2011 Audi A8Enlarge Photo
Audi and Volkswagen both today announced the expanded availability of HD Radio in 2010 model-year vehicles.
Volkswagen did not give specifics of which models will get the upgrade, though Audi said that it will offer HD Radio with its tuners on the 2011 Audi A8, A6, and Q7 models, and with the navigation system on 2011 Audi A4, A5, and Q5 models, all by Fall 2010.
Volkswagen added that it's also "further investigating the opportunity of bringing HD Radio to its latest touch-screen radio system on future models."
In the experience of TheCarConnection.com, HD Radio sounds much better than satellite radio systems but not quite up to the warm, well-rounded sound quality of a nearby analog FM stereo broadcast.
One big positive with HD radio technology is that it HD also allows access, like digital broadcast TV, to additional channels. With 'multiplexing' or 'multicasting,' frequencies are split into several digital streams (typically HD2, HD3). There's no complication with a station adding a second, special-interest channel to its frequency—which it can also add advertising to and broaden the business model. But according to some, multiplexing might only serve to deteriorate the sound quality, making the signal sound more 'compressed,' like an MP3 file for your iPod was created with too low of a bitrate.
HD Radio also permits more extensive data delivery than with the FM-standard RDS system, allowing traffic and weather updates, for instance, along with other station-relevant info.
It seems a bit odd for HD Radio to finally be taking off in 2010, as the technology was approved by the FCC back in 2002 and was originally expected to rise quickly to popularity. But then automakers moved to favor satellite radio services provided by XM and Sirius, two companies that have now combined operations and have an even less-certain future seeing that automakers finally appear on the cusp of the in-car streaming services we've been anticipating for most of this decade. Ford, for example, just today at CES Ford introduced its MyFord Touch system, along with a new set of voice-activated apps—Pandora streaming audio being one of the first.
BMW HD RadioEnlarge Photo
Mercedes-Benz and BMW made a push toward satellite radio for 2008, a move that at that time was joined by no major automaker but Ford at that time. Over the past two years, more automakers have offered it.
HD Radio for AM or FM is now available to about 85 percent of Americans, with about 2,000 stations broadcasting in the format and about 1,000 multicast channels. There are about 14,000 stations total in the U.S.