this new system. Having said that, these are not two areas where it's vitally important to have the best quality sound.

Happily, in a blog post, the BBC's Rupert Brun acknowledges that there are improvements that could be made to other platforms, and Auntie is looking into potential quality increases elsewhere too. "I am committed to exploring ways to further improve the audio we deliver to our audience on all platforms," Brun wrote.

At launch, in December, only Radio 3 and parts of Radio 2 will be available using this system. The plan is that, as time goes on, the BBC will add more stations to the higher quality streaming system. It's reasonable to assume talk-heavy stations like 5Live and Radio 4 won't be included in this system any time soon. HD radio will only be available to listeners in the UK, at least to begin with, but the BBC says it's investigating ways to make better quality broadcasts available to international listeners.