Samsung Helix XM2go Portable Satellite Radio/MP3 Player

Samsung Helix XM2go Portable Satellite Radio/MP3 PlayerAnnounced at the CES 2006 show earlier this month, the Samsung Helix XM2Go has now appeared for pre-orders on (US).

There’s been quite a lot of excitement about the Helix, which comes with an alluring feature set, offering a portable satellite receiver and mp3 player/recorder in a highly pocketable package.

The big news about this unit is its ability to receive XM satellite radio transmissions, letting users combine live XM radio with their personal digital music collections (MP3s and WMA).

XM Satellite Radio may not mean a lot over here in Europe-land, but in America it’s the country’s most popular satellite radio service, offering 160 digital channels, including news, sports, talk and entertainment, traffic & weather with “the deepest playlist in the industry” covering over 2 million titles.

Samsung Helix XM2go Portable Satellite Radio/MP3 PlayerThe good news is that the service is commercial free – the bad news is that it’s a subscription service, with plans starting at $12.95 a week.

The Samsung Helix XM2Go lets users record up to 50 hours of broadcast on its built-in flash memory, with users able to build their own playlists on the device, mixing XM radio content with their own digital music.

A handy built-in memory buffer lets listeners save an entire XM radio song even after the song has already played halfway through, and a built-in FM transmitter means that music can be beamed to any FM radio frequency, making it easy to listen to XM content on any home or car stereos.

The Helix offers a neat TuneSelect feature, which alerts users when one of their favourite artists or songs is being played on an XM channel and there’s also built-in support for the XM + Napster music service.

Samsung Helix XM2go Portable Satellite Radio/MP3 PlayerThis lets users ‘tag’ a song they hear on the XM radio, and then buy and download the tune song via Napster.

The attractive looking device measures a cutesy 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.6 inches, weighs in at a lightweight 4.5 ounces, with a large 2.2 inch 180 x 180 TFT colour screen dominating the front of the unit.

It’s not cheap at $399.99, (~e335, ~£229) but that’s the sort of price early adopters can expect to pay for such a cutting edge gizmo.

Shipping is expected in early April, with the optional YA-CP100 car kit retailing for $69.99 (~e58, ~£40).

XM Radio

CES 2006 Highlights

CES 2006 Entertainment HighlightsIf you haven’t been to CES, you may have heard of the headache inducing noise, leg-ache inducing size and debt-ache inducing taxis and hotel rooms. We’ll save you all that and run over the highs and lows from this year’s CES 2006 show – shame we can’t help out with the glitzy lights of Las Vegas.

Noteworthy on the entertainment front was the Saitek A-250, a $129 wireless 2.1 speaker system playing music stored on a PC’s hard drive via Class One Bluetooth technology. The system managed to effortlessly stream music up to 100 feet away from the PC.

CES 2006 Entertainment HighlightsSatellite radios from XM and Sirius while Toshiba’s new HD-DVD playing Qosmio laptop gathered attention. It’s the first laptop to debut with a built-in HD-DVD player. The laptop can also play hi-def discs on your TV. The Qosmio is expected to hit the streets in March 2006 – months before the first Blu-Ray boxes are due out.

For multimedia aficionados, PC World reckons the Harmony 890 could take gadget lovers to remote control nirvana, with Logitech’s Harmony 890 Universal Remote using RF technology allowing owners to control consumer electronics located in other rooms and floors.

CES 2006 Entertainment HighlightsIt looks great, but you’ll need deep pockets and an understanding partner to justify forking out $399 for a humble remote control.

When it comes to portable video devices, Samsung’s new YM-P1 handheld DVR was described as a “genuinely intriguing product”, offering users the ability to record TV directly to the built in 20GB hard drive for viewing later on the unit’s 4-inch screen. You can expect the device to come out in February, priced around $400.

In the flash-based MP3 player department, SanDisk’s 6GB flash player proved a hit, impressing with its generous storage capacity, pretty-boy looks, feature set and video support.

CES 2006 Entertainment HighlightsElsewhere, the PC World editors were less than impressed with the ongoing willy-waving battle for the biggest plasma screen, arguing that they’d prefer it if the manufacturer’s considerable energies were directed into producing affordable plasmas for regular folks.

Read their full list of highlights and lowlights here: CES 2006: Picks and Pans.

CES 2006.

RAJAR: UK Internet Radio Listening Increases, Again

This morning RAJAR released their Q4 UK Radio listener figures, over radio, via the Internet and on TV.

