Digital radio for Australian drivers

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While The Buggles pronounced its death in 1979 with their song Video killed the radio star, the continuing popularity or radio - combined with the new digital radio - shows us that the king of the airwaves is going nowhere soon. Digital radio - an improvement on its predecessor analogue radio - brings us better reception, clearer sound and a wide range of stations to choose fromi. And, not surprisingly, the car industry has been quick to have the latest digital radio devices available for in-car useii.

Digital radio uses a higher frequency than AM and FM radio, making reception less susceptible to interference.

Digital radio broadcasts on a higher radio frequency than AM or FM, which means there's less chance of interference from external sourcesiii. The key difference between analogue radio and digital radio is digital radio's application of bit streaming technologyiv. This allows digital radio to transmit data that includes multimedia services, such as radio text or scrolling text, in addition to sound broadcastingi. Accessible information will appear on the screen of your digital radio device and these may include details about the program you've tuned in to, current traffic conditions, news updates as well as weather conditionsiv.

Digital radio in cars

Commercial Radio Australia is working with the car industry to incorporate DAB+ digital radios as standard in Australian carsii. Digital radio is relatively new in Australia and is only offered as a standard feature in some cars - as in 2011 the Toyota Camry Atara SL, Lexus GS and Hino 300, 500 and 700 series trucksii. In the meantime, there are in-car kits with digital radio reception that can be bought and fitted into the carii. These aftermarket additions can be self-installed or professionally fitted and prices will vary depending on product design, features offered and complexity of their function.

So what products will bring digital radio into your ride?

Aftermarket head units (decks) that have a built-in DAB+ digital receiver have recently come onto the marketv. Units such as these can be expensive and you will need to replace the existing stereo unit if you go for a deck like thisvi. It's a good idea to check the size of your vehicle's head unit before getting out your wallet! There are two standard radio/stereo sizes for vehicles - they are single DIN (180x50mm) and double DIN (180x100mm)^.

Some units can turn your car's stereo system into a multi-function dashboard, complete with built-in DAB+ receivers, auxiliary inputs and USB ports, allowing for iPod/iPhone or MP3 connection. You can also find stereos that have Bluetooth connectivity allowing access to any Bluetooth-enabled device, providing you the option of hands-free calling, audio streaming and in some cases, multiple phone connectivityvii.

Keen on upgrading you car's stereo system? Make sure the digital radio unit is compatible with your car.

If you're not so keen on replacing your current car-stereo system, in-car digital radio adapter kits can connect you to digital radio channels through your existing car stereovi. Kits connect either wirelessly by FM radio or via auxiliary cable. One thing to note is that while purchasing an adapter will not require you to remove your vehicle's head unit, you may need professional assistance if you choose to install an external digital aerial. Don't be fooled by their simplicity; some in-car digital radio adapters come with some nifty features such as the ability to pause and rewind live digital radio, and a scrolling text feature, which gives you information on the program or song that you are listening to. Some adapters can connect to an iPod or USBvii. You can also find adapters that are portable, allowing you to access digital radio services in and out of the car.

Digital radio in Australia

Different parts of the world have different transmission systems for broadcasting digital radio. In Australia, digital radio services are delivered using an upgraded version of the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) standard, known as DAB+i. To receive digital radio services in Australia, you will need to use a DAB+ digital receiver. Current digital services are only accessible in the five metropolitan license areas of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perthiv. Digital radio is currently on trial in Darwin and Canberraviii and is not yet available in regional license areasiv. To see if digital radio is accessible in your area, simply pay a visit to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) website.

At the moment there are no plans to switch off AM or FM radio services and some broadcasters are providing a simulcast of both digital and analogue servicesiv. For a list of the current radio stations offered on the digital platform visit the Digital Radio Plus website.

^For more information on the standard size for car audio head units (ISO 7736) visit the International Organization for Standardization Web site.

i Digital Radio Plus, 2011, About Digital Radio,

ii Digital Radio Plus, 2011, FAQ's,

iii Woodford, C., 2012, Radio, Explain that stuff,

iv Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), 2011, Digital Radio,

v Turner, A., 2011, Hands on: Kenwood digital car radio, The Sydney Morning Herald,

vi Turner, A., 2012, Toss up: digital car radios, The Sydney Morning Herald,

vii, JVC KD-DB56 Car CD DAB+ Tuner,

viii Digital Radio Plus, 2011, Coverage,