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back to article Gov: DAB must battle on, despite being old and rubbish

Britons' digital albatross, DAB radio, might be antique and sound terrible, the culture minister said this week, admitting the 2015 switchover date looked “ambitious”. It’s the first time a politician of ministerial level has acknowledged issues with DAB. But there’s no changing course, he said. “They often suggest that DAB is …

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Hm

I don't know where he buys his radios, but the sound quality from my little DAB box in the kitchen is phenomenal, not to mention the convenience of not having tune anything or faff about with an aerial.

Beats the pants off of any analogue tuner I've used.

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Facepalm

Garbage In, Garbage Out, the source signal on UK channels is just piss poor and the system positively attracts reception problems. Apparently you've only heard low bitrate digital audio and think all the artefacts and dropouts are normal.

If I'm forced to put up with inherently low quality transmissions I'll choose the FM one's that carry on through reception problems instead of just giving up playing at all.

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FAIL

The author obviously doesn't know much about DAB

I'm not even from the U.K. and only visit from time to time, and even I know that most stations are already on DAB+ or are in the process of converting to it. All current radios support both. The DAB+ format uses HE-AAC v2 and sounds wonderful compared to the old DAB format's MPEG Layer 2 codec. The HE-AAC v2 codec is the same audio codec that replaced the iBiquity IBOC system's original codec here in the United States, and is very similar to the codec that is used by the XM Satellite Radio system. Furthermore, DAB+ has better coverage due to advanced forward-error correction.

Digital radio in the UK is in a good situation, I think.

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Ha!

In this country DAB delivers a bit stream of 128kbps for an MPEG2 codec, limited by what the broadcasters choose to transmit. Comparing that to the UK's FM network, it's not as good as the sound quality that can be got from a good FM receiver with a reasonable signal strength. The coverage is poor in comparison to FM, and in patchy reception areas the quality drops to AM levels of awfulness or disappears entirely. DAB's only plus points is extra stations, if you can get them.

As for not having to tune or faffing with an aerial, what sort of prehistoric FM radio is it that your comparing DAB to? FM radios have had presets and RDS for a very long time now, and the FM transmitter network is very well designed for generally superb reception.

Having said that, I have got DAB in the car, and when I can get it I like R4Extra. I just wished they'd ditched DAB and gone to Digital Radio Mondiale instead.

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@Hm

"the sound quality from my little DAB box in the kitchen is phenomenal"

YMMV! My experience is limited to one or two dual DAB/FM radios of decent quality and FM was better in both cases.

OK, I know this will depend on your reception area, etc, but there is no compelling argument for DAB in my mind, and I would hardly call tuning a difficult task!. I like things to run for a long time on battery power, and see no need to replace a few older radios yet - just more landfill to be disposed of.

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Holmes

Ee By Gum

> but the sound quality from my little DAB box in the kitchen

Hmm, justifying how good something is when using the kitchen as the scenario seems more than a little dubious to me. It may be that the DAB unit isn't affected by microwave and/or other energy sources which an analogue device would be.

Don't forget that the real reason why government are so transfixed on switching to digital is because it will be far easier for a future government to levy taxes on digital equipment than it ever would be for analogue. With digital the radio signals can be modified to require a license, which is a tad more difficult than it would be with analogue.

However what do I know?

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But that is exactly why DAB has to die, from an industry point of view.

You see, DAB has painted itself into a corner. It's audio, so there's no use increasing bandwidth since the quality is already fine. It's digital, so the only thing they can do about quality is fiddle around with the codec - the hardware itself is probably not going to change often.

In other words, DAB is not DVD, there is no Blu-DAB on the horizon. There is nothing that can be made into an incentive to force consumers to update.

Buy one DAB receiver and you don't buy another until that one dies. Contrast that to the Iphone, which has its replacement model every year and half (the standard upgrade path in tech these days).

The industry prefers the Iphone model.

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Anonymous Coward

Aegrotatio obviously doesn't know much about DAB in the UK

... because NO UK stations use DAB+ and there are NO plans to do so.