For those who don’t follow this kind of thing, RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) is the organisation that monitors and reports the radio listening habits of the UK population, by taking a listening diary of 32,000 people from a pool of 130,000 people around the UK. The figures sound large, and they are. It’s the largest media survey outside the US.

While the details of who is listening to which UK radio station is of great interest to those in that business, the part that caught our attention was the ‘new’ ways of listening to radio, currently via TV-delivery and over the Internet.

RAJAR-Dec-2004-Radio-via-InternetIt’s worth clarifying that the Internet figures include any listening of the radio on a computer, whether live streaming, using services like the BBC’s RadioPlayer/Listen Again, or Podcasting (download and play).

RAJAR are reporting 16.3% of the UK population, approximately 7.8m people, have used the Internet to listen to radio stations.

RAJAR-Dec-2004-Radio-via-Internet-UK-GrowthThe largest area of growth has been in people listening to UK National radio stations over the Internet. This has increased from 8.3% a year ago to 10.8% of the UK population, equating to just short of 4.8m people. It is thought that this is probably due to an raised awareness that the Internet can be used to listen to the radio, helped in no small part by the BBC pushing the service.

Due to synchronicity or just good planning, it’s of note that a new version of BBC RadioPlayer is released today. Providing very fast access to previously transmitted radio content, it comes with a feature that suggests additional programming that may of interest to the listener, based on the program they have selected to listen to. Once Internet listeners become comfortable with features like this, the number of hours listened to online will be significantly boosted.

Strangely the number of people listening to non-UK stations via the Internet has dropped 1.1% from 4.1% to 3.0%. Quite why this would be the case is a slight mystery.

While listening to the radio through a TV might sound like a very strange idea, it’s becoming increasingly popular and includes delivery over Freeview, Sky and Cable TV. Those with a DVR connected to their Freeview box are also benefiting from being able to record radio programmes and play them back when it suits them.

29.7% of the sample (equating to around 14.25m people) reported that they had, at one time or another listened to the radio through their TV. This is up 8.4% from the same month last year.

RAJAR told us that the people listening via non-traditional means appears to be in addition to their normal radio listening.

As these ‘new’ forms of radio listening are clearly gaining favour with the UK public, we feel there would be significant benefit in gaining a more detailed breakdown in how people are using the Internet to access radio. It would be of benefit to all those involved.

RAJAR are in the process of evaluating new ways to monitor radio usage. They are carrying out trials of electronic ‘listening’ devices that are carried or worn by the user. These would replace the manually completed diary version that’s currently used.

National stations – summary
London stations – summary
Detailed figures
New version of the BBC RadioPlayer

HD Radio – More Channels or Music Sales to Bring Income?

The US radio industry is looking to make additional income from music downloads, we’re told by Reuters – while listening to the radio, they’ll be able to select the playing track for paid download.

The piece announces the catch-all snappy name of HD Radio, that’s iBiquity Digital’s offering, which digitised the FM and AM bands. European readers will be well aware of equivalent FM services under the banner of DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) which has been available for a considerable period of time, and the currently lesser known drm (Digital Radio Mondial, not Digital Rights Management) which offers FM-quality listening on the AM frequencies.

The benefits brought by HD Radio/DAB/drm are digital compression of the audio, enabling more radio stations to be broadcast on the same amount of frequency. As the broadcast is digital, additional information can be distributed with it, such as the name of the artist and track playing.

As with all things compressed for digital distribution, there is a balacing act between number of stations and the audio quality of those stations. Digital doesn’t have to equal quality. The quality of the audio isn’t assured – the amount of the compression directly controls the quality.

US “terrestrial radio”, as it is being called by some to differentiate it from its satellite-delivered competitor, is under pressure from numerous sources; satellite radio (XM AND Sirius); Nokia’s Visual Radio; Internet-based radio stations; digital music player; podcasting, and don’t appear to have acted that quickly to respond.

The current cost of radios to receive HD radio are in the range of $500-$1,000 (~€382-€764, ~£270-£540), but as we’ve seen in the UK with DAB, it’s just a matter of time before these drop to the £49 (~€70, ~$91) levels, as more efficient chip sets become developed and a mass market is formed.

We found the comments by Jeff Littlejohn, executive vice president of distribution development at the dominant US radio station company, Clear Channel, the most illuminating, “We don’t think the business model associated with downloads is nearly as attractive as adding additional audio channels.”

In Clear Channels view there’s still more money to be made from advertising revenue than from music downloads, not least because they don’t have to share the revenue raised with the record companies – who are not known for their willingness to take small proportion of sales.

Radio Broadcasters Mull Digital Music Stores: Reuters