Satellite vs. HD Radio
At a Glance
There’s something to be said about hearing your favorite song on the radio while cruising down the road. With its amazing variety of programming, Satellite Radio makes that more likely than ever to happen on a daily basis. However, the sound quality is lower than that of HD Radio, which allows you to listen to your favorite local stations in full digital clarity.
Satellite vs. HD Radio is a topic much debated primarily over two points: content and sound quality. Fans of satellite radio love the fact that they can access content originating from all over the world — and much of it is commercial-free because their subscription fees pay for the broadcasting costs. HD radio enthusiasts love the fact that they can listen to broadcasts without paying subscription fees, and some believe the sound quality is superior.
Satellite Radio, as the name suggests, bounces signals off satellites, while HD Radio still uses the same terrestrial towers that are used by FM/AM radio. Consequently, the immediate drawback of HD Radio is that it is not available unless you have a local broadcast. Satellite Radio, on the other hand, is available all over the world. HD Radio switches to local FM radio stations when it cannot access its own digital signal. In that respect, there is no interruption of service. Some people prefer this to the static that comes with a service interruption of Satellite Radio especially when passing under large structures or through tunnels.
Technical and Qualitative Difference
At its best, Satellite Radio offers about half the bandwidth of FM. Without getting into complex explanations, the method of transmission is that each satellite sends one signal which is then sorted into the hundreds of music stations that the Satellite Radio provider broadcasts to the listeners. The receivers that decode and sort the signals are of similar quality, but not all channels are the same, and this results in poor quality sound for the ones with less bandwidth capacity, and superior sound quality for the stations with higher bandwidth. Satellite Radio simply lacks the bandwidth needed to present hundreds of stations at full CD audio quality. However, this difference in quality is simply ignored by Satellite fans who love it for its myriad variety.
Apart from installing the hardware for HD Radio, there is no cost involved. It is much the same as listening to FM/AM Radio. The average cost of the hardware is around $100. Satellite Radio equipment comes at a higher price and depending upon whether you install it in your home or in your car, the price can range between $250 and $700. In both cases, you can expect to pay an installation charge of around $100, although many new cars are equipped with Satellite or HD Radio receivers. With satellite radio, you can also expect to pay a monthly subscription fee of around $20.
Listening to songs is something of a hobby — personal and subjective. Consequently, it is not possible to assert that a listener ‘ought to’ look for either better quality or more variety. For some, the noise of the car and traffic makes quality of sound secondary. Truckers who spend a major part of their lives on the move might prefer the variety that Satellite Radio has to offer. For people who demand higher sound quality and prefer to listen to their local radio stations, HD Radio may be the preferable option.