And very few radios support DAB+. Even when they're DAB+ capable, it's seldom enabled on stand alone devices because it costs the manufacturers a few pence more.

We're stuck with '405 Line' DAB radio.

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ED VAISEY HAS ABOUT AS MUCH........

Common sense as a dog turd. He along with every other politician are those I would least bother to listen to when it comes to anything technological.

I would not trust him with to empty cans and the string that ties them together.

DAB is as flawed as it was when it started, limited stations and if the signal is not spot on no sound. Switching over would disenfranchise millions and as for the expense of buying new equipment, you tell that to the million pensioners who have limited means.

It ain't broke so don't try to fix it.

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Unhappy

It's crap. Nobody want's it. But you're going to have it anyway.

P.S. we're also going to degrade a service that works (FM) just so you HAVE to switch.

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Anonymous Coward

possibly

“What really jumped out to me was that the majority of those who responded stated that they would not buy a car in the future without DAB radio. To me that highlights what consumers want, and what you as manufacturers and broadcasters are already beginning to provide.”

or possibly people know that they will need it in future if they want to listen to the radio in their car, and don't want to have to have their stereo, now almost universally built into the dashboards, replaced in 2-3 years time.

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Anachronistic perhaps, but sounds terrible?

My new car has a wonderful analogue radio rather than the DAB one I had in my previous car. The FM quality is similar or worse than DAB, and the MW & LW quality much worse. And the choice of stations is reduced.

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Why?

What on earth do the government get out of foisting this rubbish on us?

It can't just be about taking broadcasting out of the hands of the people, can it?

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What is it with this government?!? With DAB+ we get better signal error correction, better quality and with lower bandwidth use cheaper stations and yet they steadfastly ignore it.

Radio isn't like television in that more stations needn't mean worse overall quality.

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Fail

“What really jumped out to me was that the majority of those who responded stated that they would not buy a car in the future without DAB radio."

Only because they have heard that FM MAY switch off in 2015 and their current radios would be white elephants

Can't receive DAB even though I live in the capital city so they have a long way to go before I'd switch to DAB

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So you tell people that the only way to receive radio in the car from 2015 onwards is to have a dab receiver and then you deduce from the majority of people saying they wouldn't buy a new car unless it has a dab radio as evidence that people want dab?

Yes minister.

What fucking planet is the bloke from?

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FAIL

DAB? Don't get me started...

I've got a Sony XDR-S1.

It gives me the time signal several seconds late.

Every time there's a power cut, I have to set up all the preset channels *again*.

Radio 4 on FM is just the job for me.

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It's not just that there's the delay in DAB; nobody specified what it should be. If you have 2 DAB radios playing in the house, you get a terrible echo effect because the timing is different between them!

I'm currently doing a contract in Spain, which is one of many countries that have looked at digital radio and decided that there's no point. (Out of interest, their DTV has started HD, but you didn't have to to buy a new box, because it is compatible with the old boxes too, unlike the UK where you have to replace your DTV boxes becasue they changed the standard before they even got around to turning off the analogue!)

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As I understand it*

There's a slight delay in the digital-to-analogue conversion, and this will be less for a newer 'faster' box - but I can't imagine it will be more than a few ms. The real problem is that the BBC (and others) introduce a couple of seconds delay in the DAB signal (compared to FM).

The reason is* that it's much more important for neighbouring DAB broadcast masts to be precisely in sync (neighbouring FM transmissions are on different frequencies and shouldn't interfere with each other). Therefore, the signal sent to each transmission mast includes a timestamp telling it when it should be broadcast (and each mast has its own accurate clock). Because of the inevitable difference in transmission delays on a nationwide network, the signal is delayed, but why it needs to be by seconds rather than (say) 20ms, I don't know.

ClassicFM manage to broadcast FM and DAB more or less in sync, but then they don't do much live transmission.

* and I may well be wrong and would welcome correction from someone who works with this stuff.

