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New Chip for HD Radio

A new chip developed for high-definition radio by iBiquity and Texas Instruments will help solve the radio version of the "chicken or egg" dilemma that slowed the HD transition for TV stations.

That transition has been plagued by programmers' reluctance to create programming for a small number of viewers and by set manufacturers' inability sell sets without content. The new HD radio chip is expected to drop the cost of manufacturing HD radios while creating a roadway for new programming options.

"We're eliminating a fairly expensive chip that was used for the AM processing and incorporating it into the same HD radio chip," says John Gardner, worldwide marketing manager for Texas Instruments Digital Radio Group.

Known as the TMS320DR1250, the new chip is the first second-generation HD radio chip, succeeding the DSRI200, which was a "bolt-on" to the HD radio FM processor. The new chip will be available in early 2004, integrating both AM and FM into one piece of silicon. Sample price is $30 each, $20 less than the DSRI200 chip.

Currently, 40 radio broadcasters are broadcasting HD radio, a service that requires an HD radio that is backwards-compatible with analog radio signals. It also requires iBiquity HD digital transmission gear (typically cost of deployment is around $40,000 for AM and $100,000 for FM). Gardner says the new chip makes it easier for HD radios to "blend" HD and analog radio signals, immediately switching to the analog center channel in case the HD signal succumbs to interference.

One of the new chip's main advantages is that it uses TI programmable digital signal processing. The previous chip was fixed-function, meaning that enhancements to the software required designing from scratch or going back to the vendor for a new chip. The new chip allows services to be added through software enhancements.

One example of such services is called Tomorrow Radio. National Public Radio and Kenwood are testing the system, which segments digital radio's 96 kb/s into different streams, offering a music channel and a talk channel simultaneously. Other services include a rewind feature or 5.1-channel surround sound audio.

"If we've learned anything from our experience with Eureka and Digital Audio Broadcasting in Europe, it's that extra content helps sell radios," adds Gardner. "Services like Tomorrow Radio or surround sound add more value to HD radio."