October 14th, 2005 at 04:11pm
The federal minister for communications, Helen Coonan has made an announcement about digital radio. Apparently the major metropolitan areas will get it first, and will use something called the Eureka 147 system, and they will provide broadcasters with 128 kilo bits per second, which is half the recommended bandwidth for the Eureka system.
Now, I don’t know much about the Eureka system, but if the bit rates are in any way similar to those of MP3 compression then 128kbps stereo will be fine for speech and some music, but won’t be great for music. In my experience “on the fly” compression generally requires higher bandwidth than “post compression” as the latter can deal the audio file as a whole whilst the former has to compress as it goes, which I find usually provides worse audio quality than post compression. The point I am trying to make here is that 128kbps stereo might be fine with post compression, but it won’t provide the same quality for broadcast.
I have read that the UK is using Eureka at 128kbps and it sounds dreadful, but I can’t confirm that, so if anybody knows better then I would be glad to hear from you.
Also Digital Radio will coexist with analog radio for now, as there is no set “switch off” date for analog radio. The same can’t be said for digital and analog television, with 2008 being confirmed as the switch off date for analog television (in metro areas anyway) to free up the airwaves for digital radio.
There hasn’t really been any clear decision made for the regional areas, except that they will get digital radio soon, and as far as I know, Canberra is considered a regional area when it comes to television and radio. The regionals might not even use Eureka, Ms. Coonan announced that DRM may be used instead. I personally don’t understand why we would use two different radio systems, but such is government regulation.
Interestingly, Radio 2 moved on to odd parts of the radio dial hoping to be part of the digital radio saga, but they have missed out, and that can’t possibly help the already dwindling share price. According to radioinfo.com.au “Low power community stations, open narrowcasters and Section 40 off-band licencees will miss out on space in the first round of allocations, which will be planned by ACMA.”
radioinfo also reports that “VHF spectrum will be the preferred carrier medium, with L Band being considered for in-fill transmission and other future uses. Spectrum planning will begin immediately, but the Minister expects that legislation and a staggered technical roll out will mean that consumers may still have to wait up to 2 years before they will be able to enjoy a full range of digital radio services.”
This certainly marks a very exciting period for the future of radio in Australia, I can only hope that the regulators make the right decisions, otherwise we may be left with a substandard system, and fixing that could be very tricky.
UPDATE: Upon further reading it has become apparent that Eureka uses MP2, which is going to be interesting to say the least. Also, stations will be allocated 256kbps worth of bandwidth, but will only be allowed to broadcast at 128kbps, the other half of the bandwidth will be reserved for extra features and services. I don’t like the sound of this at all.