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WTF?

IF not DAB

Then what should we be using?

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He is right, DAB is awful, on a small radio it may sound okish, but on better speakers and an a better AMP it is a waste of time. Not buying another DAb radio, I will stay with FM.

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Anonymous Coward

"Davie vowed to take this from 90 to 97 per cent coverage"

That is population coverage and not landmass coverage of course. And this is where the rub is. Population coverage stats may be good enough for 'static' services such as broadband, but for radio it is not good enough as many people listen to it on the road.

If I was to set off from London to the Isle of Skye listening to Radio 5 live, how many times will I loose signal on the way?

That and the issue that loads of car manufacturers are still not putting DAB radios as standard.

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“No one could predict 10 years ago the success of Apple, the domination of Google, profitability in social networking, particles travelling faster than the speed of light [sic]” – before calling for renewed faith in digital radio." So he provides examples of things no-one could have predicted, and then proceeds to predict the success of DAB, completely missing his original point, and that is that the major successes are usually by things that no-one can predict. I predict that by 2015 something that no-one can predict will make DAB obsolete, but I am not going to try and predict it because, well, obviously, no-one can predict it.

And ah yes, note the use of the word "faith." Would it be remiss of me to point out that "faith" is generally used in area where there is no supporting evidence but people want you to believe anyway?

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DAB or DAB+

Are they going to be rolling out DAB by 2015 or will they be using the improved DAB+?

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Digital Radio Mondiale

The government should open the floor up to Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM). It is an open standard already in use in Europe with hardware already available. It was initially designed for medium wave but also works in FM too. This means we could have stereo FM and digital services on AM without running out of bandwidth, then transition digital into the FM frequencies at a later time. Medium band propagates a lot further so it is more efficient, cheaper broadcasting too. You could cover the UK with one satellite and ground repeaters for cities and really make it green. Why did HMG ignore DRM?

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Anonymous Coward

What the idiot fails to understand

is that to the vast majority of consumers, DAB sounds just fine, and it's not about the quality of broadcasts, it's about the CHOICE of broadcasts.

I don't listen to FM radio, because it's all broadcasting 14yr old pop music (Radio 1 and local radio), or music for the retired (Radio 2 - 4).

However on DAB, I can get Planet Rock, so i'm more than happy with DAB.

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You might want to revisit Radio 4...

...because believing it plays 'music for the retired' just makes you sound stupid.

From Wikipedia:

BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history

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FAIL

Cite please..

"DAB radio, might be antique and sound terrible, the culture minister said this week"

As i'm pretty sure he didn't use those words, and you are talking horse-shit.....

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“They often suggest that DAB is an out-of-date technology, that coverage and sound quality are inferior to analogue and listeners are already happy with what they’ve got so why change?” noted Ed Vaizey. “There are of course elements of truth in all these statements,”

He did say elements of truth were in ALL of the statements - and El Reg did acknowledge the fact that each statement was arguable with a well placed 'might'

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FAIL

So are most reg readers Luddites or do they actually reckon DAB in the UK is s**t?

Only I know which side I'd back in a technical discussion.

How many *more* digital transmitters have to be built now to get *partial* coverage of the UK?

I suspect this obsession has more to do with revenue generation (either by auction) or licensing than *any* nonsense about quality.

This is also the minister for the internet. Mr record-every-page-n-data-transfer-in-the-uk for "National Security" and filter file sharing packets Vaizey.

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@Barry Shitpeas

"As i'm pretty sure he didn't use those words, and you are talking horse-shit....."

The mp2 codec used is from the late 80s. It requires at least 192kbs to sound halfway decent but the most it usual gets its 128K on DAB which sounds flat. However to squeeze even more stations in (usually ethnic crap to please the right-on lobby) a lot of stations in london have been dropped to 80kbs mono (jazzfm) and others (chill) are even lower at 64K and sound truly terrible even on a cheap portable.

Yes, thats right - mono. In 2011.

Welcome to the future of radio? I think not.

