We've long maintained that the idea of digital radio is a good one. We also like DAB, on the whole, but we can see it has quite a number of very obvious failings too. But now the government has announced in its Digital Britain report that it will be migrating all radio to DAB, and that it plans to switch off analogue radio by 2015. There's a substantial caveat here, in that at least 50 per cent of all radio listening will need to be via DAB before they'll consider flipping the switch.
We aren't yet sure how the government thinks it's going to get DAB listening up to such high levels. It's claimed it will work with vehicle manufacturers to ensure digital radios are installed in cars, which has been a massive barrier in the take-up of DAB. But even with brand-new cars potentially getting new radios, where does that leave the millions of older cars on the road? We can't scrap them all, even for a discount on our next vehicle.
Worse still is the decision not to push DAB to a higher quality. DAB+ is a very real possibility now, and we think it's shocking that the government won't go down this route. There doesn't seem very much point in getting rid of trusty old high-quality FM only to get something that sounds worse and costs more. Technological progress is the exact reverse of that -- it's supposed to increase quality and reduce costs.
We really do stand behind a switch to digital radio, but we're saddened by the lack of care being put into its sound quality. What's the point of rushing everything over to DAB, and using a bit rate that makes the whole thing sound like a gigantic digital mess? If we're going to use DAB, let's at least find enough bandwidth to make it sound good.
The BBC has always been an important part of the DAB/Eureka project, and here is what is has to say (PDF link), in 2003, about bit rates on the service: "A value of 256kbps has been judged enough to provide a high-quality stereo broadcast signal... It may be possible to accept a further reduction to 192kbps." It's relevant to point out at this point that no DAB station except Radio 3 uses 192kbps and most use significantly less.
We're all for progress, but by definition, it should involve moving forward, not back.