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iBiquity’s In-Store HD-Radio Demos

Columbia, Md. — While it is impractical for many retail stores to install exterior antennas to demonstrate live HD-Radio reception, HD-Radio developer iBiquity Digital has devised a solution to get around the problem.

In several hundred stores, the company has placed “retail demonstration modules” (RDMs) that connect to up to 10 HD Radios at a time to walk consumers through a simulated demo delivered through the radio’s own speakers. The demo includes a recorded explanation of the technology’s benefits, a recorded A/B comparison of analog and digital reception, and a demonstration of multicasting and metadata capabilities, said Bernie Sapienza, iBiquity’s retail business development VP.

The RDM is a small black box whose flash memory stores and plays back an endless-loop recording. The box connects via cable to HD Radios on display, and signs or displays by the radios urge customers to tune the radio to 88.1MHz on the FM dial to hear the demo and view metadata on the radio’s display.

Getting live or simulated demos in stores, however, has not been a significant barrier to sales, Sapienza contended. The issue is “No. 4 or 5 on the list of challenges, not No. 1 or 2, based on our success with online retailers,” he contended.

Most CE retail outlets lack outdoor antennas because for decades, “consumers have not needed FM demonstrated to them,” Sapienza said. The antennas are often needed, however, to pull in digital AM/FM signals through the walls of commercial buildings and through a cloud of RF interference generated by flat-panel TVs and other electronics in a store, he said.

Because of cost, independent retailers and regional chains are more likely to install outdoor antennas than large chains such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart, Sapienza noted. In its single large store, for example, Abt erected an antenna and dropped antenna wire to several locations within the store. Mobile electronics specialists operating small outlets can get their installers to install an outdoor antenna, and some of these outlets already have antenna systems that are adequate for use with the high-sensitivity tuners in aftermarket head units, he said.

Still, even among independent and regional retailers, antenna installs remain a challenge, he noted. One challenge is hiding long runs of antenna wires to multiple locations in a store. Another is the low wattage of a radio station’s HD-Radio broadcasts. “HD Radio broadcasts at 1/100th of the power of the analog signal,” Sapienza explained. Long antenna-wire runs, combined with signal splitting needed to feed multiple radios, could pose a challenge to transporting the HD-Radio signal of lower power stations.

In mall locations, stores are highly unlikely to find a practical way to run wire from an exterior antenna, he added. Most malls restrict what a retailer can do to the exterior, and, usually, items such wire runs are discouraged or disallowed by mall rules, he explained.

For these and other locations, iBiquity offers its RDM modules and displays on a case-by-case basis, Sapienza said. The company rolled out “a few” RDMs in the fourth quarter, and they now appear in several hundred outlets, including Circuit City outlets in its top 20 markets and in regional chains such as Connecticut-based Bernie’s. RadioShack is evaluating the units.

To go with the RDMs, iBiquity separately offers displays, which the company believes will more likely be picked up by independents and regional chains than by national chains because smaller retailers are more open to vendor-provided signage and displays.