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DRM+ please. DAB is pants.

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FAIL

DAB+ in the uk?

Which multiverse plane is Aegrotatio from?

I'd happily buy a DAB+ unit if I thought it would be usable (at least it's backwards compatible) but all I ever see are overpriced DAB units produced for a tiny market - which means they'll stay overpriced.

I do listen to digital radio - using a freeview box. The piss-poor audio quality of DAB streams means they're only tolerable on portable radios with dinky speakers that have worse audio bandwidth than the average telephone.

IMHO Ofcom and the BBC are suffering from a major rectocranial inversion - perhaps brought on by a large dose of NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome.

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Anonymous Coward

Here here

Also WiFi Radio is great. FM good in the car so we just don't need cruddy DAB.

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DAB should be killed

If only to save the planet. All that power consumed by the receives must add to global warming and battery operated receivers are a no go (unless you lug spare AA cells around with you.) While TX power is lower, than the kWatts of FM, there are more TXs so overall the DAB experimentation has been a green failure!

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Anonymous Coward

Not a fan of DAB, but this argument is outdated

Modern DAB receivers consume no more power then FM equivalents. This wasn't the case in early designs, but in modern radios the audio amp dominates power consumption. However, as you mention, the power saving in TX for turning off FM would be significant.

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Dunno

As part of the 10% without DAB coverage, what it sounds like is a bit academic.........

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Pirate

Open door for Pirates?

So when FM stations are illegal, everyone will listen only to the unlicensed FM stations, which will make a mint from the advertising, since they have an audience....

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Anonymous Coward

Unfortunately DAB has failed

The only reason DAB still seems to keep going is to provide the BBC with more opportunities to waste money.

It doesn't have ubiquitous coverage, fails fairly badly, but when it does work it rocks. I'd much rather have a consistent average. Suspect people wanted DAB in their next car as we keep being told FM is being shut down.

BBC -

1) scrap all the BBC local radio stations. Give them to the local areas to run and make viable. Scrap the dross national ones too.

2) Stop wasting the enforced tax on multiple delivery channels. We want quality content not a million ways to listen too / watch crap.

3) Stop pretending to save money by "scrapping BBC HD" and replacing it with BBC2HD... - bbc wastes money trying to save money...

4) stop bankrolling technology that has failed. Take a look at what happened in the private sector HD-DVD flopped - everyone ditched it and got onboard with Blueray.

I suspect the problem is that the bbc has spent so long trying to CONvince us that DAB is the way forward that they didn't actually get it rolled out properly.

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Anonymous Coward

Hello Rupert

I claim my £5

Seriously, if you think the BBC dictates government policy, then you must think the tail wags the dog.

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Anonymous Coward

It's what Drive to Digital DIDN'T say...

Ed Vaizey refused to commit to any date for analogue switch off.

Tim Davie admitted that they had no DAB replacement for RDS-TA, the Travel Announcement system that's already available via FM in virtually 100% of all existing cars. He also refused to provide a figure for geographic DAB coverage that corresponds to the 97% population coverage, rather surprising as the conference was all about cars - and they move around !

Similar, there's nothing lined up to replace TMC, the Traffic Message Channel that's carried by Classic FM. So in the brave new DAB world your shiny new satnav will direct you straight into the back of the queue when Classic FM is switched off, even if you've shelled out £200 per car just so you can keep listening to your favourite stations in fewer places.

Absolute 60s and 70s will probably be only in mono.

WHOOPS ! Going backwards is supposed to be progress?

No wonder 8 out of 10 new cars still don't have DAB, and most cars don't even make it available, even as an option.

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I'd rather pay the data usage on my phone to listen via 3g than buy a DAB, i only listen to spoken word FM radio though.

I tried DAB when it first came out when i was off to wales for Uni, i left the DAB in halls when i moved out it was so terrible, its luck it had an FM tuner as well otherwise it would have just been a paperweight.

im still interested to see what happens to the London pirate fm stations when the big switch off comes. they are the only real choice in music, around london anyway. all the others just play the same old playlists over and over. I wont be getting a DAB in my car, if i can get the fm pirates still i'll be listening, otherwise cd's or HDD all the way.

