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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 23:27 GMT 00:27 UK
Digital radio sets shrink
A concept design for a portable digital radio
Digital radios are getting cheaper and funkier
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Digital radio could soon be getting a better reception among consumers as receivers get smaller and cheaper.


Digital radios have to be portable, have to be low cost and below the psychologically important 100 threshold

Robin Shepherd, Radioscape
Research by British firm Radioscape and chip maker Texas Instruments has shrunk the size and cost of the core components needed to make a digital radio receiver.

Using these components, manufacturers should be able to produce portable sets costing less than 100.

The first cheap digital radios should be available by Christmas.

Strong signals

Digital radio services have been available in the UK since 1995, but so far few people are tuning in because the sets needed to listen are so expensive (although quite a few do now listen via their TV satellite set-top boxes).

Some advantages of digital radio
Crystal clear sound - Digital radio does not suffer from the annoying effects of interference.
More services - Airwave use is far more efficient, allowing broadcasters to put out a wider range of programmes and new services.
Perfect tuning - Car radios do not have to be retuned as you travel - stations are broadcast on one frequency, which you can lock on to at the touch of a button.
Extra information - New digital radio sets have built-in LCD displays, which show text information to complement your listening.
The cheapest digital radio on the British high street is the 299 Psion Wavefinder that only works when connected to a PC.

Digital radios for cars and tuners for stereos cost from hundreds to thousands of pounds.

Existing digital radio sets for home need a separate mains power supply and cannot be carried easily from room to room.

By contrast, most people currently listen to radio on a small, portable radio that often sits in the kitchen.

But now British firm Radioscape and Texas Instruments have managed to fit all the basic components for a digital radio into a software and hardware package smaller, cheaper and less power hungry than before.

Other applications

"We've managed to get the bill of materials needed to create a digital radio, apart from the plastic that goes around the outside, down to 30," said Radioscape spokesman Robin Shepherd.

In existing digital radio receivers, the same package of components can cost up to five times as much.

"It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation at the moment," he said. "Broadcasters are saying no one is buying the sets and retailers are asking what is the point of putting radios on the shelves when they are 300-500 and no one is buying them."

But radio sets produced using the Radioscape component package should retail for less than 100, would run on batteries and help digital radio take off, said Mr Shepherd.

"Digital radios have to be portable, have to be low cost and below the psychologically important 100 threshold," he said.

Already, many radio manufacturers have signed up to use the component package, and the cheaper radios should be in the shops in time for Christmas.

The small, cheap package should also let manufacturers bundle in a digital radio with a variety of other devices, such as mobile phones and portable digital music players.

See also:

10 Jul 01 | TV and Radio
Dyke warns of digital backtrack
05 Jul 01 | TV and Radio
BBC frustrated over digital delay
14 May 01 | dot life
Radio's digital divide
09 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
Digital radio cost 'to fall'
26 Mar 01 | New Media
Fuzzy reception for digital radio
22 Mar 01 | TV and Radio
Digital radio: Q&A
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