HD Ha-Ha

There’s a funny exchange going on at the radio-info.com discussion board about HD radio (naturally — that’s where the good jokes are). It’d be even funnier if the CPB hadn’t spent $50 million of our taxpaying money to back this turkey, and if our local public radio stations hadn’t mortgaged our analogue futures to mount these channels. Anyway…:

Nick: I dropped my second Insignia HD radio and the screen cracked, and it won’t display anything. So I bought yet another portable HD radio. I dropped my iPod touch a while ago and nothing happened. The HD radio should be more durable. But as the ads for HD Radio said repeatedly, if I have $50 burning a hole in my pocket, what better use for the money than to buy an HD radio!

Savage: Hey, Nick — seriously: there are actually HD Radio promos running suggesting they’re good purchases “if you have $50 burning a hole in your pocket”? Assuming this actually to be the case: incredible, if true.

I agree — simply dropping a small, hard and presumably slippery (and thus easy-to-drop) portable device should not cause catastrophic damage.  The Insignia should have been able to stand up to a minor mishap like that. As a design issue, the build quality should have been high enough to withstand forseeable normal-use impacts. That tells me the radio, overall, is a cheap, flimsy piece of crap.

Zach: Of course the radio’s a cheap, flimsy piece of crap. It’s the Best Buy house brand. All house brand electronics are going to be a crapshoot, made by some unknown Chinese lowest bidder. I’ve never laid hands on a Dynex or Insignia or whatever and had them feel anywhere as sturdy as name brand hardware.

That’s not HD radio’s fault, that’s Best Buy’s fault. Unless you believe the inane licensing fee is what jacks up the price to the point they HAVE to use cheap shortcuts to keep the thing under $50. Then you may have a point. But personally I bet it’s $10 to make and $40 profit for BB.

Savage: Admittedly I don’t know any specifics about the licensing arrangement between BB and iBiquity. But certainly the “inane” (your word, and apropos) licensing has been a major obstacle at getting HD receivers out there among the public, and at popular prices.  (Defined as: the price a casual consumer would actually be willing to pay.)

In producing a low-priced item with high fixed costs, something’s gotta give. Guess what gets trashed? The build quality of the final project. Result: a flimsy piece of crap which fails to make believers out of the few people who buy HD Radios.

I’ve experimented with the Sony, the Jensen iPod docker, the Accurian, the Insignia portable and the BA Receptor HD. Every single one of them is total crap, with the exception of the Sony — and judging from posts here even those radios exhibit problems despite an apparent good build quality. That track record is not good for HD’s fortunes, no matter how much the manufacturer deserves blame.

KB10KL: You can just about cook a hot dog over the little grates on the back of the Sony, I don’t think that bodes well for longevity, of course at the rate I use mine it will last forever.

Nick: I bought 3 portable HD radios so far since the end of 2009. 2 of those are broken. It would be reasonable to assume that half the Insignia HD radios sold to date are broken.

RadeoEngineer: Not mine.  It was only used twice then put it away.

local oscillator: This discussion leads me to believe that if we industry insiders would just stop buying these pieces of HD crap, sales would plummet; regular folks are too smart to buy them.  I admit I’m guilty — a know thy enemy kind of thing, but I’m quitting right now, cold turkey. I feel better already!

Nick: I’m probably responsible for 10% of the HD radio sales in my market.

Savage: And I would suspect that the return rate on HD Radio sales to non-radio-industry civilians exceeds 50%.  (Can’t prove this, of course — “just a little hunchback at the office” — but I find it highly likely.)

Not that I’ve actually seen any HD Radios (other than car-audio head-end units) on display lately, but I can’t recall ever seeing any HD Radios out in stores that didn’t include open-box clearance pieces. The returns on these things must have been horrible. It’s been two years now since I’ve bothered to pursue it, but store managers always had attitudes of “make me an offer on that clearance thing,” nobody wants these or knows what they are, or — in the case of dearly-departed Circuit City — actually tried to talk me out of buying one. Guess he didn’t want to deal with yet ANOTHER return.


2 Responses

  1. “Sangean Cancels Production Plans for DT600-HD”

    “Sangean now says it’s not planning to introduce an HD Radio portable that was to have included analog AM in the U.S. this year. Responding to a question from Radio World, a Sangean spokesman said the company decided not to go ahead with production of the DT-600 HD; he could not say why. The spokesman also said Amazon is not accepting pre-orders for the unit, as we had reported. Sangean had not answered Radio World’s query at the time that story was published. IBiquity had a prototype of the unit in its booth at CES and also at the spring NAB Show.”


    Funny, he could not say why. Sangean must have signed iBiquity’s “best-practices” clause, which bans anyone from saying anything negative to the Press. I believe that the Insignias are the only portable HD radios available.

  2. “The ongoing tragedy of HD radio”

    “It’s true that the RadioShack Accurian is the most affordable way into the appealing new club that is HD Radio, but it’s costly for all the wrong reasons. One look underneath the base of an Accurian explains its $200 [now $150 on sale] price tag. There, a sticker reads: “HD Radio Technology Under License From iBiquity Digital Corporation.” Instead of developing a radio capable of superior sound quality, I’m guessing that RadioShack paid iBiquity a fortune for the license, cheaply put together a subpar product, and passed the licensing cost on to consumers. ”


    Although this article was written over three years ago, the iBiquity chipset royalties must still be high, despite claims by Struble that he is selling millions. I suspect that return rates are very high, which hopefully count against him. The Insignia portables are flimsy junk, if one reads the few Best Buy reviews. Also, the new Insignia may not receive the album artist picture, as it may not be implemented at stations for years. Most of the costs are probably going to royalties, so manufacturers make junk HD radios, and retailers pass the licensing costs onto consumers, just like the automakers.

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