Radio quality overall has plumetted in the last 2 decades, i fear the FM switch off will be one of many nails in the radio coffin.

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FAIL

Forget DAB and FM

I listen to music through the internet, as commercial radio (DAB and FM) have had nothing decent for at least 15-20 years (which is a fail in my view)

There are specialist rock stations (I hate rock) , but no dance music (other than rnb & urban dance)

Being an EDM DJ, I just either listen to my mixes in the car or internet audio streams from my mobile.

No need for DAB and FM

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M7S
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@rick 6

"I listen to music through the internet, as commercial radio (DAB and FM) have had nothing decent for at least 15-20 years (which is a fail in my view)" - OK, our music choices might differ but there's voice radio (BBC R4) which I and plenty of others like to listen to on the move, so this later statement: "No need for DAB and FM" just doesn't reflect reality. Internet radio on the move would presumably chew up too much mobile bandwidth and probably not work either in very congested areas (too many simultaneous users all wanting their own "thing") or rural ones (lack of comprehensive coverage), apart from the sheer hassle and expense of retrofitting such a system into the cars and bikes (yes) that have radios fitted, often already integrated into the car controls for safety.

That said I like the range of channels on FM and extended by DAB, but I'd support a move to DRM or DAB+ or similar, however there needs to be an ongoing parallel commitment to FM, even if only for a few national channels until the "long tail" of older sets have all been replaced.

FM (more so than digital radio) has its uses which will remain for a long time to come, for example in a power cut due to severe weather, internet radio (for public safety messages perhaps) would simply not come through, unless you've a UPS on your router.

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A system devised by idiots

Who was the bright spark who decided on hardware (set in stone) codecs?

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@A system devised by idiots

Probably some smart folk in the 80s when this was the only viable way to do it within a (still bloated) power budget.

That is not a vote of support for DAB, just an indication of how long drawn out it is and they lack of foresight (and political fallout) or mandating another change to allow DAB+ or better to be used and thus dumping exisiting DAB radios. By the last 5 years there should have been a requirement to support DAB & DAB+ automatically so they could migrate multiplexes as radios were replaced, but that would have been too sensible and/or upset manufacturers trying to save a few pennies.

But simpler still just stick with FM as there is no *compelling* reason for DAB (cost, power efficiency, sound quality in most cases all being worse).

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Par for the course

I wonder if Mr Vaizey realises that you actually change your car radio? His remark is like saying "I would only buy a house if I like the smell of the coffee brewing in the kitchen, and if it has my favourite kind of pot plants in the living room".

If people like that are the cream of the political class who rule us, what are the rest like?

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FAIL

Not so easy to change a car radio...

Actually, it's quite had to change car radios these days because they're often embedded in the dashboard, and you'd probably lose the display and steering wheel controls.

I'd prefer that cars weren't sold with radios and you could fit whatever you wanted rather than have to put up with the FM/MW-only rubbish that far too many manufacturers install.

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Flame

Is the government / BBC..

Is the government / BBC also going to stomp up to replace all the car radios of the licence fee paying public that don't contain DAB tech? I suspect not, if they ever do turn off the FM channels completely, I will miss driving home to Classic FM, but at the same time will stick with my cheap little FM gizmo that transmits my mobile music to my car stereo rather than fork out for a new unit + installation just to get DAB.

Personally I would like to see an opt out on the licence fee form, reduced fee for not wanting anything to do with DAB, which I strongly suspect stands for Diabolically Air-headed Bureaucracy.

</rant>

And apologies to any fans of DAB out there, some of us just personally don't think we need it.

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Anonymous Coward

Battery life

When there's a DAB radio that runs as long on a set of batteries as my old FM radio I might buy it. Until then, what I have is cheaper to run and better for the environment.

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