Codecs, OFCOM and incompatible players – let Stuff.tv explain all you need to know about the future DAB+ format... including explaining "bubbling mud".
It’s like DAB, but better
At present DAB, although digital, uses the frankly ancient MP2 codec. DAB+ will use AAC, which is about four times as efficient. This means that transmissions will sound better and use less bandwith, freeing up space for better quality broadcasts. So the wobbly sounds of DAB – or, as it’s known in the industry “bubbling mud” – will hopefully disappear.
You’ll get loads more stations
Again, due to the more efficient encoding, more stations will be able to be packed in to the DAB+ bandwidth, catering for even more tastes. And since stations are charged by the bit to broadcast, it would make the cost of transmitting cheaper. Maybe we could have Stuff radio?
It’s great for audiophiles
Although most people are happy with their kitchen trannies, DAB+ could increase listening pleasure and open up a whole new market for radio listening. Just now, even most “stereo” stations are decoded as mono-only, as most DAB radios are set to mono. DAB+ could handle stereo broadcasts – meaning that you could listen to Phil Collins in crystal-clear stereo sound – nice.
It’s already taking over the world
DAB+ stations have already begun broadcasting in a number of countries including Italy, China, Switzerland, Australia, Germany and the Czech Republic. Malta has actually launched a commercial DAB+ station with 19 channels, including XFM and the BBC World Service, which will be rebroadcast in DAB+.
Your current player may be upgradable
Pure announced in May that 80 per cent of its new radios “will be either DAB+ ready or DAB+ enabled by the end of 2008” and will only sell DAB+ capable radios by 2009. Other DAB manufacturers, such as Revo, have announced that their products will be upgradeable in the near future. This is possible thanks to a USB connection to receive software upgrades, or possible factory refits.
DAB and DAB+ could be broadcast simultaneously
Because of the saved bandwidth, it’s possible that current DAB broadcasts could switch to mono, and DAB+ channels could start broadcasting at the same time, meaning a soft switchover – just like HD and non-HD TV broadcasts.
OFCOM is remaining cagey
Despite the fact that DAB+ exists, is being used in other countries and players exist that are capable of broadcasting, OFCOM – the official broadcasting regulator – has said that “We’re not saying no, just not now… there would be a severe effect on existing users”. It sounds like they’re facing heat from manufacturers and broadcasters to take things slowly.
Don’t hold your breath for DAB+ in the UK
Here’s the rub – the UK was at the forefront of rolling out DAB radio, but the BBC and OFCOM plumped for an antiquated format. So there are now over 5m existing radios in the UK that will not be compatible with DAB+. The net result is a very soft roll-out. Industry insiders say that we’re looking to at least 2010 before we even sniff the first DAB+ transmissions. And that’s if OFCOM agrees to the change.