I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Marc in response to my HD-32X post:

As CourtneyJ noted, analog radio stations have been promoting HD Radio for years. So, I’m surprised at the small number of available HD Radio receivers in the market. Despite the prevalence of HD Radio stations and advertisements, it doesn’t seem to have yet gone anywhere close to mainstream.

It doesn’t surprise me at all. Just because a new technology is an evolutionary replacement for an old one doesn’t mean that it will catch on quickly — or at all. I wrote about this effect 5 years ago regarding DVD Audio and SACD, then again 3 years ago for Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.

The key problem is that an A/V technology cannot replace an entrenched predecessor based on quality alone. People don’t care about quality. Higher fidelity, higher definition, higher contrast, more channels… nobody cares. Our parents may have finally purchased that nice new TV, but they’re probably still running a regular interlaced DVD player into its composite video input, and they don’t care.

New media formats and delivery technologies need to significantly improve on features and convenience to replace their predecessors. The cassette could be played in the car and recorded. The CD and DVD offered immediate nonlinear seeking (and looked cool as hell compared to audio cassettes and VHS).

SACD and DVD-Audio never took off because quality was their only improvement. And new format adoption comes with a cost (new hardware, reduced versatility until it catches on — you couldn’t, for instance, play your new SACDs in your car or computer) that must be tolerated by early adopters, so it needs to be very compelling in other ways. The new formats brought nothing new on the same scale that led the adoption of CDs. And hardly anyone was complaining that CD audio wasn’t good enough.

Blu-Ray has the same problem, even now that HD-DVD is dead. DVDs are fine for most people. They can buy a DVD and play it everywhere they possibly want to watch a movie: their cheapo DVD players connected to their TVs in every room, the DVD player in the car to keep the kids quiet, and the crappy Dell laptop from work that they take on the plane. The geeks can also easily and quickly rip the DVD to store it on a giant hard drive and have it available for networked playback devices (Apple TV, modded Xbox, Xbox 360, etc.) or portables (PSP, iPod Video/Classic/Touch, iPhone). The only significant adoption Blu-Ray gets is as a side benefit of purchasing a PS3. By and large, the market isn’t rushing out to buy Blu-Ray players and replace their video libraries again.

So quality is the only thing going for HD Radio. And if you think about where radio is usually used nowadays, quality is even less relevant than in our parents’ misguided home theaters. FM radio’s quality is perfectly fine for people in cars, construction workers, restaurant kitchens, warehouses, cubicles, and small stores. HD Radio provides no other compelling reasons to switch: no new features, no new abilities, no problems solved. And it provides plenty of reasons not to: high cost, no portables, low availability in cars.

It’s no surprise, then, that nobody’s heard of it and it hasn’t caught on. And I don’t think it’s necessary to qualify that with “yet”.